Strumming across the plectrum
Musicworks, 2 Robsart Street London SW9 0DJ GUITAR STYLES!
Edited by Michael Stimpson ROCK - 0 19 358915 X. CLASSICAL - 0 19 358917 6. FLAMENCO - 0 19 358912 5.
FOLK - 0 19 358916 8.
BASS - 0 19 358914 3.
JAZZ - 0 19 358913 3.
Oxford University Press Pounds 6.95 each
Tim Pells on how to make full use of the snap, squeeze and pluck across the range of guitar styles, from rock to flamenco.
The guitar is the Cinderella of music education. Used for years with wonderful success in some schools and total failure in others, it is plagued by a bewildering range of possible uses. One gifted guitarist will speak in a totally different language to another, and one teacher will inspire students with material that no other teacher can understand.
Faced with these problems and yet perceiving a huge potential market for "the true method", many publishers have produced mediocre materials in an attempt to blend styles and use the excitement of rock music to sell classical guitar methods.
For years this mismatch of styles has encouraged many experienced and motivated teachers to produce their own resources, and volumes of very interesting and thoughtful material appear and disappear with some regularity. The team of teachers at Lambeth's Musicworks have used their own material to produce a delightful piece called Twang!
The book and accompanying cassette provide an interesting and well-conceived method of developing basic technique in plectrum guitar style, easily convertible to acoustic or electric guitar, and certainly ringing with the experience and authenticity of teachers who really know what children enjoy playing.
Oxford University Press have shown real initiative in the classical guitar field producing original works containing some of the gems of the student solo repertoire and a small selection of really good ensemble music. Now a much larger project is underway with the publication of Guitar Styles! Edited by Michael Stimpson who has produced some interesting and useful educational music of his own, this series explores the diverse musical worlds that the guitar inhabits and, accordingly, is published in six volumes, each dealing with a different style of guitar work.
Oxford have commissioned some very big names indeed to provide material for the series: Brian May on rock, Alphonso Johnson on bass, Paco Pena on flamenco, John Renborn on folk, and the jazz and classical books by a selection of top players, teachers, and composers.
These are not step-by-step tutor-books. The editor suggests that they will stretch skills and achieve something of the authentic sound of each style, and I think this aim has been achieved admirably throughout the series with only the occasional exception. The Rock book has some lovely ideas - "chugging" lead guitar, "squeezed" notes, double-hammers, slides and snaps, finger style. In fact, the electric guitar's huge range of expressive devices, moods, and techniques is explored with utter certainty and professionalism.
Best of all for teaching, the whole book, in fact the whole series with one exception, is set up as a series of duos or trios. This means that the endless variety of teaching situations one finds in music departments in schools can be dealt with effectively, adapting the marvellous range of music in this series to suit whatever situation presents itself in the department.
The exception is the Classical book. This is an opportunity lost. No tablature is given so musicians working exclusively in this ancient and reliable system are more or less prevented from "stretching" out to classical guitar. No duos or trios are given so school performances cannot be easily catered for unless a particularly skilled classical player is able to make sense of the rather monochrome, open-string based music on offer.
There is none of the friendly editorial urgings of the other books - instead a series of technical instructions is presented in dry fashion. Compare "make sure the left hand thumb is not left behind" with "achieve a lazy Sunday afternoon feel" and you will see the difference.
Overall, the Guitar Styles! series provides players and teachers with real insight into the enormous world of contemporary guitar performance.
Tim Pells is head of guitar at the Centre for Young Musicians, Morley College, south London