Book Review: LJI Functional Jazz Guitar

lji-funtional-jazz-guitarLJI 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 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.

8 thoughts to “Book Review: LJI Functional Jazz Guitar”

  1. This is such great advice for a beginning jazz guitarist or sometimes even for the advanced ones, who sometimes need to just go back and learn the basics. These fundamentals should apply to any musician.

    Thanks for the article.

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  2. Last paragraph is so true : Ed’s book was great for me because focuses more on the “Big Picture” of making music (instead of the usual technicalities of guitar playing).

    Great book and Great review!

  3. I would agree with you about the standard notation. I think having both it and tab is best as long as standard notation is still there. I know too many guitarists who only know tab and they have really limited their education from it.

    Maybe the author could release a shorter book of recommended tabs.

  4. After reading this article it got me thinking on this subject. Your points and thoughts on this topic are very precise and well thought out. This is really great work.

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    Playing Jazz Guitar sounds like fun. I wanted to learn how to play the guitar but I guess it is not for me. Did not work out. I’d agree to your ideas. I’m sure the musicians out there would appreciate what you shared. The technical aspect is a big factor in the beginning but considering the “Big Picture” makes more sense.

  6. For Rita: I also love to play guitar but I guess guitar doesn’t like me playing it. lol a lot of people aspiring to learn jazz would want to read this book. Great post!

  7. I tried working through this book but never got past the guide tone lines chapter. Probably my fault as evry time I tried these lines I found different opsitions and fingerings for them (Why are there so many different ways to play the same notes on the guitar!) And of course trying to learn them all I learned none! Probably should have just picked two fingerings and stuck with them for the start. Not sure if including tabs would make a difference as then you’re inclined to just use that fingerin…

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