LJI Functional Jazz Guitar by Ed Byrne contains 255 pages of concepts and exercises that will help guitar students develop the skills needed for playing in a jazz group. Includes specific cadence & blues comping patterns, guide tone & bass lines, rhythms, voicings, and licks. 185 pages of inter-related sound files are included. The e-book with included sound files sells for $39.95 at byrnejazz.com. Hard copy is also available.
My last book review was Jazz Guitar Etudes by saxophonist Greg Fishman and now I have a review of LJI Functional Jazz Guitar by Ed Byrne who is a trombonist. Ed has performed and recorded with most of the jazz world’s leading musicians and is a trombonist, composer/arranger, and educator who has served on the faculties of Berklee College, Baruch College, University of the Arts, Greenfield Community College, and the University of Rhode Island. Many of his pupils have gone onto high-profile careers: Kenny Werner, Abe Laboriel, Chip Jackson, Freddie Bryant, Mark Elf, Papo Vasquez, and Gary Dial have all studed with Ed.
Functional Jazz Guitar (FJG) states in it’s preface that it “does not attempt be ground breaking.” Instead the text focuses on having the student play through the basic cadences and blues forms in every key. This is the quintessential material of jazz harmony that, once internalized, will allow the student to “be able to play real jazz with others.”
The examples in the book are what I’d call real “meat and potatoes” material: simple, powerful tools that sound great and are foundational rather than trying to be clever. Students working with the book are guided through dozens of exercises that demonstrate the use of embellished guide-tone lines and various comping patterns including major and minor ii v i and blues cadences in all 12 keys. Learning all of the material within and FJG and applying it to standard tunes would give the guitar student a mastery of their instrument and the solid foundation of harmonic understanding necessary for jazz playing and creative improvisation. The book includes 18 files in MP3 and Finale format to practicing along with. Vist Ed’s website to view sample pages and sound files.
FJG also has several pages of advice, observations, and reflections from Ed on topics such as ear-training, transcription, sight-singing, reading lead-sheets and more. Although the strength of the of the book is in its’ musical examples, these comments by the author add even more value by suggesting further uses and activities for the included examples.
As you can probably tell, I really like this book and I’m also a big fan of Ed’s Linear Jazz Improvisation Method books which would be a natural next step for students who have mastered the basic concepts in FJG. The only misgiving that I have about the book is that it is entirely in standard notation and I fear that the lack of tablature may scare off intermediate-level guitarists who don’t read well – just the demographic that needs this book. Since the goal is to master the included material in every key and across the entire range of the instrument, the use of standard notation leaves students open to explore all range and fingering options for themselves. Guitarists, if you need to work on your reading FJG is the perfect book to struggle through. Most examples are not too difficult and and you’ll be a better reader to boot!
So, what’s up with all of these books that are targeted toward guitarists but not written by one? I can’t say if this is the start of a new trend, but I think that many music educators have recognized that there is a huge marketplace full of egghead guitarists and that we do like to buy instructional books and videos. Is it a problem that the instruction is coming from a non-guitarist? In the case of jazz and jazz improvisation, I’d have to say no. Because jazz is a language spoken by all instrumentalists, any musician that can speak the language has something to teach you. Also, because a non-guitarist may not be familiar with all of the technical aspects of the instrument they can help you to focus on the Big Picture. So, instead of worrying about the particulars of fingerings and picking techniques they can help you make sure you’re in tune, in time, swinging, making the changes, and providing adequate support for the rest of the ensemble. This is what LJI Functional Jazz Guitar is all about!
If you’ve used this book – or any of Ed Byrne’s books on improvisation – please leave your comments below.