Tonefiend Book Week 2013
Monday: Theory and Technique

Monday: Theory and Technique
Tuesday: Gear
Wednesday: Repairs and DIY
Thursday: Biography
Friday: Fiction

This week we’re talking about our favorite guitar/music books. The plan is simple: I discuss a few titles I’ve found particularly enlightening, useful, or entertaining, and then you jump in and do the same. I’ve organized the days of this week by subject matter. Today’s topics are theory and technique.

Tonefiend Book Week 2013 is an entirely selfish project. I expect to reap tons of great new info from you, smart readers. So don’t be shy about chiming in.

1. Ted Greene’s complete works

Yes, it's true — I studied guitar with Bigfoot!

This week on Finding Bigfoot, the BFRO team visits Encino, California.

Ted Greene’s jazz guitar books have haunted me since the ’70s. Chord Chemistry, Modern Chord Progressions, and Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing Vols 1 & 2 remain in print, and are available in both paper and digital editions.

Ted’s books helped me understand the fretboard, tackle jazz harmony, and perhaps most of all, grasp the concept of voice-leading — that is, the ability to perceive chords not as static blocks, but as volatile structures resulting from dynamic melodies. Ironically, even though Ted’s books are divided into chordal and single-note topics, they go a long way toward erasing such distinctions. Melody generates harmony, Ted teaches, and harmony generates melody.

Not that I’ve completely digested Ted’s books. Has anyone? These tomes are dauntingly dense and complex. I just cracked open Modern Chord Progressions at random, and this confronted me:

Modern Chord Progressions

It’s the same problem you encounter with all encyclopedic music books, even brilliant ones such as Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. How are you supposed to digest so much info? Sheer repetition? Disciplined memorization? Or just jump in at random in search of something inspiring? I tried, really tried, to pursue the former methods when I was young. But I’ve long since been forced to admit that the “graze and go” method is the only one that works with my particular brain. Other brains vary.

God knows, Ted’s brain was different. I first met him when I was a precocious and pretentious 17-year-old who didn’t play nearly as well as he thought he did. Ted was teaching out of his parents’ living room in LA’s San Fernando Valley. I desperately wanted Ted to accept me as a weekly student, but he’d only see me irregularly. Our lessons consisted of a few minutes of playing, after which he’d dig through his cardboard boxes, compiling thick sheaves of xeroxed lessons and inviting me to call again in a few months once I’d absorbed them. (Much of the material wound up in his Single Note Soloing books.) I thought he wouldn’t see me weekly because he didn’t like me. Conversation was awkward, and he seldom made eye contact.

Back then, of course, we were less aware of autism-spectrum disorders. Nowadays many of us would instantly and correctly diagnose Ted condition as Asperger’s Syndrome.

My dictionary defines Asperger’s as “a developmental disorder related to autism and characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities.” Which goes a long way toward explaining Ted’s phenomenal intellect, odd conversational style, and house-bound lifestyle (he seldom gigged, and he recorded only one brief album). And while those geeky enough to read this blog may sometimes feel as if they live and breathe guitar, I suspect that none of us do so as truly, madly, and deeply as Ted did. Today I realize that he didn’t decline me as a weekly student because he disliked me. I just wasn’t interesting enough.

I moved to Northern California and didn’t communicate with Ted until the ’90s, when I was an editor at Guitar Player. He’d write me amazing letters, generously complimenting me on something I’d written, and expanding upon it in page after page of tiny, handwritten script. I pestered him to write a monthly column for the mag, but it never came to pass. I even visited him in his modest Valley apartment, enjoying a long private lesson and then trying to harvest enough material to generate, say, six month’s worth of columns. But in the end, he wasn’t comfortable with this “as told to” approach, and said he’d create something from scratch. Eventually I stopped my pestering.

That last lesson was intense! We worked on minor-key chromaticism, threading the needle from Ellington to Kenton to Mancini. We also discussed counterpoint. At one point, Ted challenged me to improvise in two voices simultaneously and seemed bewildered that I found this difficult. “Come on,” he urged with a smile. “You can do it.” True — but only for short passages, and never very well. By now I understood that Ted’s brain was wired differently from most, and I recognized him as a sweet, gentle man, and as passionate a player and teacher as any I’ve ever known. His conceptual mastery was astonishing. It was like hanging out with Mozart or Bach for an afternoon.

