Taking up any musical instrument is a challenge, to say the least. And in an age where we tend to think in terms of moments, it’s very easy to conveniently forget that knowledge of any sort is not something we achieve spontaneously. It has to be discovered, absorbed, processed and then used repeatedly in order to become part of our lives.
Despite knowing this, there are no end of websites, books, tutorial CDs and DVDs which proclaim that, with their assistance, you can become a virtuoso guitarist in a week, a day, an hour, thirty minutes. Whatever.
This is one reason why Len Collins’ Guitar Breakthough DVD is a bit of a breath of fresh air. Len understands that learning is a lifelong journey. He even addresses this on one of the pages in the “Resource Materials” section of the DVD, saying, “Guitar Breakthrough is not a “teach yourself to play guitar” program. It’s here to show you the solutions to all your problems and musical worries.”
The Guitar Breakthrough DVD consists of seven “lessons” spread out over the course of three hours on this two disc set. Essentially, you get to sit in on these “lessons” as Len works with either Collin or Matt, who are at various stages of development in Len’s program. At the conclusion of each lesson, the scene changes to two young guitarists, Rob and Alex, who are jamming at home and conveniently putting the skills learned in the lesson just passed to practical use as they work on songwriting and arranging.
Len’s teaching style is comfortable and disarming. He’s the eccentric uncle at the family table that is both good for a laugh and for pearls of wisdom. Because what Len is trying to teach (more on that in a moment) is usually presented so cut and dried, there are all sorts of minor entertaining moments, usually brought onscreen by animation. And there’s a bit of a storyline, too, just to keep you both entertained and on your toes, involving brothers in bands, sisters who are sisters, nuns who make sandwiches and other objects of affection. Seriously.
While all this silliness is going on, though, you find yourself learning. In “Fretboard,” the first lesson, Len starts out by teaching the notes of the fretboard and does it quickly and painlessly. It’s a bit scary how easy it is to learn and you also have to wonder why people make such a big deal about not learning them.
But this is part of the dichotomy of the guitarist. It is certainly possible to learn the instrument without knowing notes, without reading music, without doing anything but copying what someone says. People often spend more time arguing why they don’t have to read music than it takes to learn how to! Len understands this and tries to provide his students with reasons for learning and, for the most part, he’s good at this. The lesson on “Reading Music” is clear and concise.
The ultimate goal of Guitar Breakthrough is to give you enough knowledge, enough musical tools to take you to the point where you can improvise and solo. So once the first two lessons are under your belt, you move on to “Scales,” then “Chords” (the four basic chord types), then “Chords with Hats” (suspended chords, sixths, sevenths and so on), “Modes” and then the final lesson, “Expected Changes,” which deals with the non-diatonic chord progressions one often runs into in music.
This is a lot of material. Just about all of Guitar Breakthrough is about the brainwork that, along with practice, gets your hands to the point where you can play what you hear. And, correctly, Len spends much more time on building that foundation than on all the things you’ll see and do once you’ve got the tools to work with. In other words, this DVD is going to help get your head in a position where it can help your hands, and get them both on the same page.
To help with this, each disc has a section labeled “Resource Materials.” That’s initially a little confusing as the set of “Resource Materials” on Disc One is the exact same as the set on Disc Two, but this way you don’t have to going changing discs in the middle of a lesson. There are over three hundred pages of resource material in fact, so you certainly don’t want to print them out twice! A lot of the pages are reaffirmations of what you’ve learned in the lessons, but there are also ready-made charts of chords, scales and other charts that are all discussed in the actual “lessons.”
If nothing else, going through this DVD may make you have enough of those “slap your forehead” moments and send you back through all the other books and DVDs you’ve collected because you’ve suddenly figured out how everything fits together.
So, then, who is Guitar Breakthrough for? That’s an interesting question and there’s no easy answer. It’s certainly not for everyone. Any teacher who believes that one method will work for every possible student is not very realistic. And while Guitar Breakthrough is excellent at what it does, I’m not certain I would recommend it to someone who just picked up a guitar for the very first time five minutes ago. Even Len concedes this point, as he states on the sixth page of the Resource Material section: “Guitar Breakthrough is not essentially a program for new guitarists.” But I would recommend that an absolute beginner go through this material after, say, two or three months of getting down his or her basic chords and strumming.
Likewise, people whose sole interest in guitar playing is to copy music rather than to create his or her own, may not see the point of learning these basics, even though it will certainly help make the learning a lot easier by being able to see chord shapes and scale patterns in the music being copied.
And if you’re a guitarist struggling with rhythm and strumming, you’ll probably won’t find much solace in learning to read rhythms, although it’s exactly the thing that you will need.
Guitar teachers may want to give this a go as well, and let Len do some of the work for them!
In short, while Guitar Breakthrough may not cure all your music worries, for a lot of people it will carry them through to a point where they can start to make better progress.
As long as it doesn’t make you dream of nuns delivering sandwiches, you should be alright.
Website: Guitar Breakthrough