Neo-Soul has been the cool thing in the guitar world for some time now. After the explosion of percussive acoustic fingerstyle guitar, alongside djent and progressive rock, neo-soul (as well as R&B & gospel guitar) has become a mainstay of the Instagram guitar generation.
Coming from a jazz and fingerstyle guitar background, I first encountered this style via players like Mateus Asato, Kerry “2Smooth” Marshall, Todd Pritchard, Isaiah Sharkey and Mark Lettieri. Initially, I wasn’t such a huge fan of the style but over time I grew fond of it. Nowadays, I try to include some of these elements into my own music whenever possible.
As a student of the style, what I noticed was the difficulty in finding quality educational material for it. R&B guitar books and videos tend to focus on the earlier era of the 50s to 70s. The few videos I found were usually lick based and didn’t go deep into the concepts behind the style. This was expected with any new style as the music is still developing.
When I found out about this book, I was excited to dig into it!
This 112-page book is divided to 11 solid chapters. In addition to the detailed text and musical examples, it comes with downloadable audio and video examples. The first 6 chapters introduce the fundamentals of the style including chords voicings and tricks, single note lines, double stops (but of course right?), groove and extended techniques. Chapter 7 to 10 are fully transcribed performance pieces in the neo-soul style. To close the book, chapter 11 describes tips on getting the tone for the style including a discussion of gear and settings.
The first chapter opens by introducing what makes neo-soul chords sound so different. The left hand embellishments are shown via step by step (musical) exercises. The culmination of that chapter is a piece called Penguin Suit by Simon Pratt.
The second chapter examines RnB chord tricks ala’ Kerry “2Smooth” Marshall whose playing I really dig. It’s simple and clear to help newbies to the style gradually ease in.
In the 3rd and 4th chapters, the difficulty ramps up with the single note lines and double-stop lines. These two chapters present a lot of cool melodic ideas that form the virtuosic elements of the style. I particularly like the exploration of the arpeggio fingerings which include legato and alternate picked notes in combination. These idiomatic fingerings are what open up the style. This is what makes it different than jazz or rock styles. I’m happy that the authors made sure these were in the book.
The 5th chapter on groove is pivotal. After all, what is neo-soul without those groovy guitar parts? You could get the voicings and lines but without groove, everything will still sound wrong.
In chapter 6, extended techniques like the chord quake, tapping, harmonics and hammer-ons from nowhere are explained. This is one for the more advanced players out there. I personally have a lot of stuff to learn from this chapter and look forward to digging into the examples.
My favourite parts of the book are performance pieces toward the end. These pieces provide a real context for where the material in front of the book reside. Personally I would recommend my students to watch the videos of these pieces. This will give them some context of the possibilities before working through the book.
The pieces are:
1) Mark Lettieri’s Coastin’
2) Kristof Neyen’s Fat Rat
3) Simon Pratt’s Get Hip
4) Mark Lettieri’s Sunday Brunch
You can watch the performance videos of these pieces below.
In conclusion, this is an amazing and well thought out book. The authors (and editor) definitely have put in the time to make this book a great guide to the style. This is something that will help any player curious about the style improve. The fact that they even got Mark Lettieri to contribute his original pieces certainly adds something even more special to this great work.
Pros: Probably the most systematic and well written book on neo-soul I’ve seen so far. Lots of examples & good explanations. With the audio and video examples, you’re getting immense value in this book.
TLDR: For anyone remotely interested in neo-soul but who might have difficulty deciphering the nuances, this book provides a solid road map to navigating the amazing players, techniques and vocabulary of the style. If you dig the style and need a way to speed up your progress, this book is a good investment.
I received a review copy of this book from Fundamental Changes. Thank you Joseph and Amanda!
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