There was a huge outpouring of grief when Ted passed away in 2005. Ted is remembered by hundreds of adoring students, most of whom got to know him far better than I ever did. I’m just grateful for my brief encounters with this remarkable teacher and his remarkable mind. Ted’s books will inspire and confound me for the rest of my playing life.


It’s not just for nylon!

2. Scott Tennant’s Pumping Nylon: The Classical Guitarist’s Technique Handbook

This book, by Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member and USC faculty member Tennant, isn’t exactly a secret among classical players — it’s one of the most successful modern classical guitar methods. But I suspect that if Tennant had excluded the word “nylon” from the title, more players would realize that it’s also one of the best steel-string methods ever created, at least for fingerstyle players. It’s available in several versions, including digital ones, though I recommend the Complete Edition.

Tennant has compiled a phenomenal collection of exercises designed to promote strength, consistency, and finger independence for both hands. It’s steeped in historic classical guitar studies, but ventures far beyond their 19th-century techniques. Tennant mixes historic and original exercises and includes classical and modern pieces that exemplify each technique. You don’t have to be a classical player to reap their benefits. In fact, you don’t even have to read music — the book is also available in an all-tablature version.

Here’s just one example of Tennant’s innovative approach: a set of finger-independence studies based on the idea of “planting” certain fingers in a fixed position on the neck, and stretching the other fingers in relation to the fixed fingers. I’d wager that this seemingly simple exercise would be a provocative technical challenge for the vast majority of guitarists, even highly skilled ones.


Throughout, Tennant borrows from traditional technical material, but he isn’t shy about updating it for modern music and modern techniques. I defy any player to spend time with Pumping Nylon and not emerge with stronger, cleaner technique. It’ll also help you play faster, if that’s your thing.

3. The Classical Fake Book [no author or editor credited; Hal Leonard Publications]

The Classical Fake BookIt’s simple but diabolically clever: The Classical Fake Book presents over 600 classical themes in “lead sheet”-style arrangements. Instead of grappling with complex classical scores, you get the melodic and harmonic “essence” via chord symbols and a treble-clef melodic line. (Yes, you do need to some reading ability to use this book, but only a fraction of the skills required to access the music in its original formats.)

No sane classical player would prep for a concert using these dumbed-down musical summaries. But they open a world of musical possibilities for guitarists with basic reading skills. Meanwhile, players with classical schooling will find it fascinating to view this music through the prism of pop notation. When I’m searching for ideas, I love flipping through and playing tunes at random, in search of a melodic figure or chord sequence suitable for variation and adaptation. Why not steal from the classics? Heaven knows, many others do!

4. A great book for learning to sight-read?

This one is a question for you, dear readers. Can anyone recommend a good book for learning to sight-read?

Back when I taught a lot, I always used Leon White’s Sight to Sound for students who wanted to learn to read. Sure, many classical and jazz methods include sections on note-reading, but White’s book was the only one I knew of that emphasized true sight-reading — the seemingly direct connection from eye to hand. White deliberately created exercises that aren’t very melodic or memorable, presumably to prevent guitarists from playing by ear rather than by eye.

It’s still a good book — but I’m wondering whether anyone knows of newer alternatives. Perhaps a longer, more comprehensive book whose musical exercises aren’t such bitter medicine? Any suggestions?

And speaking of suggestions: Now’s it’s your turn to share the books that have helped you play better or understand music more deeply. Did any particular books inspire you when you were starting out? Are there any that you returned to year after year? Any that you plan to tackle sometime soon? Don’t be stingy, now — share the wealth! 🙂

48 comments to Tonefiend Book Week 2013
Monday: Theory and Technique

  • ukeSy

    Hi Joe.
    Here is my small contribution at your very good idea of sharing!


    This is, over the time, the more interesting book about chords voicing i know… This is not a dictionary but a way to build chords progressions.
    I never stop to go back to it.
    It is wrotten by the great Steve Khan.
    here is his website address:

    There is an other book about Pentatonics, which is also very interesting, by SK.

  • Total noob question in so many ways… Are any of these books suitable for beginners? I’m love to get better at the guitar to complement my cello playing (so I read music fairly well and I can strum a few chords).

    • joe

      Actually, Josh, that is a GREAT question — and one that, I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t think I can answer!

