Judge Russell Engebretson knows his A Minor pentatonic chord from a hole in the ground.
"So you want to be a rock-and-roll star?"—Roger McGuinn
Greg Douglass, the instructor on this video, has played with the Steve Miller Band (1976–1979), Hot Tuna (1975), and the Greg Kihn Band (1982–1985), to name just a few, so there is no question of his instrumental expertise. Of course, any one who has taken a private guitar lesson knows that Great Player does not always equal Great Teacher. The handful of guitar instruction DVDs I have watched range from superlative to abysmal, and nowadays the marketplace is glutted with guitar videos. The wide choice of videos is a good thing, but it also means one can and should be pickier about purchases.
The selection of teaching materials is tremendously better now than it was three decades ago. In the 1960s and '70s, the aspiring rock guitarist did not have a heap of choices. There were Mel Bay books and a handful of guides on rock and blues playing (with a cassette or acetate record thrown in to play along with—if you were lucky). Videotapes came along in the 1980s, and they were a great learning tool, but also quite expensive. Now we have the DVD: a perfect medium for teaching an instrument, and usually modestly priced too. One great advantage of the DVD is its ability to display optional angles that allow the student to cut back and forth between views of the right and left hands, or from medium shot to close-up. Greg Douglass: Guitar Lessons—Lead Guitar does not include this feature, but it's of less importance here since picking technique is not covered (except for a tip on where to use up and down strokes). The lessons are oriented strictly around the left hand.
This DVD is not for the guitar-god wannabe who is an absolute beginner; Greg Douglass starts off by telling us that his instructional video is "Learning Guitar Step Two." The "Step One" video in this series (hosted by a different instructor) covers open chords, barre chords, finger exercises, and scales. This video concentrates on blues-rock lead patterns in different positions up and down the guitar neck; hammers, pulls, slides, and bends; and a few licks and power chords thrown into the mix to spice things up. Greg starts off by plucking the strings one at a time as a tuning reference for the student, and then goes straight into an explanation of simple pentatonic (five-tone scale) runs in the key of E Minor. Tablature is displayed at the bottom of the screen as Greg plays the licks and leads, so it's easy for the student to follow along. He continues by building on the E Minor patterns with the aforementioned hammers, pulls, and other left-hand finger techniques. Once the student has been given a chance to absorb the E Minor pentatonic structure, Greg demonstrates the moveable nature of the scale by showing how it can be slid all the way up the neck, beginning at the first fret with an F Minor scale and moving on to the ever-popular A Minor pentatonic at the fifth fret. Greg also plays a couple of his own songs—and deconstructs them note by note—using the scales and patterns he has already demonstrated in previous lessons. An A Major pentatonic pattern is also demonstrated to round things out.
There is one thing the beginning (or approaching-intermediate) guitar player is bound to appreciate about this DVD: Greg Douglass plays with deliberate slowness and explains what he is doing every step of the way. He could show off his virtuosity (as I have seen some other instructors do) with blazing runs and intricate licks, but he opts to teach rather than dazzle. Ambitious rock players can pick up theory and reading skills as they advance, and I would recommend they do, but there is no music theory presented here, and no standard notation; all the leads are shown in easy-to-read tab. I believe that's appropriate for rock guitarists who just want to dig in and play. Speaking of tab, there is also an extra on this disc that allows the owner to download a 17-page booklet in pdf format of all the tablature that is displayed on the DVD; it gives the student an opportunity to print out his own hard copy.
The videotape is low resolution—or it's just a poor transfer—because the picture is rather fuzzy. Most of the time, the first three guitar strings are barely visible; it's fortunate that tabs are provided for all the lessons, or that could be a serious problem for a beginning player. The lowered video quality might be due to the soundtrack, which is recorded in PCM (CD quality rather than compressed Dolby Digital) on this single-layer disc. PCM is an unusual choice for the DVD format because of the high bit rate required to encode the sound, but it gives the guitar tones punch and clarity one seldom hears from a DVD.
As is common in most guitar teaching videos, the instructor sits on a stool in front of a nondescript backdrop, plays his guitar, and talks to the camera. That's fine, because what is important is how well the teacher transmits his method. Greg Douglass comes across as a talented, forthright kind of fellow who is serious about his craft (and perhaps with a dry sense of humor: He wears a bright red shirt covered with pictures of electric guitars).
Practice is paramount. In the end, only the student can teach himself guitar; however, a good teacher—or in this case, a good instructional DVD—can save the player months or years of frustration. So yeah, I do recommend Greg Douglass's DVD to the struggling rock-and-roll guitarist. Just don't forget to practice, and when you're done practice some more.
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