Mike Outram

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Fifty Essential Instructions Books


Following on from the 19 great books about music musicians and the creative process post a while ago, here are some great instruction books that I’ve found particularly useful. I have many more books than this, probably too many, but these are the ones I seem to come back to and have gotten most use out of. I’ve added links to Amazon if you feel moved to make an investment.

They make pretty good Xmas presents too :)

So, in no particular order…

The Jazz Composer’s Companion – Gil Goldstein
Mainly for the last section of the book which is a series of interviews about compositional process.

The Guitarist’s Guide to Composing and Improvising – Jon Damian
Similar in a way to Mick Goodrick’s book, but different. Still full of good stuff.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown – Dr. Lick
A book of James Jamerson’s bass lines. Great for practicing bass-clef reading. The lines Jamerson played, the groove, syncopation and melody are well worth studying.

Guitar Secrets – Joe Satriani
Some interesting ideas for getting away from the usual stuff.

Improvisation and Performance Techniques for Classical and Acoustic Guitar – Ralph Towner
Some interesting things about right-hand control using accents and implying polyrhythms.

The Brazilian Guitar Book – Nelson Faria
Superb examples of Brazilian guitar styles – a must.

Creative Guitar 1 and 2 – Guthrie Govan
I absolutely love Guthrie’s playing, and it’s always very interesting to hear his thoughts on guitar playing.

Exploring Jazz Guitar – Jim Hall
Lots of great ideas from Jim Hall. He analyses some of his approaches to playing and composition. Especially like the tune Cross Court and his dissection of it. Good things on phrasing with other instruments, rhythm guitar and the magic of music. Inspiring stuff.

Jazz Harmony: Think, Listen, Play – A Practical Approach – Frank Sikora
This is a great book about harmony (in the sort of Berklee-speak/Real Book charts tradition). Very well laid out with good examples. I like Frank’s writing style, clear and natural sounding.

Training The Ear Vol. 1+2 – Armen Donelian
Pretty systematic ear-training course.

Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass – Gary Willis
I like Willis’s idea of physically connecting finger and thumb to reinforce the interval sound with the fingering.

An Introduction To Sight-Singing – A. Forbes Milne (Book 1) – (Book 2)
This is a really well laid-out, short, book. It starts with the interval of a 5th, and you sight-sing the intervals in a few keys so you get used to seeing the intervals as they occur at different pitches/note-names. And then you add all the other intervals until you’ve got the whole major scale. (I don’t use the solfa stuff) Also very useful for learning all the basics of sight reading. Book 2 adds more minor key examples, modulations, bass clef, time sigs, etc.

Music Notation – Mark McGrain
A great book on how to notate music properly. Your music will look really nice after you’ve read this. I really love seeing hand-written music as there’s so much personality that comes through in a beautifully notated score.

Rhythm & Meter Patterns – Gary Chaffee
I use the rhythms in the book and improvise my own notes. A great study in getting away the jazz curse of just playing 8th notes.

The Advancing Guitarist – Mick Goodrick
Reams of material to work through in this. Sure everyone will have this already as it’s a classic but just in case you don’t…

An Improviser’s OS – Wayne Krantz
I love all things Wayne Krantz. The first part of the book is a big list of permutations of note grouping possibilities from 1 to 12 notes. The rest of the book is how Krantz uses this material to practise. It’s full of good stuff.

Elementary Training for Musicians – Paul Hindemith
Great basic training book.

Drum Wisdom – Bob Moses
Lots of interesting rhythmic ideas here.

Telemaster Guitar – Jerry Donahue
One of my favourite guitarists. An absolute master player.

The Jazz Language – Dan Haerle
This is a really clearly laid out book on music theory. It’s concise. Which is good. Sometimes.

Metamorphosis – Sam Most
Reams of stuff in here, great to practice reading with. There’s a bit at the back that’s sort of a ‘basic stuff you should totally know backwards’ thing. Scales and what not.

Guitar Comping – Barry Galbraith
Great book for practising sight-reading chords. And a good book to study 4-note voicings too. All the voicings are basic good comping voicings – stuff that sounds great and is playable.

British Fingerpicking Guitar – Stefan Grossman
Transcriptions and interviews with three of my favourite guitarists: John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. I’m always playing Renbourn’s ‘The Hermit’, a brilliant drop D tune, and Faro’s Rag. All three players have incredible touch on the instrument, and in totally different ways. Renbourne is very deep and precise, Jansch and Graham are really physical.

