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After three years in a row of budget cuts that had me looking for a new classroom teaching gig, I ended up in Doha, Qatar.
In addition to adjusting to oppressive temperatures, I took heat from some students’ parents who objected to music on religious or cultural grounds. It was a nightmare. But my guitar kept me sane. And the method book I brought from the states – Lou Manzi’s “Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar.”
Many books dig in with string by string exercises, leading to folk-song examples like “Yankee Doodle,” “Aura Lee,” and “Tom Dooly.” Manzi begins with an introduction – a personal story about a trip to the local library where he stumbles on an album by Ry Cooder – an album that changed his life.
Yes, there is a fair amount of front-loaded text in this method. But at some point guitar students need to develop an appreciation for the printed word and reading for content.
Chapter 1 gets cracking with ‘here’s what you need to know’: open strings, Roman Numerals, tuning procedure, two pages of fretboard logic, and finally several pages explaining notation basics of pitch and note value.
It ends with some explanation of tablature, scale diagrams, and chord diagrams (whew!)
Chapter 2 talks about technique, with several drawings of hand position to make the point.
Students will read as much of this as they feel necessary.
Chapter 3 pays off with its first application of skills – basic fingerstyle patterns. Written in standard and tablature, these exercises include pima directions and fretboard fingering. So there’s no question what is required of either hand. Everything is taken into account.
I have to say right here that, for me, lay-out is important. Manzi’s pages are easy to read. The font size is perfect, and the pages aren’t cluttered. I remember a beginning book that used Playbill font, and it felt like I was reading a children’s placemat menu at Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor.
Chapter 4 segues into polyphonic exercises.
Chapters 5 and 6 swing back to content (scales and key signatures, and chord theory).
And then he takes off with more challenging finger patterns, shifting melody to the bass line. Following pages add syncopation and walking bass lines.
There’s a chapter on hammer-ons and pull-offs, harp-style, and harmonics, as well as one on alternate tunings.
For a “Beginning Fingerstyle” book, Manzi leaves you feeling you got your money’s worth and hungry for book two.
In fact, there are three levels of this method: Beginning, Intermediate, and Mastering. You can get the complete set in one book.
We’ll look at the others down the road. But again, you cover a lot of ground with the first installment.