On how I came to write Guitar Academy…
In my early years of teaching guitar, I became familiar with most of the available methods. I went from one to another, hoping to find a method that covered all the important areas, one that I could confidently recommend to my students. The method would need to cover technique, theory, music reading, and repertoire – areas typically associated with learning classical guitar, while also addressing those areas more commonly associated with popular-style guitar – chords, song accompaniment, and improvisation. My wish list also included an ensemble supplement, ear-training exercises, written tests, and an accompanying CD recording. Finally, the guitar method would need to look good, to be something that a cool teenager would want to pick up. I knew I was asking a lot from any guitar method!
After some years, I realised that the method I envisaged did not exist and that the only way of acquiring such a thing was to write it myself. And so I began; a summer holiday set aside for writing the first draft of Guitar Academy
, as my method came to be called. I had a check list of subjects to include, and I was determined that the treatment of each subject would be at least as good or better than what I found in competing methods. Consequently, at each stage, I took care to cross-reference with other methods, including ones written for other instruments. In addition to matching the quality of these methods, it was important to try and go beyond them, to reflect the latest ideas on music education and guitar pedagogy. Fortunately, my own instincts reflected the prevailing views on good instrumental teaching: most experts recommended a multi-faceted, holistic approach, designed to encourage an appreciation of many styles, and one that embraced techniques from both the classical and pop/folk traditions.
Every page posed interesting challenges: was there a better choice of tune to help learn those particular notes? Could I think of a simpler way to explain a certain rhythm? How best to illustrate a particular technique? In a spirit of no compromise, I commissioned top artists for the required artwork, with stunning results. The excellent illustrations helped to emphasise the importance of developing good technique from the very first lessons: I adopted the modern ‘fourth finger approach’ to help align the left hand. Free stroke was broken down into three stages: plant, push, and play – ‘the 3 Ps’. My solution for avoiding the development of a tense, flat (or ‘collapsed’) right hand was to start arpeggio technique on adjacent strings, rather than follow the usual approach of forcing the beginner’s hand to stretch across all six strings before it had settled into its required shape. All beginner melodies included a teacher accompaniment, a feature common to most non-guitar methods, yet one curiously absent from many guitar tutors. Scales were not taught merely as finger patterns but were to be applied musically in pieces written to encourage improvisation. I took great care in choosing accessible folk/pop songs, recommending appropriate strumming rhythms and finger-picking styles for each song. Text was kept to a minimum, although everything was clearly explained with sufficient text included to facilitate self-tuition. I aimed for a balance to make the book suitable for all ages: helpful diagrams, colourful illustrations, and a gentle learning curve to attract the younger student, with clear, non-patronising text to appeal to the older student.
I felt that it was a summer well spent, and I was very proud of my first draft; although now, several years later, Guitar Academy
has been upgraded and extended into a three-volume method. The publication has been well received, and I have been gratified by the extremely positive professional reviews: ‘It is simple and comprehensive and is the best beginner’s guitar method I have come across.’ wrote Craig Ogden (principle lecturer in guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music, UK) in Music Teacher magazine; and ‘It really is one of the best [guitar tutors] I have ever seen.’ according to Chris Dumigan of Classical Guitar magazine.
It’s great to know that other teachers and students enjoy using Guitar Academy, but the most important thing is that I now have a method that I can confidently recommend to my own students; the fact that I happened to write it myself is a bonus!
Richard Corr, June 2013
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