Hal Leonard is a leading provider of instructional materials for musicians, and I’ve never worked through their materials with any disappointment. One of their latest releases is a step-by-step breakdown of the styles and techniques of the legendary Roy Buchanan, one of the most influential and best blues guitarists of any generation. Rife with historical information on each piece, the book covers a plethora of styles throughout Buchanan’s career, including After Hours, Chicago Smokeshop, Hey Joe, Peter Gunn and Sweet Dreams, among others.
What drew me to this particular volume is not a full-tab layout of the songs, but the licks and phrasing he made famous within each. Never having been one to learn songs from beginning to end, preferring to direct my efforts toward my own compositions, the ideas presented are immense and serve to help a person break through phrasing habits and to create unique expressions in one’s own playing.
Each song provides theoretical background for those wishing to learn why Roy chose certain bends and transitions over particular chords, but with the accompanying sound files, each chosen song section is a treasure to the ear that results for rapid improvisation. In that regard, although I practiced each part briefly, I soon extracted the emotion and quality of Buchanan’s playing and put my own spin on his themes, whether integrating his pearls of knowledge in a blues setting or something with a heavier rock edge.
Now, what further makes the latest Hal Leonard books of value are the on-line sound files. Previously Hal Leonard’s learning resources included a CD, but now with the files on-line you can listen to (as well as download) when not at a computer and if using your iPod or phone as a sound medium – ideal for the musician on-the-go wanting to expand and improve his or her chops. As well, you can listen to each piece with a full band, or as a lone guitar in slow demo mode.
Although the style of the book has an excellent format, clear to the eye and easy to find what you’re looking for, it truly is the styling of Roy Buchanan that makes these blues licks and phrasing so fresh and original to the ear, from his sense of musical tension, volume swell manipulation and ‘backward’ phrasing, to some inspiring bends done with one finger while ringing out a note with another. However, the writer (Dave Rubin) does an excellent job with his inspiring writing, and also providing performance notes to help hone and optimize one’s playing skills, including bending, ringing out certain notes, and how best to utilize certain fingers, note slides, etc., for each piece.
The short ‘bits’ presented in each section/song make the book easy to digest, and particularly if you were to invest only a few minutes here and there to work through it. In effect, tackling one song or one section of a song each day makes learning exciting and a worthy journey to experience. By keying in on one aspect at a time, it allows you to focus specifically on technique and musical expression as you work through very basic to more complex passages. This book truly is a blues master class!