      Back when I taught, I tended not to use any method books for beginners. I’d jump right in and start working on the student’s favorite music. Later on I might supplement that with books. For classical players or pop players who wanted to read, I’d use Frederick Noad’s Solo Guitar Playing, which is still a real nice choice. But back then, there were no online tab libraries or YouTube videos, which change everything.

      How about just picking ten favorite songs or pieces you’d like to learn, and diving in? Maybe supplementing the process with a few pro lessons?

      Can anyone more up-to-date than I am suggest some books that might help Josh?

      BTW, your cello background will be an IMMENSE help in learning guitar, because you already know — already FEEL — some of the key concepts. Should you decide to focus more on guitar, I guarantee you’ll progress relatively quickly.

      • That sounds like a good idea – just hitting up YouTube and on-line tab to get started. The feel for music is already there, but the technique has a long way to go!

    • smgear

      It all depends on whether there is a particular style that you really want to learn or whether you are interested more in writing music, but since you already have good fingers and ears, I’d suggest approaching the guitar with minimal, if any instruction. I started guitar after I already had a good degree of skill on violin and a couple other instruments and with a couple exceptions (learned some Django tunes and a few jazz voicings) figured it out on my own. Years later, I’ve picked up some of the more mainstream techniques, but my early tunes and voicings were pretty original and I wish I could clear away a lot of what I now know and get back to that. Just a suggestion for the few that might be so inclined, but I wish more people would figure out their own original approach instead of joining the mass ‘lick’/play-like-you-hero education that seems to dominate the youtube age.

  • Robert

    Tom Kolb’s book “Modes for Guitar” is a great introduction regarding modes and their application(s). The explanations are enlightening, especially about superimposing over different chords in different styles. Not just metal shredding here!

    The book comes with a CD and the examples jump off the page with cool guitar sounds played superbly. Each lick is diagrammed so you can see at a glance what scale is being used, what triad, the pattern number, when a mode is superimposed over a chord/scale. You can get your fingers twisted in knots with this one and it can open up your ear to new possibilities.

    More for intermediate students and players, although an advanced player with some gaps in their knowledge will will away with many “Aha!” moments. Not for the meek, try digging into #12, 29, 39 or 43 among others without breaking a sweat, or at least stepping up the game a little. I’m sure there are plenty of players here that read this blog that can handle it 🙂 Because it has a nice balance of styles (Not just metal or jazz fusion…) it makes the often times dreary/bland subject of modes sizzle and pop.

    • joe

      Thanks Robert — I definitely want to get a copy of that!

      A question for you though: I was looking at the sample pages on Amazon, which included his introductory explanation of modes. Like many teachers, Kolb introduces modes as diatonic scales that start on the “wrong” note (i.e., Dorian is just a major scale that begins on the second degree).

      That’s a fine way to learn the pitches of the modes, but it seems to introduce a new problem: You might be playing in, say, E Phrygian, but your hand is playing C major scales, and you brain is probably thinking in C. The music, however, is not in C. You hand hits the correct notes, and nothing sounds too bad, but you find yourself thinking in the “wrong” key, and it can be difficult to actually LISTEN and play to the proper key of the music.

      Did you find that, after you became familiar with the fingerings, you started conceiving of the music in its actual key? Or were you still visualizing major and minor scales in other keys?

  • Robert

    That’s his introductory explanation, for sure, but each chapter begins with a “quick reference guide” that breaks down each mode covered to it interval construction, differentiating scale degrees, common progressions, etc…the fingering patterns for each chapter will look familiar until you realize that yes,they are from the root note of the mode, not the parent scale…I think the visualization aspects remain but if used properly you’re training your ear along with the eyes and fingers, so you begin to recognize F Lydian as a sound unto itself that just happens to share notes with other scales. I can’t say that everyone gets it at first but the examples on the CD do make it sizzle and pop.

    I have used this book with students that are ready for more technically demanding challenges, some just dig it for the hot licks, others dig into the theory angles, and upon completing it, (playing each lick with the CD at full tempo!!) they are prepared with a lot tools at their disposal, for their school jazz band, garage jam or their own personal expression. You can take this book from a lot of different angles. And it’s not just metal or jazz fusion, yay!

    I don’t always spend a lot of time on the theory aspects, but the book remains as great reference. The “the odds and ends” at the conclusion of each chapter give additional tips. The only thing that could have made it better (this is a very very minor quibble) would be to include full solos, but he did that in a following book, “soloing strategies”. Well worth the time and effort to check out.

