In Praise of Songbooks

When I was twelve, I learned many of my first chords from a book called The Beatles Fakebook. It had dozens of songs by my favorite band laid out simply: one song per page. I thumbed through the book endlessly, trying out songs that looked easy, eking my way through harder ones. It was inspiring. I got hooked and requested guitar lessons. The rest is history.

Beginners today spend a lot of time online, looking up free “tabs” for songs. There’s reason for concern about the accuracy of user-submitted tabs, but here’s an observation I think is more to the point: the more time you spend hunting for songs online, the less time you spend playing your guitar.

Go Old School: Read A Book
I suggest buying a few songbooks. They’re generally MUCH more accurate than user-generated materials at free tab sites, they’re not expensive, and once you have it on your bookshelf, you can explore new songs whenever you want and focus your free time on actually playing, rather than searching.

Songbooks also help you sidestep the risk of what my former student Todd calls “the Youtube lateral drift,” where you start out looking for useful tutorials and end up watching funny cat videos.

Chord Songbooks
These are often called “fakebooks,” but in my opinion, there’s nothing fake about making good-sounding music quickly and easily. Each song has chord symbols and lyrics. No piano arrangements, no page turns. Each song fits on one or two facing pages. You can find books devoted solely to songs by Adele, books focused on Green Day or Bob Dylan, and also collections that span multiple artists grouped by genre.

Tab Books
Tab books are oriented toward more technical playing. Folks interested in riff-based music, in fiddle tunes, in guitar solos should look here. Tab is a form of music notation that uses six horizontal lines to represent the guitar strings, and numbers to tell you what fret to play, plus a variety of squiggles and abbreviations to indicate bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs. You can get beginner “easy tab” versions of your favorite songs, or you can get the more advanced “recorded version” transcriptions which show every move Jimi Hendrix made on “Purple Haze,” in detail.

My List
Here’s my list of guitar book recommendations, including some instruction manuals and some songbooks.

I encourage students to use the Internet to help with learning. There’s a lot of great free material out there, including videos, chord charts and tabs. I create some of it myself, and I’ll consult it when I’m in a hurry.

The search for these materials, however, can take up more of your time than it ought to, especially considering the questionable accuracy of what you’ll find.

I say, cut out the middleman. Pick out a few good books and spend your time playing!

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