Debbie Cracknell material has been a feature of guitar lessons for many years. She has been a divisive author in the past, with her ‘Enjoy Playing the Guitar‘ books winning converts and critics in equal measure. There is now a revised edition of that book, which will feature in a future review, but with Christmas approaching, this Crackers is first on the list. She could have called it Cracknell Pulls The Crackers, but maybe that would have been too obvious an alliteration!
There are 14 pieces, in a repetitive format: the tune is placed on the left page, and the three accompaniments are sited on the right-hand page. This means that a teacher can open up a single book on a music stand and three or four students in a group lesson can gather round to play the complete piece. Clearly, some practical thought was given as to how this book could be used in lessons. Debbie calls this a resource book; there is no instruction inherent or implicit. I agree with her categorisation, which places the suitable guitarist in between grades one and three.
Most of the pieces are well known to teachers, if not to students. Such favourites as Jingle Bells, In Dulci Jubilo and Once In Royal David’s City are presented in keys of C and G but she also explores the keys of G, A and F in the collection.
The accompaniments are offered with the highest pitches at the top; this alto/tenor/bass layout well supports the soprano left-page melodic material. Sometimes soprano and alto swap higher pitches, but a sensitive dynamic will still allow the melody to speak. Students need to learn to count rests, be able to play swung quavers as well as play in compound time, and guitar two of the accompaniments needs to have a grasp of upper and lower voice concepts. The others are single-line monodic affairs.
It all works rather well; the simple and predictable harmonisations fulfil their function, there’s a lyric for singing students, and even chord symbols and a concluding chord-chart for those lessons when a non-reading chord-player joins the ensemble. The print is mostly clear, although The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy looks a bit squashed on the page, and any fingering presented does so just when the student would pose a fingering enquiry.
This is a good resource which teachers of group lessons should know about. It would be a useful book to keep in the briefcase for this time of year when headmasters start to ask for Christmas items for the school concert. I can, without reservation, pass this book as ‘fit for purpose’ and I recommend it to you.