  • joe

    Thanks for explaining. I’m going to snag a copy! 🙂

  • Robert

    Some thoughts on guitar methods for beginners:

    I’ve used Mel Bay’s Modern Guitar Method for years, to great effect. Some students get through book 3! Thats pretty rare! It is thorough for beginners to guitar and should help anyone wanting to be able to read chords in standard notation. I like the regular editions. The expanded editions seem a little clunky…YMMV

    The Hal Leonard Guitar Method for beginners is good. Kind of light on chords in that they are notated with strum slashes. Not bad to start out on though.

    The one that has me most intrigued these days is Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method. Pretty cool song selection and arrangements. It comes with a CD to play along with, very useful practice-at-home tool. I haven’t used this much but I like what I have seen so far.

    Hope this helps!

  • Robert

    Oh and of course supplement the methods with fun tunes, riffs and chord progressions, etc… Jam!! 🙂

  • smgear

    Great stuff! Ted was one of my heroes.

    I’ll start by suggesting Mark Levine’s Jazz Theory book:

    as well as his Jazz Piano book (even if you don’t play piano, you can learn a lot):

    Sheets of Sound by Jack Zucker is a great resource for sweep and hybrid picking techniques, altered scales, and generally simplifying a horizontal approach to scales. The content is laid out well and very useful, but I think the best part is that it is spiral bound so it’s easy to set on the music stand and run through the scales. That shouldn’t make a difference, but I actually pick this book up and use it more often than some of the other ‘good’ books that I have on the shelf that I have to fight clothes pins to use. Do we know anyone in the music pub industry that we can lobby to make spiral binding the norm on music books? – it looks like there is a second volume now.

    A very basic theory resource that I often give to young players that don’t know anything about theory is Steve Ono’s old pdf which has been floating around for ever. I found it still posted online in a couple places: With a little instruction, it visualizes the basics pretty well.

    • joe

      Thanks for the great tips as always! 🙂

      I hear you on the awkward books. I love books. I love them as objects. I love them as wall coverings. But given a choice these days, I’ll take an electronic book over a print one nine times out of ten. They’re great for music reading, especially when you use a page-turn footswitch.

      I was glad to see that a many of the books covered here are available in digital editions.

    • Freddie Lentzell

      Very interesting what you say about spiral bound books. I actually make all my books spiral bound by cutting their spines first (I take them to a paper supply shop). That makes them infinitely more manageable.
      Books falling from the music stand is something that I cannot, er, stand.

      • smgear

        I should make more of my own spirals, that’s a good idea. I did it with some old books that I copied, but I haven’t taken the knife to any recent stuff. I know I need to finally get on the ipad bandwagon, but I have too much stuff archived in various formats to commit to a single viewing mode yet. So I’m mostly just doing pdf’s on the laptop while waiting for a letter size digital ink tablet to come along….. I should get with the times soon though.

  • Joe Gore

    Mmm — thanks for all the good recommendations on the site, folks.

  • Joe Gore

    Hey music-teachers — what do you like in terms of beginners books?

  • AndrewT

    OK, I’ll get this pair in first –

    I think everyone needs to own Mick Goodricks ‘The Advancing Guitarist’. I got mine around 1991 and I’m still finding things to think about in it. As Mick says at the end of the book, ‘keep in mind that, as you continue to learn and improve, your understanding of all the material in this volume will change’. Don’t take my word for it – how many other guitar books have over 50 reviews on Amazon?

    Another one that rewards a lifetime of study would be George Van Eps’ Harmonic Mechnisms for Guitar. At 3 volumes it’s huge by today’s ‘learn everything in < 100 pages plus CD' slim jims. The like of it we'll not see again in our lifetime.

    I remember the first book I got that was any use, 'Teach Yourself Lead Guitar' by Harvey Vinson. It came with a playalong floppy 7" which contained the most insipid blues workout imaginable. The sad thing is I'm still stuck with many of the concepts it taught, namely the minor pentatonic scale in A minor at the 5th fret.

    So choose your first book wisely boys and girls!

  • AndrewT

    And to go all highbrow for a minute, why not pick up a copy of Vincent Persichetti’s ‘Twentieth Century Harmony’, in hardback of course! It’s a lovely looking thing, with many a notated example waiting to perplex you.
    I can still remember why I bought it, I’d read about it in a John McLaughlin interview, he said ‘that one will take you a long way’.

