Noel Johnston is one fascinating musician.
His social media post often share the interesting things he’s exploring musically. He doesn’t dumb things down but shares geeky things with the curiosity of a child and the insight of someone with a lot of musical experience.
So, when Noel told me that this book (that he’s been working on for the past 3 years OMG) is almost ready, I almost figuratively jumped off my seat.
Then, when I received the advance copy, I was blown away.
At 332 pages, this is massive.
(And by the way, if you’re curious about Noel’s other works, I previously reviewed two of his earlier books, Voicing Modes – A Chord Voicing Approach to Hearing and Practicing Modes and Modal Etudes too.)
Back to your regular programming.
First and foremost, four things about the book pops out:
1) The book gives musical examples that give real world context to the sound.
2) Some books are only about the music, some only cover theory, some give patterns and sequences that are very sterile… Noel’s book is a mix of a musically trained perspective + player + composer perspective. It’s amazing because of that.
3) With the video and audio, it’s definitely a really powerful creative and musically empowering tool for musicians
4) And I love the cover!
If you want to really get deeper into chords and arpeggios (especially unconventional ones), I recommend this book highly.
Noel writes with a lot of personality and humor which makes it fun to go through the book.
Reading through the book, this is one of favorite excerpts for the beginning bit:
I applaud you for getting this far into the book. You obviously like to start from the beginning. Please don’t feel the need to learn this material in order. You have my full permission to skip this Hyper-Dissonant chapter. You may find the chapters following this one far more useful and rewarding. Ted Greene didn’t spend much time on these sets, even though he knew they existed. Since there are so 041 many sets, you may want to spend your time and energy on the more pretty or pragmatic sets rather than the mysterious and scary ones. The potential pain to your ears and hands may not be worth it.
Isn’t that fun & geeky at the same time?
Anyway, the book is structured in a way that is attractive for different kinds of people.
- If you want to learn different types of non-conventional chords & arpeggios, you can do that.
- If you want to audition different kinds of sounds in context, the etudes give you a glimpse of the musical possibilities BEFORE you embark on learning a whole new set of voicings & fingerings.
- If you want to geek out on the set theory & mathematical possibilities, you can do that too.
- If you’re a composer who wants new combinations of sounds, you can get new ideas too.
- If you like collecting niche geeky music books and want another cool book right next your Bret Willmott, Ted Greene, Mick Goodrick and Ludmila Ulehla book, you can get this one as well.
- If you’re an Instagram guitarist looking for some cool tonalities for your next 15 to 30 second potentially viral video, this is a great sourcebook too.
- If you aspire to be Ben Monder but have no idea how to get those kinds of sounds, this can be a book for Excavation that you can use Day By Day so you can Bloom into your full harmonic potential.
- If you’re basically the friend that knows every ECM guitar release by heart, this might be the book that you keep open on your music stand.
Point is, this book has something for any advancing guitarist (pun & reference intended) who wants to improve their harmonic vocabulary.
The etudes come in a variety of moods, feels, tempos and styles from funk, jazz, ECM-style jazz, jazz-funk, rock, shred, metal, fusion, pop and blues. My favorite ones are the highly syncopated or polyrhythmic examples. There’s some serious head nodding stuff here.
At the end of the book, Noel also includes an “Additional Thoughts” section which is basically like the front door to multiple rabbit holes of things to explore, experiment and digest. That part alone is like a whole other book or pamphlet by itself. I guess if you were the kind of person to open a booth in front of subway stops and get people interested in harmony, that is the kind of pamphlet you would give out. Anyway, I digress…
All in all, this work by Noel Johnston stands to be a landmark work for guitarists everywhere. Personally I see this book to be potentially a good choice for a textbook for a guitar lab or guitar composition college level class. For guitar teachers working with more advanced students or students who want to compose, this is a good resource to work with in your 1-on-1 classes. The fact that Noel has already recorded the etudes makes it easier to scan through the book & find relevant examples as well. Strongly recommended.
Pros: High quality educational content that is very musical & geeky at the same time. It’s kind of crazy to see how versatile Noel is with all the etudes/duets being in so many styles
Cons: You might get overwhelmed with how much there is in the book. In which case, I suggest listening to the all the etudes for an overview of the territory first.
TLDR: If you’re a guitar or harmony geek, get this book.
You can get this book here:
eBook and print versions (regular & spiral bound options): http://noeljohnston.com/merch.html
Thanks Noel for the advance review copy of this book!
I wrote a lot of other book, course and video reviews too.
Check out the rest here:
[Read more reviews]
[Submissions for Review Consideration]
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Depending on whether I dig the book/course, I’ll let you know if I do plan to review it!
I cannot guarantee a review for every submission & if I’m not too into it, I may opt not to review it. I mean, it’s better to get a good review that for me to write a bad review just because it’s not a match for the kind of stuff I dig right? :p
NOTE: All reviews reflect my honest personal opinion so be aware that I will point out both cool Pros and Cons that I see in the work. You dig?