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Bruce Emery

Skeptical Media - Published Reviews

Flatpicking Guitar Magazine -
Volume 9, Number 3, March/April 2005

Review of Volume One of the Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist

Here are some excerpts, written by Dan Miller, Publisher and Editor:

“This past summer I was visiting Gryphon Music in Palo Alto and I picked up an interesting-looking book called Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist. I flipped through the pages and I was impressed with the practical presentation and amount of material covered.

“As impressed as I was with it at the store, I was twice as impressed when I actually started working through it.

“Bruce addresses the Circle of Fifths in 31 pages and it is the best presentation of this important theoretical tool that I have ever seen. The first 99 pages of this book are very good, but I would say that the Circle of Fifths section is worth the price of this book alone. I learned more about how to use the Circle of Fifths from this book than from any other source.

“Bruce not only explains the theory, he also gives you a lot of practical, hands-on examples of how the theory is applied. He gives you easy-to-understand diagrams, charts and illustrations to help you get your head wrapped around otherwise hard to grasp material.”

Volume 9, Number 4, May/June 2005

Review of Volume Two of the Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist

“In the last issue I reviewed Volume One of Bruce Emery’s series and talked about the easy-to-understand and practical presentation of the book. Volume Two continues in the same style and, building on the first volume, gives guitar players an understandable presentation of the entire fretboard.

“The enjoyable part of reading these books comes with the high ‘ah-ha’ factor, also known as the ‘slap on the forehead’ factor. I found this to be a frequent response when working with Bruce’s material.

“Bruce provides sufficient explanation without getting too deep and then provides some worksheets so that you can gain some practical familiarity with the concepts.

“There is a LOT to this book and to this series. I look forward to learning more as I go through the books a couple more times.”

When Dan Miller first e-mailed me about reviewing the books, he wrote, “I love, love, love your books. Please tell me you’re writing more.”

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Skeptic System ---
Bruce Emery's books for the theory-challenged guitarist

By David McCarty, Acoustic Guitar,
November 2002.

If you think having a formal knowledge of the guitar fingerboard and its underlying music theory is, at best, a distraction from making great guitar music, that makes you a "skeptical guitarist," in the opinion of Bruce Emery, author of the Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist series of music theory books. Skeptical guitarists, asserts Emery, often feel books on music theory for guitar are too long, too technical, and too boring to be of any lasting value. But before you dismiss Emery's approach as music instruction for dummies, you should delve into his focused and vastly readable three-volume Skeptical Guitarist series to see how Emery's humor, insight, and patience can transform even the most resistant guitarist into someone with a passion for the intricacies of music theory.

Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist, Vol. 1: The Big Picture starts with the fundamental elements of Western music, explaining notes and pitches, the 12-note tempered scale, and a brief introduction to major, minor, and dominant-seventh chords. Emery includes sections explaining how the guitar is strung and tuned and introduces the student to guitar tablature and chord diagrams. He also presents what he calls the "big 15"
guitar chords most commonly found in rock, country, and folk styles. But the first volume focuses on musical concepts applicable to any instrument. Emery continues by introducing key changes and simple chord progressions without getting into chord theory beyond explaining tonic, dominant, and subdominant chords. By the end of the book's first section, he's provided examples of common variants to each of the three main chord forms. By keeping things simple and using terms like restless and edgy to convey the role each chord plays in a progression, he manages to keep the material from becoming dry or pedantic.

The book's second half starts with the chromatic scale, which Emery breaks down into major scales in C and other frequently used keys. As he brings scale degrees into his "big picture," things become more complicated and more interesting. The C notes in the C scale, he explains, "hold up the rest of the scale like a root holds up a plant." Emery tells the guitarist to play the C-major scale and then pause on any note but C. "Sounds like you're hanging there, doesn't it? It's almost stressful to pause on the B note, for example, since it is caught in the 'gravitational field' of the C root note," he writes.

The remainder of the first volume includes an excellent explanation of the circle of fifths, which Emery dubs "the cosmic nutshell of the entire musical universe." Over the next 30 pages, he concisely explains the circle's value, using Christmas tunes and other familiar examples to bring each point to life.

In the second volume, The Fretboard, Emery advances from elementary music theory to concepts based directly on the unique principles of the guitar's fingerboard. After a quick review of the chord voicings taught in the first book, Emery introduces barre chords using E- and A-major chord shapes. These movable chords, he adds, create the possibility of playing identical chords in different positions on the neck, which Emery stresses is one of the great strengths of the guitar. "I like to see as many options as possible on the neck of the guitar," he explains. "If this is a little overwhelming to you now, don't sweat it. Just because you have options doesn't mean you have to use them."

