Rockodile 1 by Robert Morandell and Christoph Gruber. Trinity College London Press.
EGTA members are often confronted with the need to be versatile and teach other styles of guitar as well as classical guitar. It’s reasonable therefore, from time to time, to have a peep at teaching materials for other instruments, such as the electric guitar in this instance.
A test driver of a car would be ridiculed if he didn’t actually drive the car. Someone assessing a recipe does so by trying to cook it. We test a pair of trousers by putting them on. When it comes to didactic teaching books, their real efficacy can only be assessed by teaching with them. Reviewing a teaching book without a pupil is similar to not turning the ignition key.
That’s an important caveat to this review. I have not tried to take a student through the book – thus some of my observations might be altered, if the opportunity was to arise. There’s another which has been mentioned before: we can play the guitar and it’s sometimes hard to imagine a time when we could not. It is a challenge to look at well-known material with the eyes of someone who doesn’t have a clue.
There are many commendable attributes to this book. The most obvious one is that nowhere does it suggest this is a self-help or teach-yourself guide. It isn’t, and thanks to a teacher, many of the issues (we’ll get to those) can probably be overcome.
It has play-along backing tracks which can be easily accessed on the internet and I found them appealing and engaging. If a student downloaded these to a smartphone, it would incentivise their practise.
It’s almost unheard-of to encounter an ‘electric’ book which does not use tablature, but here it is. By the end (page 108) the student is playing tunes in first position, with all standard rhythms and requirements actually notated. There’s even swing quavers, pentatonic scales, dotted notes, articulation, ties and coda signs – all well explained and much used.
Another commendable notion which will resonate with EGTA members is the delay in teaching chords. The book is approaching its end before elementary three-note chords are introduced. No violin teacher ever starts their students with double-stopping and the single-note philosophy is persuasively transferred to the electric guitar here.
There are clear fonts, a Lionel Penrose-inspired diatonic scale or mode, encouragements to improvise and experiment with amplifiers, much white space around the material for teachers to add their thoughts and some cut-out rhythmic cards for the development of those skills.
The input of a teacher, backing-tracks, engaging display and sensibly incremental exercises makes this book a serious addition to the lexicon of electric-teaching literature. But a review wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention a few of my misgivings.
Of the many fundamental skills an electric guitarist needs, plectrum/pick control is high up on the list. The plectrum must travel in both directions and students need to grasp that ups and downs have rhythmic equality. I’ve seen countless students play a down stroke and leave the hand in the finished position, thereby having to rush an upstroke to prepare for another down.
This book spends a good deal of time developing notions of foot-tapping and hand-clapping to differentiate between strong and weak beats, but it isn’t until page 51 when dealing with syncopation, that I saw a suggestion that a plectrum had to travel across the strings without playing.
Guitarists are divided on how we change left hand fingers. I was taught to play like this book suggests, in a way which increases the number of fingers on a string as we chromatically ascend. For example:
G-sharp on fret IX of string 2 is played with finger 1.
A-natural on fret X of string 2 is played with finger 2, but with finger 1 still on the string.
A-sharp on fret XI of string 2 is played with finger 3, but with fingers 1&2 still on the string.
B-natural on fret XII of string 2 is played with finger 4, but with fingers 1&2&3 still on the string.
This is something I revised later and decided that releasing finger 1, as I depress finger 2, was a good idea. Like a pianist, the freely available-&-removed finger can now move elsewhere. Unless I was playing a trill or regularly returning to the first note, its presence was a handicap rather than a help.
These authors do not share that view. Furthermore, they go to considerable trouble to promote the former method. If, like this writer, you disagree, then there’s a good few pages of this book you will be crossing out !
Some of the letter names are confusing. Initially A or E refer to notes, but quite soon the same concept is used to inform someone (not the student) that these are now chords. The teacher will suss it out, but the student might be confused. They might be further confused by colour-coding. The open D string is blue, but so is C on string 5…
I felt that the absence of consistency could make for difficulties for students who make colour connections. But by a third of the way through the book the colours are in any case dispensed with. So, why start?
These are quibbles which any competent teacher can work around. The basic book is a really good example of how learning the electric guitar does not have to mean you are isolated from other literate musicians. As a bridge between the plug-in world and the domain of reading functioning players of all instruments, I can seriously recommend this book as being an excellent resource.