Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
The Guitar Decoder Ring by Asher Black & Barry Gilman is a bold and ambitious music theory book that focuses on the instrument of the guitar. It is intended as an easier way for a person to learn to play the guitar and to express their creativity using it. For more advanced guitar players, it could provide a different perspective and a way to improve on one's skills, providing another tool in the toolbox.
The Guitar Decoder Ring introduces musicians to the concept of SIGIL—the “new language of guitar” (as the authors call it). This is really the main selling point of the book. SIGIL is presented as a clever, unique way to navigate the fret board. The main advantages of this seems to be: 1. to make the guitar easier to learn and play, 2. to provide an outlet for more experienced guitar players to improv (improvise) and create new melodies without necessarily following strict keys.
If this sounds complicated, it kinda is. But think of it this way: the keys on the keyboard of your computer may seem cluttered and mixed up, but they become simpler to understand when you realize that different areas or regions of the keyboard perform different functions. The keys near the top effect things like brightness and sound, under those are number and symbols that can be altered with the SHIFT key. Then there are the letters. If you become married to the idea that each button corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, you can become stuck just pressing the keys with one finger—accomplishing what you need to accomplish, but doing so very slowly and inefficiently. However, when you take advantage of muscle memory and your fine motor skills, you can use all ten fingers to type what you need to types with exponentially more speed and efficiency. This is kinda how SIGILis supposed to work.
The inspiration behind the title is telling as it hearkens back to childhood nostalgia of the Captain Midnight decoder rings. This was a kind of interactive game using codes presented by the television personality that corresponded to a letter or word, revealing a hidden message for the viewer.
SIGIL is presented as a groundbreaking and special pedagogical, and it really is. It's surely a different way of navigating and playing the guitar strings that may appeal to some players.
What we think is really special about this book is that it advocates for a new way of learning that nurtures creativity and innovation rather than simply pushing a dogma or a rigidly structured way of doing things. This is more like a Montessori approach as compared to a traditional education approach. We actually thought that this was phenomenal! Think about this: most music students are taught how to play an instrument or two. They are taught the keys and notes, then shown sheet music to play back or regurgitate. However, are they taught how to compose their own music? Are they encouraged to create?
The authors encourage their students to compose their own tunes and to create their own music. They are encouraging students to make news things—better things, different things. Isn't this what we should be encouraging music students (and all students) to do?
The book also explores some interesting techniques that may be familiar to some players. For example, the authors cover techniques like bends, slides, vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, palm muting, and tapping.
Check it out on Amazon!