Learning by the book
Marc Galea has been enamoured with the guitar ever since he was a child. It is a passion that has only grown over the years, to the point that he has not only become one of Malta’s leading guitarists, but is also an internationally-qualified and respected Registry of Guitars Tutor (RGT). That’s not to say he isn’t interested in other instruments however.
“I often think of learning other instruments, especially the piano, but then I feel I’d rather use the time to learn something new on the guitar instead,” he readily admits. “I find it more natural to express my feelings to the audience on the guitar than any other instrument or art form.”
Earlier this month, Galea launched his latest release, but rather than producing a sequel to his acclaimed 2011 debut album Easy Dialogue, he’s opted to publish a book instead. And given his long-standing affair with the six-stringed instrument, it’s hardly surprising that the book is all about learning to play guitar.
After teaching guitar for 13 years, during which time he devised and developed his own approach to teaching, Galea felt inspired to finally publish his syllabus as a step-by-step guide for guitar players seeking to improve their playing practically and effectively.
Taking around nine months to complete the book, published by BDL (www.bdlbooks.com), A Step-By-Step Approach for the Modern Guitar Player is the result of much research on Galea’s part. Its 224 full-colour pages feature chord shapes, scale diagrams, progressions and rhythmic patterns as well as techniques, modes, applied theory and, of course, audio examples that make the exercises easier to follow.
In all, there are 30 lessons divided into six chapters that range from beginner to advanced level, with a detailed study plan for every chapter that is estimated to condense four years of tuition in just one book. A Step-By-Step Approach for the Modern Guitar Player has already received positive reviews from top UK tutors Tony Skinner (also an RGT director), Phil Hilborne and John Wheatcroft (Tech Schools tutors) and is available from all leading stationeries and bookshops or by contacting Galea at email@example.com.
Interview with Marc Galea
What made you go beyond playing guitar and studying it in depth?
Like all teenagers, I wanted to become a ‘rock star’ but as I got older, my priorities changed. A big part of the change was inspired by my first experience of the Malta Jazz Festival several years ago.
I had no knowledge of the genre, but after seeing John Scofield, Hiram Bullock, Scott Henderson and Mike Stern, I came out of the festival a changed man.
Ever since that day, jazz has kept me wanting to learn more.
I’ve been lucky enough to encounter musicians and tutors, among them Luigi Tessarollo, Sandro Zerafa, John Mizarolli, Phil Hilborne, John Wheatcroft and Ro Gebhardt, who have all helped me realise my dream of studying the guitar and playing it professionally.
Despite being a pretty versatile guitarist then, jazz remains very special to you…
Well, further to rock, funk and Blues, jazz has broadened the opportunities to work as a session player, but what I find most intriguing about the genre is that it’s a real and natural musical art form, based on improvisation rather than playing along to a pre-determined pattern.
Of course, I still spend hours learning tunes and transcribing solos, which is important towards building one’s musical vocabulary, but you have to try to make it your own to sound unique.
I’ve played gigs where the energy on stage and off it gives the performance a different dimension, where the adrenaline runs so high that a 90-minute gig can seem like it was only 10 minutes.
I do my best to conjure this same ‘magic’, this excitement in every gig I play and with every musician I play with.
What made you take the bold step and publish an educational guitar book?
I really had no clue as to the work involved, so writing this book was a learning process for me. It was like diving into a pool and resurfacing to find you’re swimming in the ocean.
I had to detach myself from the instrument for some time and focus on gathering and arranging the teaching material I’d been using for nearly a decade.
On a positive note, this meant the material was already tried and tested. It’s worked for me, first and foremost as a player and secondly with my students.
What inspired me to write the book was the urge to share my method, not only with my students but also with other guitarists who find themselves in situations where they need a push to move to the next level. When I started learning, I always wished to have a book that could guide me on how to play the music I was listening to.
The idea of writing this book had been on my mind these past seven years, and last October I felt I had to start working on the material. Luckily, when I approached BDL, they were very enthusiastic about the idea. I especially want to thank Stephen Said who did a great job on the book’s design.
How important is it for guitarists to learn more about guitar methods than just playing by ear?
The ear plays an important role in making one a complete musician, but studying a method will speed up the process needed to learn a tune properly, as in thinking of scales and notes rather than numbers. Studying also helps the musician to be more aware of what is happening harmonically and melodically; it facilitates improvisation and strengthens the connection between what a musician hears in his head and what his fingers are playing.
The book has a largely practical and easy-to-use facility…
My idea was to give the reader a map of what is required to learn to play the guitar in one book. When you look at a world map, you don’t necessarily travel to all the locations on it, but it’s important to be aware of the different continents and their position. It’s the same with this book; it provides information that Grade 1 to 6 students will find useful, listing the important aspects one needs to know in each section.
I’ve also included a study plan with recommended practice sessions and audio examples, which can be streamed online by scanning a QR code, but ultimately it is up to the individual how far he or she wants to go.
I’d like to add that the method is intended to encourage the use of the right-hand side of the brain, which is vital for improvisation, and because it’s about modern guitar, there are also lessons on Blues, the genre that boosted the popularity of the solid body electric guitar.