How To Choose The Best Guitar Books For Your Goals
As musicians, we have a staggering amount of information available to us that can help us hone our craft. The hard part is deciding which resources are valuable and which resources aren’t. We’ve all ordered a book off of Amazon that we thought was going to take our playing to the next level only to find out that we could have gotten just as much out of a five minute Google search. Well, not all books are created equal, and you’ve probably not been looking at the right ones.
So if you’ve ever wondered how to choose the best guitar books, you’ve come to the right place! This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed decision, as well as giving you five great recommendations to aid you in your search.
What You Need To Know As A Beginner Guitarist
So with most beginners their introduction to their instrument comes from a book. Their parents get them a shiny new guitar on their birthday or for Christmas, and there’s generally an accompanying Mel Bay beginner’s guide. That’s really not a bad thing at all; guitar players all over the world have started just like that.
The problem is that most of those beginner guitar books just don’t have enough information to give you the tools that you need to advance past the curriculum in the book. They won’t tell you about some of the more important aspects of theory, and they generally won’t give you exercises or warm-ups that will help carry you into becoming an intermediate or advanced musician.
That’s why it’s incredibly important that once you work through your first method book you should start seriously considering finding a teacher to further your education. A teacher can help give you the tools that you’ll need to continually advance on your instrument, which in turn will ensure that it will be a lifelong source of entertainment and enrichment.
What Guitar Book Should I Get First?
We’ll get to the actual 5 books we recommend in just a few minutes.
So assuming you’re a beginner, your first step should be looking into a book dedicated to exercises and theory. Use this book in tandem with regular lessons or online lessons (if that’s an option for you) as well as learning songs on your own time.
The best way to use this type of book is to just take 15 minutes a day to work through a page or two at a time. You don’t have to find something that requires a lot of study or dedication on your part at this point. Your first priority should be finding a book that gets you thinking about theory as well as helping you develop coordination in both your fretting and strumming hand.
The majority of guitarists eventually come to a point where they’ve hit a rut in their playing. They may have gotten bored with their current go-to genre, or they may just feel that they’ve hit a wall in terms of what they can accomplish on their own.
We’ve all been there, and it’s actually pretty easy to fix once you know how. The reason we hit those walls in our playing or get bored with what we’re currently doing is that we start falling into set patterns with our playing (pentatonic scale over and over again, anyone?). Whatever we’re playing starts to feel stale and derivative because we’ve gone over it so many times, and it can end up being a pretty frustrating experience.
The way you fix this is by finding a book that makes you reconsider an aspect of your playing, regardless of what that is. If you’re into metal go ahead and pick up a book on Gypsy jazz. If you’re a dedicated Bluegrass flatpicker try your hand at learning some jazz. If you learn one thing from a different genre that you can routinely apply to your genre of choice you can break yourself out of just about any rut imaginable.
Getting The Most Out Of A Guitar Book
So you’ve picked out your book, ordered it, and got it in your hands. Now what? Believe it or not, how you learn is just as important as what you learn. Generally, books are pretty carefully organized to work as a curriculum as opposed to something you can just pick and choose what looks most interesting from.
So to get the most from your book, it’s important that you respect the intent of the author in how you approach it. That doesn’t mean you have to work through parts of the book that are below your skill level, it just means that you should always work through the book in a linear fashion. If you need to skip to the middle of the book to find something that applies to you that’s fine, just work chapter by chapter (or exercise to exercise) from that point on. It will help you retain the information that you learn in the book if you work through it gradually as opposed to skipping through it.
How Did We Select Our Guitar Book Recommendations?
It’s hard to definitively name the best guitar books. Everyone is working with a different skill set, and you’ve all built up your skills in a different way. However, all of the books below provide enough information to help you improve some aspect of your playing. They may help some of you more than others, but they all have enough helpful tips in them to justify their purchase. Our team read these and many more, and these were the titles we found most inspiring. It turns out we aren't alone in loving these books, since these books get great reviews all around, but these were the ones we found most enlightening. The fact that we were excited to practice and couldn't wait to pick up these books to learn more is ultimately the reason they made this list. We think these books will provide or build a solid foundation for anyone looking to learn the guitar in an efficient way.
The Top 5 Guitar Books
If you’re not sure which books in particular you should try out, we’ve got you covered. The five titles below are some of the best books on the guitar you’re ever going to find, and as a bonus they’re all relatively affordable. Without further ado, our list of the best guitar books!
Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Complete Edition: Books & CD's 1, 2 and 3
Hal Leonard's series of books may be more responsible than any other series of books for people learning the guitar. It may be an understatement to call it a standard for students starting to learn the guitar. This book covers introductory topics like how to read music, chords, different scales and keys. Beyond that, it moves into advanced techniques and music theory in later books. The book is available as a stand alone, but we think the 3 CDs that come with the book are really useful, especially for practicing. It is so helpful to improving timing as a fundamental skill to play along with the CDs that are included with the book.
