Enjoy Playing Guitar. Tutor Book 1. Debbie Cracknell. First published by Oxford University Press in 1984. This revision 2011
I remember using the original Enjoy Playing Guitar book decades ago. Those were the days when fewer tutor books were on the market and the advances in playing, which we now take as the norm, were rarer to find.
I seem to recall it got students underway with notation, but I further recall many students giving up because of boredom. That could of course have been the teacher who was boring them, or the material we used. Thus, I was curious to see how a newer edition had evolved, although the original has long-since vanished from my shelves, so I cannot accurately compare the two. The first observation is the familiar ‘old chestnut’ of CDs. Previous reviews have alluded to their impracticality (see the review of Gary Ryan’s Guitar Star) and the O.U.P. would be well advised to put the CD’s material on-line. This particular one is not terribly well played with foreshortened notes as a player’s position moves around the fingerboard, but I doubt a student would be upset by this.
The preface encourages the user to go through this book with a teacher; a welcome piece of advice in the opening paragraph. It’s followed by a series of drawing illustrating what Debbie considers good and less-good playing positions and inevitably, opportunities for dispute present themselves.
Cracknell likes her right thumb extended in front of fingers, but many young players are evolving amazing technical facility with the thumb closer in. Similarly, she advocates leaving the thumb resting on string six, when ‘walking’ with the fingers on the top string. She shows us how to hold a guitar, but doesn’t say why we would want to do it like this.
This is a recurrent dilemma for authors: how much to tell the student about anything, and how much to leave to the teacher to explain. Many authors know their subject so well that they lose sight of what needs to be said and what doesn’t. The lack of consistency afflicts this book as much as any other I have seen. In this case, scant explanation is offered of the notation system we adopt. What is a beat? What is a high or a low note? The anacrusis appears with no word of introduction and damping is mostly over-looked. Why are some i.m. fingerings offered, but others not? What is the correct right-hand finger with which to commence a performance? She does explain a little more about rests, ties, sharps, ties, compound time and counting, though. There are so many concepts which teachers take for granted, but which may baffle students, and it’s an impossible “ask” to expect the confines of sixty pages to cover all this knowledge. Debbie does as well (or as badly) as anyone else in trying to navigate this minefield.
There are some contentious pieces of advice: “Leave the first finger down (on F) when playing G in bar 3“, for example, will be challenged by many teachers, as will her advice on free strokes. In three sentences, she avoids mention of string displacement; any disciple of John Taylor’s book on classical guitar tone-production will grit their teeth here.
There are many good points worth mentioning of this book. Its clear layout and progressive approach will satisfy students and teachers alike. I liked her omission of bar lines early on, and think it’s an excellent idea, although it isn’t something that gets used for more than a single piece. I further liked her quizzes, although why she thinks anyone will mistake a crotchet rest for a seagull is a mystery. Cracknell encourages the student and teacher to use the material in differing ways, for example by using a piece as a basis for extemporisation. Another welcome innovation (well, it’s less common) is to suggest the student practise the right-hand on its own as a preparation for Malaguena. There’s even an attempt, in Oasis, to allow the student to open the door to the sound of augmented 2nds.
By the end the student can play all six strings in first position in different time signatures and has been introduced to chromatics, simple chords and double-stopping.
A student would be ill-advised to try this book alone. With a teacher who knows the book’s pitfalls and has the intelligence to be less dogged in following the contents sequentially, I think it is a useful book. Debbie has done a good job to try to contemporise this book with more up-to-date didactic teaching and I can see why it is still a well-selling favourite.
Truthfully, I was half-expecting this revision to be an easy target for criticism, such is the length of time since the original’s genesis. I was pleasantly surprised to see that its solidity still makes it a practical option for teachers to consider. Even in 2019, there’s much of value still to be found in these pages. Colin Tommis