    To be honest it hasn’t taken me very far, but I don’t blame Mr Persichetti. If only I’d applied myself more to to the end chapter ‘Applications’, such as #2 of chapter 1 : ‘Write a fast and tempestuous passage for two oboes employing no sharp dissonant intervals’

    ‘You have to be ready to apply yourself’, something else John mentioned in that interview.

    • joe

      I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about not digesting the entire Persichetti book. It’s real hard to work through something designed as a textbook on your own. Walter Piston’s Harmony covers similar ground, with the same problems. You really need to supplement it with a lot of exercises.

  • Not to hijack this – but here’s a post with some other suggestions in a similar (if narrower) vein.

    I think there are merits to all of the books there, but I think the Lateef and Krantz books are especially worth a look-see.

    I didn’t mention it in the list – but the MI sight reading book is quite good for what it is. The Berklee reading books get the job done as well, but I think the MI examples are more well rounded.

  • Robert

    I picked up the Goodrick book a while back (yeeaaarrss agooo) and I need to dig into it further, that along with the Charlie Parker Omnibook. The Jazz Theory book by Levine looks very interesting also. I already enjoy the Ted Green Chord Chemistry book. I picked up a copy of his biography on Amazon (haven’t had a chance to crack it open yet, though) I really want to start to solidify some jazz chops. I am just finishing up the Berklee/Coursera “Intro to Improv” MOOC by Gary Burton. It has seriously whetted my appetite to do so.

    Lots of great stuff here, Joe!

    Thanks for such an insightful blog.

  • David

    Hi, I’d like to suggest Creative Guitar 1 & 2 by Guthrie Govan. Easy to read and well explained. A talented and funny bloke too, you can see some of his work with his band The Aritocrats on YouTube.

  • John

    For anyone looking for a quick fix from Ted Greene, check out the website There are a ton of downloadable charts, also if you hit Youtube, Tim Lerch plays some of the blues lessons…intoxicating stuff!

  • NotSoFast

    The mention of Tim Lerch points out the problems I had with Mr. Greene, which Joe illustrated well with that chord dictionary image above. “I wish I knew all of this and could recall and play them” is as far as I ever got with Mr. Greene’s work. I opened the book, thought that, and put it on the shelf, where it has sat for a decade easy.

    The internet (and film and tv) has changed things so much for the better. Even in the biography category the first thing that comes to mind to me is the Ed Burns PBS Jazz series. What a great overview for someone like me unversed in the history and flow. I can YouTube Erroll Garner and just be floored. Privtricker plays every classic rock song (with some copyright exceptions).

    It would be great to see a series like this one on print but for the internet. Same topics even!

  • Joe – that is maybe the best and most insightful Ted Greene appreciation/anecdotal story ever…thanks!

  • Hi Joe,
    thank you for your sincere article on Ted Greene, I was fortunate to study with Ted as well and agree with you that he was an unusual but very kind and gentle human. He made a great impact on me as a guitar player and as a person. Thanks for sharing your experience studying with him with your readers. Teds contribution to guitar and music in general, while dense and difficult to penetrate will yield a lifetime of inspiration and guidance if we stick with it and as Ted often admonished , ” go for what you love” .
    All the best

    • joe

      Hi Tim! Thanks for the kind words. I’d never really written about Ted, because so many people — you for example! — knew him so much better. But putting together that article on important books made me realize how much a presence he’s been in my life, even though I didn’t get to spend much time with him.

  • Regarding Teds Books, particularly the two harmony oriented books, people often ask me how to approach them in order to get the most out of them. My take on it is that Chord Chemistry is like a map of a very large area. It can be a bit daunting if you don’t have directions and as you now the map doesn’t give you directions it just shows you where stuff is. The later chapters of CC are actually very helpful and give insight into how to best use the earlier potions but many well meaning students try to start at page one and get bogged down real fast and put the book on the shelf. So a good strategy for CC is to read and play thru the later chapter first then the dictionary potion will be in better perspective. Mordern Chord Progressions is a real treasure and has lots of great beautifully voice led progressions, most of which have the root in the bass ( the last dozen pages or so have some very interesting 2nd and 3rd inversion sounds) but my impression is that the book is organized not only by the basic progressions such as I vi ii V and iii vi ii V or diatonic cycles of fourths etc but within each section the progressions themselves are organized melodically! So as you work your way thru MCP pay extra attention to the melody that is produced by the top notes in each progression. So while Chord Chemistry ( especially the early portion) is mostly a map of where stuff is, Modern Chord Progressions is a work- book for learning how to put these things together. I recommend taking both books in small doses and visiting them briefly and frequently over a very long period of time .if you are lucky to be gigging or playing regularly with friends always try to add new fingerings and sounds to tunes as often as you can so you begin to use the stuff in your own playing as soon as possible. These books are dense and overwhelming but will yield great wealth if pursued slowly and steadily.
    All. The best

