By Martina Fasano of Playing With Chaos
I have played the guitar since I was 16 years old. I took a long hiatus between the ages of 24-34 respectively, to “grow up” and get a “career” (my high school guidance counsellor’s words, not mine). The thing with playing an instrument is that it is NOT like riding a bike. If you don’t practice, you’re not maintaining your skills, you’re getting worse. If you don’t believe me, try taking a ten-year break from your craft like I did.
When I was learning to play the guitar, I was lucky to take lessons for four years from one of Toronto’s most sought after session musicians. He was also Tom Cochrane and Rik Emmet’s touring guitarist. Pretty cool stuff. However, not all of us are so lucky, and with the internet having taken over the music industry as a whole, music lessons are no longer the “go to” for many people learning to play the guitar. Many of our guitar heroes have learned to play “by ear”, but for every Lita Ford – a self-taught virtuoso – there are millions who have not been able to succeed without some direction from a reliable source. Those same millions put down their guitars in despair and sell it on Craigslist to addicted guitar fiends like me for a fraction of what they paid for it.
Do you really want to learn how to play lead and rhythm guitar? If so, you’re going to have to practice. A lot. I can’t tell you how many tweets, e-mails, and Facebook messages I get on a monthly basis asking me the same question: “Are there any books you can recommend for me/my son/my daughter/my dog to help them learn how to play the guitar properly?” There are very few “complete methods” out there that will truly help a beginner go from zero to a reasonably decent player. One of these “complete” books is “Women’s Road To Rock Guitar”.
Let me first start out by saying that I cringed when I heard the title of the book I was going to be reviewing. I hate when female guitarists are pigeon-holed by their gender, but at the same time, at least in this decade, we have our own category. I also recognize that for many women, they have not been exposed to the female guitarists out there, and O’Neill’s book allows the reader to get some advice from some pretty awesome guitarists including Jennifer Batten, Lita Ford, Nancy Wilson, Ana Popovic, and Orianthi Panagaris among others. Because of this, I approached the contents with an open mind, and I’m so glad I did.
Nikki O’Neill gets readers off to a great start by covering topics like how to sit/stand when you play, which fingers to use when guitar tablature indicates fingerings, how to hold your pick, and even goes through an overview of upstrokes and downstrokes for alternate picking. Rhythmic markings and time signatures are also covered before she gets into the core of her program.
Once you have those introductory formalities out of the way, we’re ready to rock! Nikki gets it right by dividing the book into two major sections: rhythm and lead guitar concepts. She then divides each section into short, succinct topics such as power chords, barre chords, learning riffs, the I-IV-V progression, and minor and major scale patterns for soloing. This is a brilliant move since it allows you to go over specific concepts without having to fish through an entire book.
The backing tracks that come on the CD included with the book are helpful while practicing and give you the feel of what it might be like to play in a band. That’s important since I doubt you want to be serenading your teddy bear collection forever – you’re going to want to hit a stage at some point to show off your skills!
O’Neill’s book also ventures into must-know topics such as amps and effects and practicing tips – an often over-looked topic in all instructional programs. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your gear and basic setup concepts. This is often where us ladies get stereotyped into “not knowing what they’re doing”. O’Neill’s tips and knowledge will help when you show up at a music store and the salesman tries to sell you something you don’t need or want, or caoxes you into believing that a particular guitar is best for you, when your sound/tone is totally not in line with what he’s suggesting. She even provides a list of “essential listening” that highlights the abilities of some of rock’s most notable guitarists – that happen to be women.
My only criticism is that the riffs, chords, and progressions she provides are “in the style of”. That means exactly what is says: the riff or hook is in the style of a particular band/song, but it’s not the actual song you’re used to hearing. This is both a negative and a positive, depending on who you are. I found it difficult to go over some of the exercises because I was expecting to “hear” something different than what was written, but that is also good practice for learning to play what’s written. As a classically trained musician, I appreciate that. As a rocker, I want to learn to play the riffs I hear in my favorite songs.
Overall, Nikki O’Neill does a fantastic job of covering the most important things that someone who wants to learn the essentials of rock guitar. She’s clear, to the point, and goes beyond the beginner topics into the more advanced lessons that many of us might need to refresh our memory or break through a playing plateau.
I would recommend this book to anyone-man or woman- who wants to learn rock guitar or wants to improve their playing.
It is well structured and thought-out enough to grow with you as you improve your chops, while beginning with a set of skills and lessons that will help you develop your confidence as a player. If you follow Nikki’s tips and tricks, you’ll be opening for Lita Ford or Joan Jett in no time. Or not. But you’ll definitely have a lot more fun pretending to do so in front of your teddy bears.
The book is for sale worldwide through Alfred.com, Amazon.com and all other major online dealers, plus Guitar Center stores nationwide (USA) and Amoeba Records (Los Angeles).
About Martina Fasano
Martina is a music blogger sharing her thoughts on music gear, concert reviews, interviewing bands & albums and sharing incredibly awesome photography. Read her blog here.