Review of Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Serb

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NoteBoat
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Post by NoteBoat » April 22nd, 2006, 9:20 am

Hey, thanks Mike!

Actually, I expected readers would fall into two groups - one that would read straight through, and one that would skip around as you're doing.

Music theory is a field where some things are sequential - you need to know major scales before you can tackle intervals - and some things aren't. You can easily understand chord structure without understanding odd meters... but I couldn't come up with a one-size-fits-all progression.

So I ended up breaking the concepts down into parts: chapter 1 talks about sound, chapters 2-5 are rhythm, 6-13 deal with pitch, and 14 on deals with harmony (intervals, chords, cadences, etc.)

The use of standard notation is deliberate, and unavoidable... becuase music theory isn't exactly about music - it's about music notation. If you take a look at p.76, you'll see two intervals - an augmented fourth and a diminished fifth - and each has exactly the same fingering diagram. The only way to tell these intervals apart is with standard notation... fingering, tab, and your ear will all find them identical.

But they're not identical in theory terms, and there are plenty of times the difference matters. I don't get into harmony and voice leading in the book, but the two are written differently because they act differently... they'll end up moving to different places. So when I eventually get to a book on harmony, I'll get into the differences in context.

I'm glad you're enjoying it! :)
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Post by kingpatzer » April 22nd, 2006, 10:07 am

Tom's book is really a very good effort. It's usually, however, the second theory book I recommend to my guitar students who are interested in theory.

For the first book, I usually point them to, believe it or not, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory.

Aside from the fact that the Idiot's book comes with an ear-training CD that is of reasonable quality, there are some areas I think it provides a slightly better basis than Tom's book for someone just getting into music theory.

Largely these difference rest with choices, and one isn't objectively better or worse than the other. The Idiot's guide starts, like Tom's book, with the characteristics of sound and frequency, but then goes directly into discussions about pitch, intervals and scales. Tom jumps from sound characteristics to rhythm. To me, this presents a discontinuity.

It's not that Tom's rhythm discussion is bad, it's actually quite good, but simply the organizational choice of putting the discussion where he did strikes me as a bit jumbled.

Where I find Tom's book to be extremely useful is taking the concepts of intervals, scales, and chords and relating them to the fretboard. He is very careful, in the latter part of the book, to present everything in very clear diagrams that make it easy to grasp how what one does on the fretboard relates to the ideas being discussed.

However, the discussions on many topics are pretty limited. Tom's book is less than 100 pages of discursive text, and it is liberally interspersed with diagrams. This means that Tom has very little room to go into depth on any one topic. Again, that's a choice, and it's neither good nor bad. What Tom does cover he covers extremely well, but often quicker than a complete theory newb might need to really understand what is being said.

The Idiot's guide, for example, has about 12 pages on the basics of chord progressions, plus another 30 or so pages on cadences, turnarounds, and chord substitutions. Tom covers progressions in 2 pages and doesn't really touch on substitutions at all.

I use the Idiot's guide first because in my experience, Tom's book is so quick hitting that it's hard for someone just starting to look at theory to really get everything he's saying. However, it's great strength, and one that makes it invaluable to guitarists, is that it does relate everything back to the fretboard, whereas most other theory books, if they try to relate to an instrument, choose piano.

In any case, theory is really a complex subject and if you get into it in any depth, you'll find that you will need multiple references. Tom's book is a very good addition to any guitarist theory geek's library.
I would, however, recommend it more as complimentary to another more in-depth first theory book than as a stand alone work.
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Post by kingpatzer » April 22nd, 2006, 10:56 am

The CD was added to a later edition.
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

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Post by pearlthekat » June 21st, 2006, 3:26 pm

Good review. I've been meaning to buy this book. I will get around to it soon. SOON. I promise tom. You've been very helpful to me on these boards!

jane

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Re: Review of Music Theory for Guitarists by Tom Serb

Post by rparker » April 12th, 2010, 1:16 pm

Wow, I can't believe how time flies.

I just wanted to give another shout out to noteboat and his fine book. I figure doing it this way would ive a little bump back up near the top of this forum section. I got it a few years back, read most if not all of it and subsequently lost much of what I read. It happens.

I had been delaying fixing a Guitar Pro file for quite some time. Over 200 bars of TAB/Music notation that had some issues with timing & rhythm. As a result, the GP output was messed up. I knew where to go. The first 1/2 of this book brought me back up to speed with the notation and I was able to cure the problem with ease and a few hours of time. (Lots of the file I was working on was off. I fixed a lot or bars.)

Thanks again, Tom!
Roy

"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin

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