Music Reading for the Guitar – David Oakes
Some good, practical ideas about sight-reading in this book.

Modern Reading Text in 4/4 and Odd Time Reading Text – Louis Bellson/Gil Breines
Books for practising rhythm-reading. Improvise your own notes to make it more interesting.

Creative Rhythmic Concepts For Jazz Improvisation – Ronan Guilfoyle
Great book on different rhythmic ideas.

Jazz Theory Book – Mark Levine
Good examples and reams of info.

Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music – Derek Bailey
Enjoyed the TV series that went along with this book.

Guitar Player Magazine – Secrets From The Masters
Some great interviews

Down Beat – 60 years of Jazz
Interviews and articles from 60 years of Downbeat magazine.

Harmonic Mechanisms for Guitar Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3 – George Van Eps
A chord book that’ll put hairs on your chest.

Chord Chemistry – Ted Greene
Some good stuff here. Best thing I ever did with chords was to write my own little chord book, will blog about that sometime soon. I’ve found some fantastic Ted Greene stuff on the net recently that I really need to sit down and go through. Amazing chap.

Voicings for Jazz Keyboard – Frank Mantooth
Interesting ways of thinking about voicings that you can easily apply to the guitar.

Bach – Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin and Two Part Inventions
My guitar teacher Peter Bocking made me learn some of these pieces and the 2 part inventions are great fun to read with another guitarist.

An Approach to Comping – Jeb Patton
Great book on comping. Vol 2 is equally good.

389 Choralgesänge – Johann Sebastian Bach (Edition Breitkopf)
The more common Bach choral book is the Riemenschneider edition, but it looks terrible, imo. The notation in this edition is bigger and clearer. I mainly use it for reading practice – I’ll select two voices from the SATB and read it, or attempt to play all the voices which is sometimes sort of do-able on the guitar, sometimes not as the spread of the voices is too wide and tricky to sustain moving parts, but anyhow, you can bodge through them for fun.

Insights in Jazz: John Elliot
In this book, you learn a little harmonic move, for example, the move from tonic to relative minor. John highlights these little harmonic cells and has done the heavy lifting of showing 20 other tunes that use that move. Really useful for learning tunes and thinking about common harmonic progressions. Check out his excellent blog which tells you all about it.

Jimmy Raney (Aebersold Vol 20)
A collection of 10 Raney solos on some standards. His playing is beautiful and quirky, and these are great to study.

Reading Studies for Guitar & Advanced Reading Studies for Guitar – William G. Leavitt
I used to think these books were too straight and predictable in comparison to the actual music I’d be reading normally, but now I think it’s exactly what you need for basic reading practice: simple studies across the range of the guitar that highlight the basic harmonic moves (move to relative minor, move to chord IV, diminished stuff, iv minor, etc. I don’t use the fingering principle he uses, but in general super useful. The handwritten notation is lovely too.

Hearin’ The Changes – Jerry Coker, Bob Knapp, Larry Vincent
A book similar to Insights in Jazz in that it’s about highlighting common harmonic moves as they occur in the jazz repertoire, and learning to recognise them by ear. One of my first experiences of this skill was talking to my guitar teacher Steve Willingham about ear training outside some practice rooms at college, and, to demonstrate, he called out the chord changes he heard that a student was practising – that really made an impression on me that it was all about the ear; he didn’t need an instrument/chart/explanation to work it out. He just heard it and knew what it was. Simple.

Essential Principles – Marco Tamayo
Really interesting thoughts on technique. And he has some editions with hyper-detailed fingerings that are fascinating to go through.

So, that’s it. Hope my list is of use. Feel free to share any other recommendations. I’m always up for getting lost in book world…

12 responses to “Fifty Essential Instructions Books”

  1. Dave Tompkins says:

    Hi Mike,
    I recommend The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten. It’s not like any other music book I’ve come across. There’s a review of it here http://music-education.suite101.com/article.cfm/review_the_music_lesson and it’s only about 6 or 7 quid on amazon.

  2. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, Dave! I got that one at christmas but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Looked a bit Carlos Castenada-ish from my brief scan through.
    I’ve been going nuts reading creativity/GTD books at the moment. Trying to get creative about procrastination by reading massive amounts of books on procrastination. And loads of podcasts on the road. Just listened to Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Word by Word (the podcast related to the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). Also Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin was fun.