As the second volume progresses, Emery discloses more and more options, moving beyond common triads to chords incorporating the second, fourth, sixth, and seventh degrees of the scale. Keeping his discussion of these topics light and breezy, he writes, "The sixth degree imparts a vaguely melancholy sound to the triad, not quite minor, sort of airy and jazzy."

Emery's third volume, Blues and Jazz, introduces advancing guitarists to jazz and blues forms. In this book, Emery's work could have benefited from a companion CD to help students hear the syncopated rhythm patterns, sample licks, and other more complex variations. Once again, Emery enlivens his with a straightforward style that makes difficult concepts easier to grasp. "In jazz, you'll find a vast array of chord qualities, from the sweetly dissonant to the downright distressing," he writes. One complaint here is that he stubbornly refuses to use Roman numerals when discussing chord forms, an omission that could haunt students when they move on to more advanced jazz instruction texts that use that nomenclature.

But this is a minor quibble. Emery's series succeeds admirably in exploring a wide range of music theory and consistently reinforcing his contention that learning key concepts will make the student a better musician. His conversational approach to teaching is warm and engaging, and his simple, hands-on examples and insightful revelations weave chord forms and scale patterns together in an elegant web.

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Elderly Instruments weighs in on 6 books by Bruce Emery
Excerpts from their online catalog

"A cordial introduction for the budding guitarist." There is a lot to be said for a funny instructional book. Especially by a teacher who apparently has ESP when it comes to learning the guitar. He does an excellent job; covering what you DON'T need to worry about yet as well as the basics. Most basic, to him, is a focus on chords, arguably the single most important function of the guitar. He covers tuning, fingerpicking, strumming and capos also. Things are broken down into such sensible pieces that you'll wonder why everyone doesn't teach this way.
Recommended! Spiralbound, 84 pp.

The newest book by Emery is filled with his trademark humor and clear explanations. While "Guitar From Scratch" was all about chords, this follows a general progression from chord-based information to single-string playing, culminating in a crash course in reading notes. Beginning with "Stupid Chord Tricks" (the slang of the guitar), then to passing chords, shape-shifting and, finally, single note lines. Reading music is taught with as little pain as possible. Spiralbound, 86 pp.

Emery is such a good writer and devoted player he can single-handedly convince anyone to take up guitar. He's real, he's funny, and he's a great teacher! This book teaches you fingerstyle vocal accompaniment. Part one focuses on the basics, especially arpeggios. Part two teaches Travis-style picking. The focus is on coordinating the picking hand and the fretting hand, and assumes familiarity with chord formation and some theory. His extensive background in classical playing adds enormous depth to his approach. Not to fear, Bruce stands over your shoulder and is with you all the way. Spiralbound, 89 pp.

You qualify as a skeptical guitarist if (1) You doubt that learning about music theory can have any impact whatsoever on your guitar playing. You may even think it may cause you deep suffering. OR (2) You realize the value of music theory, but you've never found a book that proved to be particularly useful or easy to read. You don't expect this one to be any different." Try one more - this one! Emery starts with the big picture and carefully connects the dots in his 3 volumes teaching music theory. He's funny, logical and avoids lapsing into unintelligible jargon. He really WANTS you to learn.
Recommended! Spiralbound, 136 pp.

Volume 2 of the 3-part series is more of a "how-to" book than the first, which dealt with the principles of music. A presentation of "Volume One in a Nutshell" will give you a feel for whether you are comfortable enough with the concepts in it to move on. Using the same techniques of making common sense connections between concepts, avoiding jargon, and humor, he makes learning very doable. Covers: chord voicings, complex chords, chord shapes, box patterns, quadrads, harmonized melodies, more.
Recommended! Spiralbound, 142 pp.

The third volume of the trilogy gives the most basic of introductions to the styles of blues and jazz. It teaches the most elemental chord progressions and licks and gets you started on the theory and practice of improvisation - dominant feature in both styles. As always, the instruction is warm, friendly, funny and done in layman's terms. Jam-packed full of information.
Recommended! Spiralbound, 145 pp.

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Gryphon Gazette, Fall 2001. Article by Richard Johnston, Editor
Gryphon Stringed Instruments, 211 Lambert Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306

“You may recall my raving in an earlier Gazette about Emery’s other instruction books in his Skeptical Guitarist series. This volume, Guitar From Scratch, is intended for raw beginners, unlike his earlier books, which are for guitarists who already play but are still confused by music theory. All Emery’s books are written in a relaxed, conversational style, and are refreshingly easy to understand.”

