1. Mel Bay’s Improvising without Scales: The Intervallic Guitar System of Carl Verheyen
Don’t be misled by the title; this is not a book about some magical way to learn to improvise on guitar without learning scales. What Carl does go into or emphasize is the art of practicing lines. You take a couple of chords and work on things you could play over those chords i.e. he’s assuming you already know your scales to the point where you’re able to make choices as to what to play over a chord progression. Carl provides plenty of examples for playing over major, minor and dominant chords as well as intervallic stuff and more. Basically, anything that gets you practicing lines instead of scale patterns is well worth a look.
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As recommended by Mike Stern, this is one of those books you come back to again and again as it’s a fantastic resource for getting past the intermediate plateau and into more advanced guitar playing. There’s a lot of mental stuff in this book. It’s one of those that you sit down and read for a while, get into some deep thinking then come back to the guitar with a new or slightly altered perspective. What this book gives you though is a comprehensive perspective on how to practice in order to get to those advanced levels. It’s not to everyone’s taste but certainly worth a look.
If what you’re looking for is a VERY structured approach to learning Chords, Scales and Arpeggios then this is the book for you. It even has lesson plans and a precise learning sequence. What I love about this book though is the chords section. The sequence they’ve come up with to learn chords (more than you’d need for one lifetime) really aids the memorization process and covers pretty much any chord you’d use in any style.
4. Allan Holdsworth – Just for the Curious (with CD)
I’ve always been fascinated by Holdsworth’s approach to improvisation, chords and music theory in general. This book basically accompanies the REH video he did which you can find in this article where I attempt to explain his approach to scales and chords. The book goes over 15 scales that Allan uses to improvise (he gives 10 in the video), takes a look at his approach to chords and harmony and there are transcriptions of a couple of his solos. It’s a truly fantastic insight if you’re into Allan’s music, or perhaps (like I did) you’ve had a hard time with music theory and could use a completely different perspective.
5. Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene
My first guitar teacher turned me on to this book and I’ve been going back to it for over 20 years. There’s probably more than enough information on chords in this book for several lifetimes and some great insights to be had. To be honest this book is both overwhelming and humbling at first so dip into it a little at a time to be sure to absorb the infinite wisdom on all things chords this book has to offer.
6. The Guitar Grimoire: A Compendium of Formulas for Guitar Scales and Modes
Another behemoth of a book, the tomes of the Guitar Grimoire series contain just about every scale, chord and arpeggio under the sun; an incredible reference to have in the woodshed or a book for those that just have to know every scale, chord and arpeggio in every position of almost biblical proportions. Pages and pages of dots… fantastic stuff.
7. Mickey Baker’s Complete Course in Jazz Guitar: Book 1
As recommended by Robben Ford, Mickey Baker’s book is a superbly structured course to get you playing jazz guitar. He covers just about everything, starting out with chords and charts rather than scales which, in my opinion, is the best way to get into jazz. It’s an old book but a classic if you’re looking for a jazz guitar course.
8. 1001 Blues Licks by Toby Wine
If you like the blues (and can read music – no tab here) then you’ll love this book. It covers all the blues genres from the Delta right up to Jazz Blues with 1001 licks with which to expand your blues vocabulary; a great source of inspiration in a genre where at times it’s hard to sound original.
What books have inspired you? Let us know in the comments.