learn about music,
learn to play the guitar
At the mid-point of the 20th century, the musical landscape in America and in the Western world was vastly different than it is today. The possibilities for exposure to music were very limited, at least by contemporary standards. There was no MTV. There were no music videos, and there were no music-only channels on cable TV. There were relatively few radio stations, and there were hardly any stations that played alternative or unusual styles of music. Music was a much less important and prominent part of television and motion picture productions. The music recording industry was a much less influential factor in the American lifestyle than it is today. Most of the recordings that were available were of Classical music, Broadway music, and adult-oriented popular music.
Early on in the second half of the 20th century, the American musical scene underwent dramatic changes. There was an explosion of new sounds and new styles of music, and music became a much more important part of people’s lives. Folk music, the roots of which can be traced back to the troubadours who roamed the European countryside centuries before, became much more relevant owing to a newfound interest in song lyrics that better expressed the realities and conditions of modern life. A folk movement sprang up in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1950’s, and folk music had become widely popularized by the early 1960’s.
Folk music soon evolved into a contemporary folk idiom that featured lyrics of a more personal and introspective nature, and that greatly expanded the range of musical ideas from which songwriters and musicians could draw. Jazz music, which was born in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century, and which was largely confined in the early years of its development to urban night clubs and a small circle of followers, similarly became more widely popularized during the 50’s and 60’s. Country music and the blues, which were primarily rural art forms before then, also began to grow enormously in popularity at about the same time. Most of these developments were the direct result of advances made in sound recording technology.
And then of course there was the all-important birth of rock and roll, which by all accounts occurred sometime during the early 1950’s. The single most important feature of this new music was that it was geared toward a youthful audience. Parents hated it because it was irreverent and rowdy. Their children loved it because it was irreverent and rowdy, and because the lyrics were about the things that mattered most to them, and because it made them want to dance. It is obvious enough that the children won the day. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, rock and roll evolved from the somewhat primitive but still engaging doo-wop tradition into a wide variety of wildly popular musical styles, some of them bearing little resemblance to early rock music.
With the possible exception of jazz (although jazz guitar is an important component of jazz music), the common thread of all these developments is the fact that they were based on and centered around the music of the guitar. This explains the guitar’s tremendous popularity today, and also points toward the versatility of this most widely owned and most genuinely unique musical instrument. But in the mid-20th century, no one could have foreseen the enormous changes the guitar would eventually effect in the world of music. The guitar has become, without question, the single most important instrument in the Western musical tradition.
All of these changes occurred quite apart from the Classical musical tradition, which has scarcely evolved at all over the past century or so. The guitar’s place in the Classical milieu has always been tenuous at best. The Classical guitar tradition evolved largely independently of Classical music itself, and the guitar has never been considered an orchestral instrument (and still is not today). Apart from the study of Classical guitar, which is likewise still approached in essentially the same way as it was a century ago, it would seem that an interest in the guitar and an interest in Classical music are mutually exclusive. This has less to do with the guitar itself than with the fact that the study of Classical music has always been based on the mastery of one of the instruments of the symphony orchestra, or the development of skill at playing a keyboard instrument (mainly the piano), or the development of skill as a singer of Classical music.
The basic premise of this study is that, like the piano and the voice, the guitar can in fact be an integral part of the study and understanding of practically any type of music, including Classical music. Learning about as many styles of music as possible is clearly advantageous in developing skill as a musician. It is not by accident that many successful and accomplished popular musicians are Classically trained, or at least have more than a superficial understanding of and appreciation for Classical music. The question might be put : given the guitar’s enormous popularity, and given the fact that for a majority of people an interest in learning to play music is given by their desire to learn to play the guitar, how can it be that such an integrated approach to the study of music has not taken hold before now?
The answer to this question resides in the differences in how Classical and non-Classical music have traditionally been taught and learned. Classical music pedagogy (pedagogy is the theory and practice of teaching) has always been more or less exclusively based on staff notation (notation is music in written form), which is difficult to comprehend and to master, and which has therefore discouraged and doomed the efforts of countless would-be musicians. With the exception of Classical guitar and piano, which are most often played by a soloist (an individual performer), the primary goal of Classical training in music is the development of sufficient skill to make music together with others in an ensemble (for example, in an orchestra or in a choir).
Non-Classical pedagogy on the guitar has always been largely based on an oral teaching tradition (learning by imitating), and is mainly geared toward solo performance. The current prevalence of guitar instructional videos and studio based one-on-one instruction supports this argument, since these methods of instruction are essentially an extension of the oral tradition. While it is true that the guitar has always been played in non-Classical contexts in combination with other instruments or with singing, the key to doing so successfully is the development of the ability to make self-sufficient music on the guitar. The proliferation over recent decades of printed materials for non-Classical guitar instruction that are based on guitar TAB notation has done little by way of changing this state of affairs. This is so because the guitar TAB system is no less complicated than the staff system, and is therefore of only limited usefulness to beginners in the study of music.
This study, on the other hand, is based on a radically new notational system called visualinear tablature. The simplicity of this system, which is not achieved at the expense of the accuracy of the notation, makes the course of study developed in this volume very user-friendly for beginners. The primary goal of this study, which is the development of skill at playing melodies on the guitar, is in truth a stepping stone to acquiring an understanding of music of all types, including Classical music. Such an understanding can be attained by learning to play guitar ensemble music, in which melodic parts are combined to form a greater whole, in the same manner in which the music of an orchestra or choir is created.
The unique advantage inherent in this course of study is given by the fact that you can learn about these various styles of music by actually playing the music. This allows for the development of a far deeper understanding than is possible by simply listening to the music. After completing this course of study, you may of course choose to go on in your study of the guitar by learning to play this incredibly versatile instrument in the rhythmic (chord-based) styles of play with which it is commonly associated. But you will be doing so armed with a much more thorough understanding of music in general, and this cannot help but inform your learning and your playing to an extent that has not heretofore been possible. And therein lies the real value of this study – that it consists of an approach to learning to play, understand, and appreciate music that in effect combines the Classical and non-Classical disciplines that have until now existed largely separately from one another.
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