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How to Write Songs on Guitar: 2nd Edition, Expanded and Updated Paperback – May 1, 2009
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A useful source of knowledge for those just beginning with either writing or guitar. -- Dirty Linen An extremely valuable source book for wannabe songwriters as well as a highly readable journey of the popular song. --Guitarist
About the Author
Rikky Rooksby is a composer, songwriter, guitar teacher and writer. He is the author of Backbeat's best-selling How To Write Songs series, and many other books about popular music.
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I had high expectations based on how popular this book appears to be, but ultimately I have taken very little from it. Heck, I'd say I got more from the first chapter of Dominic Pedler's "Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles" than I did from this book. Obviously, however, since this book is very popular, I ought to address what I think the problems are.
This book takes a very chord-progression approach to songwriting. But rather than help you understand how chords function and giving you a few practical examples, this book lists chords, and chord progressions, ad infinitum. You can play all the chord progressions in this book without actually learning anything about how chords or chord progressions work.
Instead of teaching, this book lists. Do you really need a page full of different major sixth chord fingerings? No. You don't. What is half a page on min/maj7 chords doing in the section on basic harmony? One could teach a student how to figure out the advanced chords in half the space he uses to just list a bunch of them. The chapter on chord sequences consists of nothing but a list of chord progressions and songs that contain them - but would-be songwriters would almost certainly be better directed to some ear training resources and the tools to start to figure this out themselves. (Or you could just go online and find the chords to your favorite songs directly, if what you really want is a list of chord progressions).
And the whole concept of how you harmonize a melody, which is basic songwriting 101 stuff, is almost completely absent from this book. This isn't that complicated, but from reading this book one might walk away thinking that you come up with a melody, pick a chord progression, and viola you're done - that there's no necessary connection between these two things. There's a tiny discussion of this topic in the chapter on melody, but it's backwards - it's written as if you're deriving the melody from the chords.
Speaking of melody, if you're looking for practical tips of how to develop a melody from a simple idea, you won't find it here. Yet isn't this one of the areas where developing songwriters constantly get stuck? The melody chapter lists a few characteristics of different types of melodies, and ends abruptly.
I could make similar criticisms of other chapters, as well.
I really find myself wondering what the intended audience for this book is. Relative beginners don't need five or more voicings of every chord. More advanced students will be frustrated by the lack of depth and instruction. It's also rather bizarre that Rooksby seems to have decided to re-invent the roman numeral system - nearly every other book you read will use lower case roman numerals for minor chords, but Rooksby doesn't, which of course requires him to come up with other notation to indicate when the chord is something other than the expected quality. Why? There's a system that works, and that works better than sticking a carat (^) next to a chord to indicate that it's major instead of minor.
The chart on p 42 is good and useful (probably the best thing in the book, quite frankly), although I could nitpick some of the explanations behind it. But the nature of the chart (listing the same thing in every key) is sort of perplexing. It's a "give a man a fish" rather than a "teach a man to fish" approach, which seems to ignore the fact that it's really useful to be able to figure out, on the fly, what (say) the sixth of a given scale is.
I doubt this will be a popular review (since other people seem to really like this book) but if you want my advice you'd get Pedler's book instead. It's more work, but offers a much higher reward.
What's new: his writing is a bit toned-down (in the first edition, he knocks on Oasis for being derivative... in this edition, he's much nicer about their music), some of the chord diagrams have been corrected, the color of the diagrams is more streamlined and "natural" (beige, easy on the eyes), full-color photos of the albums in the book of the first edition have been removed (probably to save money), and most importantly- all songs he references now have the ARTIST mentioned right in the same spot he mentions the song (that was really annoying about the first book- he kept mentioning song titles but I was like "who wrote that?!" - oftentimes I didn't feel like flipping to the index of the book), and there are other miscellaneous additions and subtractions. All in all, a very good revision. Now on to my original review from 2002:
This is the best (and most comprehensive/complete) songwriting book in existence. Seriously. I am a 26-year old multi-instrumentalist who has studied my fair share of songwriting books and techniques... I listen to, write, and study virtually every style of music (even oldschool country and some R+B).
What Rikky Rooksby has done is create an easily understood book on modern (and not-so-modern) GOOD songwriting... how to make interesting chord progressions, how to write memorable melodies, what songs use certain chord progressions (from the popular Beatles stuff all the way to The Smiths (!!) and Sixpence None The Richer!) It's the only book I have seen that spotlights lesser-known amazing legendary alternative groups and their songwriting. Too many books these days show you how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.... what the hell is that? Who wants to learn songs like that? Rikky's book focuses on why the great pop/alternative/folk songs in history ARE great, why they work, what elements make them work, etc... you wanna write good solid songs that people will remember? Catchy, full of great hooks, etc... This book is IT.
In the back of the book he even lists 24 CD's you should buy (and/or study) to improve your songwriting, and he cannot be more ON when it comes to what he chooses:
1. The Beatles- 1967-1970
2. Bob Dylan- Blonde on Blonde
3. Beach Boys- Pet Sounds
4. Love- Forever Changes
5. Burt Bacharach- The Look Of Love
6. The Band- The Band
7. Motown Chartbusters Volumes I-V
8. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
9. Led Zeppelin IV
10. Bruce Springsteen- The Wild the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle
11. Joni Mitchell- Hejira
12. Carpenters- Their Greatest Hits
13. Queen II (EXCELLENT choice)
14. Fleetwood Mac- Rumors (yet another excellent choice)
15. ABBA Gold
16. Siouxsie and the Banshees- Juju
17. Bob Marley- Legend
18. REM- Life's Rich Pageant
19. Kate Bush- The Sensual World
20. Madonna- The Immaculate Collection (quite possibly the most perfect pop record EVER)
21. Nirvana- Nevermind (it's about time SOMEONE recognized Kurt Cobain's genius)
22. Jeff Buckley- Grace (yet another AMAZING artist who tragically lost his life way before he got a chance to impact the music world)
23. Bjork- Post (absolute brilliance)
24. Radiohead- OK Computer
It's such a diverse list, from stuff you might hate that your parents or older sister love (Beach Boys/The Band), to stuff that my generation fully appreciates (Nirvana, Siouxsie, Radiohead, Kate Bush)... even though I love the oldschool stuff, too... the best songwriters draw from ALL decades of music.
Rikky also has a section where well-known alternative and pop songwriters talk about the songwriting process (Morrissey, Tori Amos, Elvis Costello, Clapton, Peter Buck, etc.)... and he has a section that highlights random pop and alternative songs and why they WORK.... why they're great... I cannot say enough about how brilliantly-written this book is... I would love to contact Mr. Rooksby and let him know how much this book has helped me.
The book is VERY inexpensive (for how much stuff it covers!!!) and I highly suggest it to anyone and EVERYONE, especially an alternative rocker. One band I wished he would have featured in his book is Jets To Brazil... now that is a band which knows about hooks, great lyrics/chord changes... songs that will be remembered for a thousand years. But still.... Rikky pretty much covered EVERYTHING... seriously.
I have been playing guitar off and on for about four years. I've learned a LOT from this book)..... you won't be disappointed if you pick this book up, seriously.
I hope everyone out there reads this review and buys it... it's just without a doubt, something you cannot do without, if you're serious about songwriting (on guitar or ANY other instrument).