Starting Over V: The Academic Approach

Admittedly, my return to the guitar appears quite … academic upon first glance. But when your time is limited and you want to get back into the flow ASAP, academia isn’t all that bad.

Over the years, I’ve collected more than a couple of lesson books to aid me with my playing. Some have gotten more attention than others. A couple were given away and had to be repurchased. But I feel like I have landed on the right spot.

The key question to my return has been, “Where do you want to go?” The importance of this question cannot be overstated. And while it’s nice to consider a freewheeling “devil may care” approach, I already know this will not get me anywhere near where I want to be.

I want to be technically sound, yet adventurous. I’d like a firm grasp on the fundamentals: major and minor chords and inversions, scales and modes, movable chord voices, and comping and leads. I’d like to have a few exercises under my fingers to stay loose and keep myself amused for those times when I’m just lounging on my couch. I’d like to have a decent feel for improvising. And I’d like to have a few songs under my fingertips to play with a band should I be permitted to sit in. And I have to do it with limited time to work toward these goals as my writing load increases.

Not too much to ask.

No doubt my “bookworm” approach to guitar playing will drive some players nuts. After all, many feel the best path to success is to “just play!” And to a certain extent, I agree.

But I’m a cerebral person. I LIVE inside my head (to the point where I’ve been getting help for this). These books, my notes, the color coding for effects, which will be charted in a notebook … all these things serve as part of a map to being a better musician. Or a musician, period. Just Playing ultimately gets me there. But first, I need to know where I’m going.

Anthony Garone and Colter McCorkindale have heard me ask them to explain things (mainly software) to me like I’m a three-year-old. Because that’s how I learn. Slowly, steadily, and with sheer repetition. Hence, this boatload of books. But each one serves a purpose.

Anthony’s Failure to Fracture is mostly being used for mental and physical technique. I have no desire to learn the tune that serves as the book’s centerpiece. That being said, I’m sure Robert Fripp’s style and discipline will help me toward mental toughness, chording, and a few leads, among other things.

It’s hard to believe I’ve had this book for almost 20 years. I admired Jesse Gress’s playing when I saw him with Tony Levin. The Guitar Cookbook is my primer. I’ll learn most of my theory, melody, harmony, and additional techniques here.

Jazz Chords and Accompaniment is pretty self explanatory. Here’s where I learn to move chord shapes and more advanced voicings, which should help toward some of the jam sessions I hope to be invited to.

And then there are the torture chambers that are The Guitar Grimoire. Page after page of scales, modes, and exercises to keep mind and fingers alert and progressing. There is enough information in these books alone to keep me busy until I’m a very old man.

And when all that gets boring, I can learn the music of my favorite band from my favorite era.

I don’t expect to read every single page from every single book (except Anthony’s). I may figure out where I’m headed before then. And that’s fine. I just like knowing the answers to my many questions are somewhere within these pages. It’ll keep me from bugging a lot of people on the phone.

Plus, I’ll be trying to learn a few of my favorite tunes by ear and by tab. All with the aid of my friend the metronome. Rhythm is essential!

I’m sure this seems like drudgery to some. Some days it’ll seem like drudgery to me! But it feels like the right path to a big-time goal.

And then I’ll be able to just play.


You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell

If you would like to have your record reviewed, contact me at

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