If I’ve learned anything in my many years as an enthusiasm-heavy but talent-light guitarist, it is that there are two simple routes to better playing: Lots of practice and a great teacher.
After years of aimless three-chord thrashing, luck threw my first great teacher my way – David Mead’s ’10 Minute Guitar Workout’.
I found it while wasting time at Borders (remember them?) bookshop in Glasgow, in its original, more gaudy and less snappily-titled form.
Originally printed as ‘Guitar Workout for the Interminably Busy’, it is quite simply the best book available for the beginner guitarist, painlessly introducing some tricky theory concepts and laying the groundwork for a series of exercises which, day-by-day, will develop, hone and reinforce skills you’ll fall back on for years to come. It’ll teach you how to read guitar tab, hand you a fistful of
chords, outline the importance of scales and even explain ear training and effects pedals.
The only thing it won’t teach you, in fact, is how to make that peculiar expression of scrunched intensity guitar players adopt at the peak of a difficult solo. You’ll have to work on your own guitar face, which can be aided by perusing photos in a guitar magazine to play a game we like to call ‘BM or BJ?’
The real meat of the book, though, is the exercise section, where the 10-minute guitar workout philosophy becomes clear.
It’s beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness: Six charts, each made up of five two-minute exercises. You start at chart one, spending 10 minutes a day working through exercises taking in chord changes, arpeggios, string skipping, ear training and more. Along the way you’ll build up your finger strength, stamina, picking skills and strumming expertise.
By playing slowly and keeping your playing as clean as possible, you’ll improve day by day, gradually building up speed with each exercise chart until you’re ready to move on to the next set. The emphasis on learning in bite-sized chunks really works – when I first read Mead’s book around 20 years ago, I found my playing progressing more in a matter of weeks than it had in years of self study.
Incorporating 10 minutes with the book into your practice schedule should be easy enough for even the most time-starved would-be guitar god.
’10 Minute Guitar Workout’, published by SMT, can’t be praised highly enough. Although aimed more at the electric guitar player, it does have a similarly fine acoustically-inclined counterpart – the ’10 Minute Acoustic Guitar Workout’.
If you want to start playing guitar, or have hit a roadblock with your playing, either book is the closest thing to having your own guitar teacher on tap (but only for 10 minutes a day).