    • The above parenthetical regarding MCP should have stated(The last dozen pages of MCP have many 1st and 3rd inversion voicings) In other words 3rd or 7th in the bass.

      • joe

        Thanks, Tim. I’m sorry my crappy little comment system doesn’t permit user corrections. 🙁

        Really appreciate such interesting thoughts from a fine player!

  • mwseniff

    For me it’s the books by W.A. Matthieu composer. musician and teacher. He is off the opinion there are no tone deaf people and has worked with classes full of the supposed tone deaf and made them singers. The first of my two fave books of his is “The Listening Book” is “A wise and loving owner’s manual for anybody who has ears” (Jim Akin, Keyboard Magazine). That is a good starting description but the book has exercises to help make you a better listener and potentially a better musician. It would be very easy for a book like this to be a new ageish feel good text but it is not it is delightfully humorous as well as being extremely thought provoking. You will not be disappointed. I feel this book opened my ears and I always considered myself very open eared.
    The second book by Mathieu is “The Musical Life” is a look at how music is an inherent part of us how the various rhythmic forms all come from our own basic movements like walking. It is philosophical but in a light, slightly humorous manner and it addressed many musical ideas and concepts I had sort of puzzled at over the years but never found a good explanation of form others. It is at the same time mathematical and scientific but in very easy layman’s terms so it will not overwhelm you with math or theory.

  • 3star

    Here’s the book that got me started, a great start to finger picking for the total Noob. The Folksinger’s Guide to Classical Guitar, featuring many classical standards in TAB.
    For me it was the kind of instant gratification I wasn’t getting from “proper” lessons. I would often spend a pleasant evening playing my way through the book.

  • Oinkus

    Wonderful ! Hurts my brain to watch and try to grasp what he is passing along to me.

  • m-ga

    I just posted about the Harvey Reid partial capo book in the partial capo thread.

    I’d recommend Reid’s book highly. It offers perhaps the only route to some chord voicings.

    Another book well worth looking at is Dominic Pedlar’s “Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles”. This is a weighty volume (791 pages) that actually lives up to its title. The book is guitar-oriented and contains a lot of advanced music theory.

    There are some particularly nice things about it. Firstly, it’s a great way to learn some theory (e.g Aeolian cadence, relative and parallel minor switches, tritone substitution) with rock rather than jazz or classical examples. Secondly, the examples are superb. There were of course three principal songwriters in the Beatles, as well as the not inconsiderable contributions of George Martin. Pedlar makes a good case that the band’s songwriting got less interesting (in terms of melody and chord progressions) after Martin’s contribution to the arrangements lessened following Revolver. It’s easy to overlook this, as it’s masked by the production becoming more complex around the same time.

    The third nice thing is that, if you like the Beatles, it’s actually very enjoyable to read in-depth dissections of each song. There are even explanations of why the album running orders work well. For example, “And Your Bird Can Sing” resolves an ambiguity of key at the end of “Good Day Sunshine”. The Abbey Road side 2 medley actually begins with “Because”: Pedlar describes how the Ddim vocal chord at the end of “Because” suggests an imminent move to C#m, but this never happens. Instead, the hanging F and G# notes resolve in the Am piano chord at the beginning of “You Never Give Me Your Money”. There’s loads of stuff like this.

    Another good songwriting book is “Tunesmith”, by Jimmy Webb. If you like any of Webb’s compositions (and even if you don’t, since he spends nearly as much time on 30s/40s “American Songbook” examples as on his own material), this is pretty much a must-buy.