Gryphon Gazette, Summer 2001. Article by Richard Johnston, Editor
Gryphon Stringed Instruments, 211 Lambert Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306

Skeptical Guitarist Series, by Bruce Emery

These books are gaining a whole legion of fans among guitar players who've tried other theory books and found them too obscure and jargon-based to be digestible. For one thing, the author has a relaxed, conversational style that is direct and friendly, but without being cute. He also gives solid, common examples of each little tidbit of theory, so you can hear in your head what the principles mean. The spiral bindings mean you can fold the book to any part you're working on, and some of the theory stuff is so readable you don't even need to have a guitar in your hands to get the message. Believe it or not, these are theory books you can sit down and read. They cost $24.95 each.

Volume One - The Big Picture: Keys, chords and scales, with lots of time spent with chord progressions common in popular music and why some sequences just sound right, while others don't. Some of this stuff is especially helpful to songwriters.

Volume Two - The Fretboard: If Volume One was the "what and why" of music theory, this book delivers the "how to" for guitar players. You get chord voicings, scale patterns on the fretboard, exercises, and much more.

Volume Three - Blues & Jazz: Here's the nuts and bolts for playing these styles. Again, it's not so much that the author is offering some revolutionary approach to instruction, it's the style of his writing and the clear explanations that set this book apart.

Summer 2001 issue of the Gryphon Gazette, published by Gryphon Stringed Instruments,
Palo Alto, CA

The Sound Hole, Summer 2001. Article by E. B. Jensen
Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists, Box 761, Anaheim, CA 92815-0761

“I would like to share with you my recent good fortune in acquiring the best music theory books I’ve ever read. While at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention last July I met a gentleman by the name of Bruce Emery. He had a vendor table in the lobby of the host hotel and was selling music theory books. After a brief conversation,
I bought Volume Three -- Blues and Jazz. I brought it home, read it and found it full of useful information. It was clear, to the point, geared especially for guitarists and, as a bonus, occasionally humorous. I shared my find with my brother who has played guitar for many years without understanding basic principles. He now owns all three volumes, as do I, and they have rekindled the spark in his playing. I highly recommend these books to anyone who is hungry for guitar theory.

Just Jazz Guitar Magazine, November 1998. Article by Adrian Ingram

“Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist comprises a practically based theory course with emphasis on application. While it would be useful for every beginning guitar player, it is clear that the author comes from a folk rather than a jazz background. Nevertheless, there are examples of II-V-Is and I-VI-II-Vs commonly used in jazz music, as well as coverage of subjects like the blues and the rhythm changes. While this coverage is not in any real depth, it does provide a useful introduction and valuable groundwork for more advanced study of the subjects.
“The design and layout of these books, with continual emphasis on practical work, means that the pace is rather slow and not much material is covered in each book. However, this is probably a good thing at the beginner’s level, and I am inclined to think that Bruce Emery has ‘got it right’ with his gentle pace. Books like this are the product of extensive experience at the grass-roots level and should be welcomed by teachers everywhere.”

Just Jazz Guitar Magazine, November 1999. Article by Ed Benson

“This is the third in a series of books by Raleigh, NC guitar instructor and performer Bruce Emery. Volumes One and Two cover such topics as 1-4-5 progression, the C-A-G-E-D chord families, complex chord qualities, voice leading, chord substitution and intervals of 3rds, 6ths and 10ths.
“In Volume Three, Bruce introduces the student to the basics of blues and jazz. He covers the Twelve Bar Blues structure, five box patterns, improvising blues leads, chord progressions, rhythm changes, substitutions, alterations and chord progressions found in four jazz standards and finishing off with the seven jazz modes. He writes in a clear and understandable manner making it fun to learn. Well presented in a concise manner, demystifies theory and complex music principles. The format is easy on the eyes and tab is included. A good foundation book. Check it out.”

Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine, September 1999. Article by Tom Gannaway.

“Author, instructor, transcriber and performer Bruce Emery has finished Volumes One and Two of a three-volume set, titled Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist. Bruce explains, ‘My goal is to reach the recreational guitarist who may need a little more hand-holding, friendlier diagrams and a more supportive narrative to stay engaged.’
If you have found Howard Morgen’s Fretboard Insights columns in Fingerstyle Guitar helpful, and hunger for more of this non-cryptic, layman’s terms approach, this book is a must.”

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