One criticism that some have against these books are they are for people who want to gain technical competence in guitar. From the start, these books expect you to learn notation and strumming patterns. If you are simply hoping to learn some of your favorite songs and become a casual player who memorizes a few melodies, this is not the focus of this book. For that, look elsewhere or purchase a book of tabs of your favorite band or artist. This book series is targeted toward beginner and intermediate players who want to really learn guitar, and it really is a great place for you to start the journey toward being a better player.
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Fretboard Logic SE: The Reasoning Behind the Guitar's Unique Tuning + Chords Scales and Arpeggios Complete (The Fretboard Logic Guitar Method Volumes I and II)
It’s little wonder that Fretboard SE is such a popular guitar book. It focuses on the practical application of learning guitar and relies less on intellectual theory. That is not to say that a guitarist attempting to improve their skills from this book won’t be challenged and introduced to a unique system. It is just to say that the system it introduces is different than you may be used to if you’ve read other books or tried learning guitar from another method. This book teaches around the "CAGED" method. That is, the book will attempt to explain the fretboard layout to you and how to navigate it by focusing on the five basic chord shapes and the root notes in those chords. As you might have guessed, the chords the method teaches are C, A, G, E, and D, thus the name. For a more detailed explanation check out this article from Premier Guitar.
While it won’t necessarily get you to Hendrix levels, it is a useful approach for beginners who want the focus to be on keeping enough fun and practically in practicing guitar. And while you still absolutely have to practice, this method shows tips and tricks up front to keep learning theory fun. It will also include enough information around traditional arpeggios, tunings, and scales to make sure you will learn music theory.
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Zen guitar is not about scales and memorizing chords. Instead, it is a masterpiece of why to play guitar, helping you get through the times where learning guitar gets frustrating, and believe me, it will at some point get frustrating. But if you can get through that and push on, you’ll be rewarded with mastery of an instrument that will give you personal fulfillment and a lifetime hobby that brings achievement and satisfaction.
That’s what this book is about and it delivers in spades. It sharpens your will to learn and how to set goals rather than your actual technique. If you need to reinvigorate your desire to learn and find the importance of why you are learning in the first place, this book that will apply Zen lessons to the art of learning guitar in a way that is very motivational (but not in a shove spiritual dogma in your face kind of way). If that is what you are looking for in a guitar book, it is hard to beat Zen Guitar.
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Guitar Aerobics: A 52-Week, One-lick-per-day Workout Program for Developing, Improving and Maintaining Guitar Technique
This book comes from the former editor of Guitar One magazine who has been playing since he was 14 years old, so he has a reputation of knowing a his way around a guitar neck AND knowing how to write. Let’s face it, when you are trying to learn guitar through reading a book, the author's ability to write and communicate is crucial. Anyway, this book delivers a “workout program” for your fingers, giving you a technique driven approach to learning the guitar and actually improving in record time. The exercises are designed to help with dexterity and accuracy.
Specifically, the book includes exercises to focus on sweeping, alternate picking, string skipping, and bending in addition to arpeggios and legato. Keep in mind, this book builds on the skills you’ll learn and practice along the way. Having said that, intermediate players can jump a few chapters and still get a ton of value out of the guitar exercises in this book. In that way, it really can function as a choose-your-own-adventure type way to learn guitar that matches your current skill level.
So this book is a great way to keep on top of practicing valuable techniques to build a very solid foundation over the course of a year. What this book is not good for is licks or detailed instruction about technique. It is much more focused on giving you a set schedule and practice regime that will build your skills. For people who get distracted and are unsure of what to practice in order to maximize their time and improve their skills, this book is a good way to remain focused and build a valuable skill set while learning guitar.
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Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask by Tom Kolb
Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Kolb is one of the most comprehensive ways to learn music theory from a book that we can recommend. This book, and the combination of online audio that accompanies it, has helped many aspiring guitarists learn theory after being frustrated with trying to learn how to play the guitar. One reason that might be is because Tom uses very plain language to explain theoretical concepts that are often confusing and can come off as complex. Further, the book includes diagrams frequently, which really helps visual learners.
We think the reason this book is so good is because of its readability. That is, it starts very slowly in theory, and Tom does an excellent job of explaining the constructs of music theory in simple and understandable terms. From there, the concepts are set up in such a way that is easy to follow and very thorough. Mr. Kolb did a great job of laying out the sequence of the topics to make them understandable to someone picking up a guide to music theory for the first time.
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Happy learning, and let us know what your choices for top guitar books are in the comment section!