    Finally, I’ve looked around for a while and been frustrated by the lack of publications on alternate tunings. That was until I found a freely downloadable PDF by Bill Sethares:

    Sethares is a professor of electrical engineering and mathematics, who seems to have a sideline in music research. He’s got an academic text, “Tuning Timbre Spectrum Scale”, which looks fascinating but which is very expensive (£100 or so). But it would be an easy loan from a university library.

    Anyway, his alternative tuning guide is well worth downloading. As well as chord diagrams, it contains a brief description of each tuning and musical examples if he’s found them. Several examples are from a player called Will Ackerman, who seems to specialise in alternate tunings. I felt somewhat relieved to find a tuning I thought I might have invented (I wondered if I’d done something “wrong” – I took a Joni Mitchell tuning as the basis, and changed a couple of strings). Sethares and Ackerman didn’t find any of the chords I used though. There’s something exciting about getting into new guitar territory in this way.

    Retuning becomes major nuisance when exploring alternate tunings. I get the impression Sethares used a midi guitar (the Variax or similar) for instant tuning switches while he was writing the guide. Another way to retune very quickly is to use one of the Tronical robotuner systems. These have the advantage of retaining an instrument’s natural resonances, and are available for many guitars now, not just Gibsons. They’re quite expensive though, £200 or so. I’m planning to put one on a semi-acoustic, which should offer an adequate range of sounds for for songwriting sessions and live performance.

    • joe

      Wow — thanks for all the great recommendations! I’d been eyeing the Webb book (’cause I’m contemplating making a record of Webb songs), and you’ve sold me. Pedlar’s theory is interesting! The Beatles have been such a part of my consciousness for almost 50 years. I’ve loved then. I’ve hated them. I’ve fallen in and out of love over and over. Like many, I loved John more than Paul, but now I tend to worship Paul more. I tend to love the mid-period stuff (Revolver, Rubber Soul) more than the late and solo albums. But fuck, they were playing the “Maybe I’m Amazed” on the PA before my show the other night, and it sounded astonishing.

      My instinctive reaction is that applying that classical-derived theoretical gloss to the Beatles catalog is bogus — but on the other hand, maybe it’s akin to the way certain mathematical patterns tend to appear in great visual art (golden section rations, Fibonacci series, etc.), even though they weren’t willfully integrated. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll always have volatile feelings about the Beatles!

  • m-ga

    I’m fairly sure that Pedlar over-reaches in places! This is usually signposted though. His whole book is a bit tongue in cheek.

    He does a little to debunk the classical gloss. The Aeolian cadence chapter is actually a rejection of a claim made by classical critic William Mann in 1963. This is fairly hilarious – Mann apparently wrote (in the Times, a rather snooty London paper later purchased by Rupert Murdoch) that: “so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key-switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of ‘Not A Second Time’ (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s ‘Song of the Earth’) …” and so it goes.

    It seems that this purple prose caused quite a stir at the time, and contributed to the acceptance of Beatlemania within the UK establishment – MBEs would soon follow. About the only way to tackle it now is to write a book chapter examining exactly what Aeolian cadence might be, and whether it does indeed feature in much Beatle music. Pedlar concludes there is no basis. He also suggests that Lennon had the last laugh, with the later claim that “Because” is really “Moonlight Sonata” played backwards. For Pedlar, this is rubbish too, although it’s still routinely reported as fact by people who should know better.

    The Pedlar book is more serious in places. Here’s an example. The George Harrison song “I Want To Tell You” is perhaps most memorable for its repeated lick in A (I’m fairly certain, although not positive, that this is mainly done with open strings). Pedlar doesn’t bother with this, or the relatively dull A/B7 shift which follows. Instead he focuses largely on the E7b9 chord (“It’s alright, maybe I’ll see you …”) – an innovation of ‘E7th with an F on top’ according to Harrison, who claimed that Lennon later borrowed it for “She’s so Heavy”. This is played on piano in the studio recording, with the dissonance underscoring the uncertainty conveyed in the lyric. There’s also a discussion of the rather tricky bridge (“But if I seem to act unkind …”), which moves from Bm to Bdim to B7. I think it would be great if more pop songs attempted this kind of thing.

    George Martin’s autobiography (“All You Need is Ears”) is also worth reading, and offers perhaps the most likely source for whatever classical motifs crop up in Beatles recordings. It seems unlikely that any of the band (except maybe McCartney) had such aspirations.

    More tragi-comically, George Martin’s book also reminds me a lot of this:

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