  3. Glenn Thompson says:

    Hi Mike,
    Reading through your list was very close to looking through the bookshelf in my practice room. Although there’s a couple of your suggestions I’ll have to add ie. the ones by Jon Damian and Bob Moses. I don’t know how they slipped by me unnoticed. A couple I’d like to suggest are: Jazz Structures for the New Millennium from Joe Diorio’s Right Brain Guitarist Series (anything by Joe Diorio is a welcome addition to my library); and Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. So there’s my 2 cents worth…
    Glenn Thompson

  4. Mike Outram says:

    Hi Glenn,
    Been away for an aeon, so forgive my tardy response!
    Thanks for your suggestions.
    Do you mean those articles Joe wrote for Guitar Player magazine? I really enjoyed the one article I read; are there more?
    Probably from the 80s, no? The golden age of Guitar Player and their flexi-disc! Michael Hedges and Steve Vai in the same month, Jerry Donahue, Gambale, etc.

  5. Glenn Thompson says:

    Hi Mike,
    It’s been awhile since I’ve checked the site. Trying to keep busy and being successful at it! Yes that GP article was the beginning of what he’s written on the “Right Brain” stuff. The springboard for his ideas came partially from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards(another great book). But he continued writing several books,
    Jazz Structures for the N.M.(mentioned above), Jazz Blues Styles,etc.
    These he registered as “The Right Brain Guitarist Series” published by Mel Bay. His older books have been re-released w/ cd’s(no longer cassettes or flexi-discs lol) by 2 different publishers, Hal Leonard, and Alfred. So lucky for us guitar players there remains a treasure trove of knowledge from Joe Diorio.
    I have to mention 1 more title, “Guitar Compendium-The Praxis System” by Howard Roberts & Gary Hagberg,vol 1-3. Incredible resource material for any teacher or student covering all styles.
    Thanks. Take care.

  6. Tom says:

    Hey Mike,

    Only just saw this post. Some great stuff on there I’ve not seen before so thanks!

    Also – For sight reading, the Tommy Tedesco Book – For guitar players only is amazing. And the Dave Liebman books – A chromatic approach to jazz harmony and a chromatic approach to playing standards are compendiums of awesome to say the least!

  7. Phil Robson says:

    Great collection. I’d also add ‘Complete Book of Harmonic Extensions for Guitar’ by Bret Willmott (Author). Published by Mel Bay. It’s a really clear and practical book with lots of examples based on well known standards. When I found out about this book, it really made me re-think my voicings.

  8. Hi Mike, Excellent website! I don’t know whether you’ve seen my book “From Dreaming To Gigging – Jazz Guitar in 6 Months”. I wrote it for all those guitarists who play rock or blues or even classical, but say jazz guitar is just too hard. It’s really a complete music theory book for guitar. 24 weekly lessons, each one containing 3 elements: Theory, Exercises and Listening (I introduce a guitarist, sometimes 2 , in each chapter). Some cool cats have said nice things about it: “Essential reading whether you’re an experienced player or starting out… insightful & entertaining.” MARTIN TAYLOR “Creative concepts & practical advice – I’ll use this in my teaching” DON PEAKE (Wrecking Crew) “An essential, indispensable and fun guide.” JIM MULLEN “A progressive, entertaining and multi-dimensional tutorial” LAURENCE JUBER “Biting humour and erudite scholarship. A classic.” MITCH DALTON

  9. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, Phil! I’ll definitely check that one out :)

  10. Mike Outram says:

    Hi Richard, yes of course I have your book, really enjoyed it :)
    The Metheny one is awesome too!

  11. Torito says:

    Great list!

    Should anyone be interested, a great finding for me was Jimmy Amadie’s two books, published by Thornton:

    Jazz Improv, How to Play it and Teach It!
    Harmonic Foundation for Jazz & Popular Music, a Keyboard Approach

    Jimmy was an American pianist, you can find a few vids of him in YT.

    I know he’s totally unknown (although Summa Cum Laude when he was a music student), but the books are brilliant.

    Also these two:

    Frank Sikora, Jazz Harmony, recently translated from the German edition by Schott.
    Edward Sarah, Music Theory Through Improvisation, Routledge.

  12. Mike Outram says:

    Hey man just saw this! Thanks, I’ll check those out. I have the Sikora book, I think that’s excellent!

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