Tutor books and tutors

tutor crouching in front of 2 students playing guitar

Tutoring workshop at the High & Dry festival, Liverpool © Deana Clarke

There are many informal methods of acquiring musical knowledge and skills. Two common ways that popular musicians develop skills are through the use of tutor books bought from music shops and one-on-one tuition from more advanced instrumentalists.

One of the most successful tutor books was Bert Weedon's 'Play in a Day' first published in 1957. It was the bible of thousands of young guitarists in the 1950s and has sold more than two million copies. When the musicologist Lucy Green interviewed musicians for her book 'How Popular Musicians Learn' she found that many had used tutorbooks such as those by noted Tamla Motown bass guitarist Carole Kaye and singing teacher Graham Hewitt.

Often tutor books for popular musicians try to avoid using standard music notation. Instead guitar books might use illustrations of chord fingering or tablature. Steve, a guitarist, told Green that he had used music books to supplement learning by listening to records, with unexpected results:

"When I first started playing along with the tape, you think you know what it is. Then you get the book and it's totally different... there's so many different notes that you miss out and you've got to try and put them in. But it's just keep practising, and then eventually it comes, doesn't it?" (Green, 2001:70)

For the instrumentalist who has progressed beyond the novice stage there are now dozens of specialist magazines with articles on techniques and transcriptions of songs or solos. These publications have been quick to incorporate digital technologies. Most of these magazines now have free DVDs with video lessons and play along mp3 tracks. Broadband internet means that this type of tuition has become even more widely accessible. For example, many guitar tuition videos posted on the site YouTube receive hundreds of thousands of subscribers. These range from celebrity master classes (sponsored by commercial tuition courses and magazines) to free instructional series from hitherto unknown teachers that build from beginner to advanced levels. These video lessons provide a useful tool for musicians to learn at their own pace. Instructors usually play pieces slowly and use close-ups to show exactly what is going on in their playing. The ability to rewind means that learners can take time to get specific details right and progress at a comfortable speed.

Musical instrument teaching is an established part of formal and non-formal education, notably in classical music. For example, heavy metal musicians often start out as classical virtuousos (Walser, 1993). But many popular musicians have also had informal lessons from more experienced players, especially when they are beginning to learn to play their instrument. Often the relationship is more like that of a mentor and mentee than that of a formal teacher and student. Both Paul McCartney and John Lennon benefitted from such teaching from different sources. While Paul's musician father sent him for a few piano lessons, John was taught banjo chords by his mother, who had been shown the chords many years before by John's estranged father. For other Liverpool guitarists who didn't want formal lessons, or couldn't afford to pay for them, there were other ways to get started. At Hessy's music shop in Liverpool in the late 1950s, the manager Jim Gretty would hold weekly beginners' classes for novice guitarists, chalking chord shapes on the wall of an upstairs room.