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Guitar QuickStart: A Guide to Playing and Understanding Music Reading and Chord Techniques Review by Shauna Rumbaugh

Mary Jo Disler
Lyra House Music Publications
PO Box 252132
West Bloomfield, MI 48325-2132

My 8-year-old daughter enjoys music and has wanted to learn how to play the guitar ever since she first became captivated by a classical guitar performance on TV. We gave her a child-sized guitar for her seventh birthday, and we soon discovered that even tuning the new instrument was a chore, as I did not play guitar myself and my husband has limited experience playing. I assumed we would enroll her in group or private lessons with an experienced guitar player, but when I checked into registering her for beginner guitar lessons with the city's recreation department, I learned that the lessons were only offered for children ages ten and up.

So, I was pleased to be given the opportunity to use and review Mary Jo Disler's Guitar QuickStart, though I was a bit skeptical that a book would be sufficient for my husband or me to teach our daughter how to play the guitar, inexperienced as we are at playing guitar ourselves and as vital as sound is to the process of learning music! I hoped that we would be able to learn the basics of playing the guitar as a family and, if nothing else, satisfy my daughter's desire to learn about her new instrument until we were able to find an experienced tutor, even if we needed to wait until she was a bit older to start formal lessons.

As the complete title--Guitar QuickStart: A Guide to Playing and Understanding Music Reading and Chord Techniques--suggests, the book is a how-to manual for learning to play the guitar as well as an introduction to music theory. Disler, who has a Master of Music from The University of Michigan, has over 20 years of experience teaching guitar, privately and in college-level group classes. The 90-page softcover book is not labeled for use by any particular age range but is intended as an entry-level guitar course. The book is appropriate for individual lessons in a homeschool setting, classes, or self-instruction.

QuickStart's text is practical and straightforward, covering a lot of information with a no-frills presentation. Diagrams and other black-and-white illustrations help the student visualize the terms and concepts being discussed and relate them to their guitar. Students are shown a simplified version of guitar tablature; however, the author believes learning to read music is a key component of learning to play guitar and uses tablature as a tool, not as a replacement for that. Disler describes her method as "straight-ahead practicality for students anxious to play the instrument." The book is both a textbook and a workbook, and the lessons include instructional text as well as both fill-in-the-blank questions and hands-on practice assignments such as "Play and memorize the open string numbers and letter names."

Lessons covered in the opening chapter, The Guitar, include the types of guitars and how to tell one from another, basic posture and positioning for both classic and acoustic steel-string guitars, hand and guitar symbols, playing techniques, explanation of terms, and parts of the guitar. The material helps the student and the teacher get to know the instrument and learn basic terminology that will be used throughout the rest of the book and course. Subsequent chapters cover: The Guitar Fretboard, Reading Music on the Guitar, Guitar Tablature and Notation, Chord Basics, Song Accompaniment and Charts, Songs: Charts with Words, Counting by Note Values, Converting Songs to Charts, Alternating Bass for Chords, and The Chords Most Likely to Succeed. Additional chapters in the Reference portion of the book cover Tuning the Guitar, Care and Maintenance of the Guitar, Answers (to the workbook questions), and Chords. Blank Practice Tablatures and Music Staff are also included at the end of the book as well as a Song Index.

The softcover book uses a "lay-flat perfect binding"--a necessity when you're trying to follow along while holding a guitar or helping your student. You can fold the cover back and press the pages open as you go, and the binding seems sturdy enough to allow for many such creases without falling apart. My personal preference would be a spiral binding, though.

Guitar QuickStart is ideal for parents to use to teach themselves to play the guitar as they are teaching their child. We used an electronic tuner before we began and found the tuning tips in the Reference section very helpful. My husband and I have been working through the book and learning ourselves, then sharing the information with our daughter at a level that she can comprehend. I think that at such a young age, it's important to keep it enjoyable and present the information in a way that doesn't overwhelm her and that builds confidence. Though the comprehension level at which the text is written is a bit beyond her, we can simplify the instructions so that she can more easily understand. We will continue to use the book and think it's a good resource. The lessons cover a lot of content but are not difficult to follow, though occasionally I wished Disler were in the room to show me exactly what she means and how to apply it on the instrument, as some instructions are harder to understand and carry out than others.

Hearing is such a vital component of music instruction, so I personally would prefer having a CD or DVD with audio to accompany the book so that I could compare and contrast how a piece should sound with how I'm actually playing it. The author notes herself that there is simply no substitute for working with a good teacher and that no book is capable of conveying finer points of technique and sound. Still, she provides a valuable text that can prepare a student for more advanced work with a teacher in steel-string or classic guitar, and as long as their expectations are reasonable, students will learn a great deal about not only playing the guitar but also music theory and rhythm. They will learn the basics of reading music, using tablatures, and elementary rules of music theory.

Disler states that the material she presents in Guitar QuickStart is the equivalent of a one-semester course worth two credit hours. Although it could be used by parents to teach elementary-level children as we are doing, it would be most appropriate for older students and even adults. A high-school student could use the book independently, and experienced guitar players could confidently teach multiple students using the logical, step-by-step QuickStart approach that Mary Jo Disler shares. The book retails for $19.95 and is well worth the price in my opinion.

--Product Review by Shauna Rumbaugh, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February, 2010