We all know there's much more to playing guitar than simply playing guitar. There's the physical aspect of putting your fingers on the strings and making sound; there's the theoretical aspect of actually knowing where to put those fingers; there's the sonic aspect of dialing in a sound; there's even a visual element which we address every time we decide to reach for the '59 Les Paul Reissue instead of the tigers tripe Kramer for that wedding gig. But for me, time and again I find myself turning to the conceptual part of playing guitar. Why do we do it? What are we trying to say? How can we say it best? Over the years I've built up a pretty decent library of music-related books, from tablature to autobiographies to books of amplifier schematics and everywhere in between. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey
This book has had perhaps the most profound effect on me out of any music book I've read. The basic idea is this: there are all sorts of distractions that can get in your way when performing music. Little voices that pop up in your head and say stuff like "You're going to clam up on that fast section in two bars' time," or "This isn't your usual pick - you're going to have to adjust the timing of your attack to compensate!" or "I'm playing to an audience full of guitarists and they're judging everything I do." So The Inner Game Of Music suggests tools for quieting those voices and letting your self-confidence shine through. It's worked for me on numerous occasions. A few weeks ago I found myself onstage with Joe Satriani using an unfamiliar guitar and with no idea what we were going to play. But I called on the things I've learned from this book, tuned out the things that could have derailed the performance ("I haven't warmed up! The strap is too high! This is an unfamiliar guitar! That's Joe Satriani!") and allowed myself to (more or less) just get on with it. Sure, I started off a bit tentative, but I soon found my comfort zone and threw out a few licks that Joe seemed to dig. You can see that video here. And I wouldn't have been able to do it without The Inner Game of Music.
Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo
If The Inner Game of Music takes a self-help styled approach to musical performance, Zen Guitar takes a spiritual one. There are 58 lessons here, inspired by Zen Awareness, which address the big questions of why we play what we play, what it means to us, and what it means to others. It's not a book of theory or exercises, but rather an exploration of the feelings behind the music. Peppered throughout are quotes from Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Eric Clapton - even Miles Davis - which relate to the lifelong pursuit of musical expression.
The Guitar Grimoire by Adam Kadmon
So you've addressed why you play what you play, and how to do so without distractions. Now it's time to nerd up and study your scales! The Guitar Grimoire is an extremely - extremely - detailed encyclopedia of scales, modes, relative keys, chords and general alchemy, as applied to the guitar. Open it up to any random page, pick a scale and start composing. You'll open up new and exciting musical possibilities, and open up new worlds of emotional expression as you find the perfect sale to capture, say, the feel of walking bare-footed on a beach at sunset in late fall (It's A Hirajoshi, if you're wondering).
Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
The late Lester Bangs was really the first music blogger - he just didn't have a computer and a Wordpress account. Bangs summed up the spirit of rock and roll in his loose, stream-of-consciousness style. And his eternal inner struggle with his Lou Reed fandom is fascinating and riveting. Reed is a particular touchstone for Bangs, and few moments in rock journalism are as baffling and as powerful as Bangs's uncomfortable interview with a seemingly annoyed Reed. It's like Bangs went into the interview expecting to have a bad time and to have his image of his idol crushed. Reed seems to sense this and half plays along. But whether he's holding court on David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Clash, The Troggs or garage rock, and whether you agree with him or not, there's something fascinating and addictive about his view of music.
The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa
In my ideal world, Frank would have written a book every year of his life from about the age of 13 onwards. He didn't, but he did give us The Real Frank Zappa Book. It's part memoir, part examination of Reagan-era America, part examination of the family dynamic, part collection of road stories - some of which are quite risqué. Whatever your particular take on Zappa, there's something endlessly endearing about his reminiscences of high school, the early days of the Mothers, his fascination with composer Edgard Varese… personal anecdotes which balance out the grander issues such as Zappa's fight against censorship, his views on politics and the detailed groupie stories.
What about you? What five music books would you recommend and why?