I'd write and order me books. There was a guy called Nick Manoloff. Nick Manoloff had books. Guitar instruction books in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, the big one. I'd order those books and I studied them religiously, and that's how I learned to put my fingers on -- learned how to tune the guitar and learned my first bit of learning how to read music.
Academy of AchievementJune 10, 2004, Chicago
I don't know how B.B. King got much out of Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book 1.
I found it fairly impenetrable at thirteen.
Manoloff's Instructions for the Guitar on page 7 should have killed all interest right off:
The first care of a beginner is to procure a perfect instrument ( unless you have only $16.83 in which case there is no need to read further) . The strings when tuned must not be too high a distance above the fingerboard nor too low so to rattle against the frets (unless you have a no-name guitar with the fingerboard markers painted on) . Very often a pupil with delicate hands will have their finger blistered (most beginners already have calloused fingers from nervous drumming and tapping) ; to prevent this the frets should be rounded and smooth at the edges because, when gliding up and down, the fingers should not be interrupted in their passage (unless of course interrupting the passage is your thing).
There is a pretty useful set of instructions for tuning the guitar. You had to get a pitch pipe. Hidden deep in the fine print was the instruction:
In tuning to a 6 note pitch pipe or tuner be sure to tune an octave lower than the tone actually produced by the pitch pipe, otherwise the strain of the string will be too great and might cause damage to the instrument.
No mention of ever cleaning the pitch pipe. I still have mine but would no longer put it near my mouth.
How to Hold the Guitar is good too:
Sit upon a chair of ordinary height, with the left foot slightly elevated, and the right leg crossed over the left.
So you sit with your left foot up in the air, slightly, and cross your legs. So basically you have both feet up in the air.
There is a certain correspondence of pain with the the blistered fingers inherent in the holding of the instrument in this way.
The best part of the book for me was the "Names of the Principal Parts of the Guitar ... know your instrument thoroughly before you begin to practice" page. There is a full page photo of Nick's guitar with all the parts clearly labeled.
It's a mysterious instrument.
I've tried to find out what kind it was but no luck.
It appears to be a concert sized flat-top with a split, square headstock like a Martin but with no brand name on it (just like mine!). The pickguard is tucked up next to the bridge though - sort of flamenco style. I've still never seen another guitar with a pickguard like this. You can see Nick's fingers actually resting on it in the photos.
It's a twenty fret neck. His doesn't have the double fret markers at the 12th fret where the neck meets the body. I studied that picture a lot, matching everything to my own instrument. Especially useful is the "FRETS (little metalic bars) and the SPACE BETWEEN FRETS.
On page 9 there is what appears to be a Man Ray photograph complete with solarization of Nick's disembodied hand and shirt cuff floating in deep black space demonstrating the correct way to hold the pick.
It looks very much like the hand shadow puppet for a chicken head.
Nick refers to the pick as the "plectrum" which was very confusing but there was a picture of one "actual size" as well.
I am assuming you could match your plectrum to the one on the page in order to be sure you hadn't gotten one that was too big or too small. He went on to say that the pick should "not have an extremely sharp point, since the rounded point will give better results in every way."
This I have found to be very true. Yes. No pointy picks. Roundy pick good.
Also rest your pinkie on the sounding board because "the tone is clear and powerful and locating the strings is very easy."
I have found that wearing a tuxedo to play in also improves your playing enormously. Nick doesn't really go into that and it takes quite awhile before it sinks in somewhat subliminally.
Very clever teaching method the Spanish method.
Right opposite the sheet music for "Massa's in de Col' Col' Ground" (B.B. must have loved that huh?) are instructions for "Hot" Accompaniment and How to Make It.
But before we plunge into staccato playing we have to have a look at the very best part of Book 1: The Modern Accompaniment Guide.
This is a really nifty thing. I still have it and I still use it. It's a computer actually. My first computer now that I think of it. And it was free with Book 1. Says so right on it.
It also says "For Spanish Guitar". Confusing. Is this for flamenco or what?
Note Nick's raised left leg and tuxedo.
Anyway it is worth repeating the instructions on this. It is a musical education in itself. If you don't need a musical education you can skip this. It's long and theoretical.
If you don't like music theory you won't like this.
Don't read it. Skip it. Come back to it.
To accompany any key the student should know either the name of the key or find the number of sharps or flats in the piece he will play. Then turn the disk until the arrows point to the desired key or key signature. Use the 3 chords tonic, subdominant, and dominant for accompaniment. The 3 relative minor chords shown in the upper right opening, have the same key signature as the major key. To determine whether a key is in major or minor see the last note or chord in the piece. If it ends on the tonic note of the major, accompany with the 3 major chords; if it ends on the tonic note of the minor, accompany with the 3 minor chords. When a sharp or a flat occurs in the music and does not appear in the key signature, accompany with 3 accidental chords.
The accidental chords I found extremely interesting. I had learned a lot of chords by accident already just fooling around. Maybe I could work backwards from accidental chords.
It was worth a try.
I might have found the secret to learning the Spanish method: a tuxedo and accidental chords - the keys to the kingdom of guitar.
This exposition probably makes me sound like I can read music. I can't. I won't lie. But it does make me sound like I want to read music. That's important.
The Modern Accompaniment Guide is a wonderful thing. Two pieces of cardboard with a rivet in the center. You just turn it and it tells you what goes with what and has little fingering drawings that tell you where to put your fingers. Forget the book. Focus on this primitive calculator/computer. I've had mine for 49 years and it still functions perfectly.
I don't have much I can say that about.
I nearly forgot this part about "Hot" music. This is important. This is rock and roll but in 1935. I will always remember the scene in the Benny Goodman Story when Steve Allen turns to Donna Reed and says "So you like hot music?"
How many times have I used that line huh?
Because I had read Manoloff when I was thirteen I knew from hot music.
I have to quote this extensively because its important that you read it all. If you want to know how hot music is played pay attention. You'll never listen to Eddie Van Halen the same way again.
"Hot" (the quotes are Manoloff's) Accompaniment AND HOW TO MAKE IT
This term, commonly used in playing popular music, is known in the theory of music as staccato playing; i.e. buffed, damped, suppressed or muffled sounds. To play staccato means to detach or separate notes from each other giving them only about one quarter of their time, making a rest of the remaining time belonging to each note. It is usually indicated either by round or pointed dots over or under the notes. When there is no indication in the music, the performer could use staccato at liberty for greater "hot" effect.
Staccato at liberty..get it!!!??? That's the whole secret to pop music - staccato at liberty..free staccato..staccato gone wild..in your face staccato!
To perform effective staccato on the guitar, strike the strings quickly with a heavy down stroke, then stop the sounds by stopping the vibration of the strings. There are two ways of playing the staccato (this is before Hendrix remember):1. By damping or muting the strings with the right hand.2. By releasing the pressure of the strings with the left had.The first method is employed when there are open strings included in the chord. In this case, the staccato is produced by quickly laying the edge of the palm of the right hand across all the vibrating strings, or by quickly laying the thumb across the strings on its side.The second method is employed when the chord is composed of all closed notes. The vibration is stopped by releasing the pressure of the left hand fingers, so that the strings may rise a little from the finger board, but not taking them entirely off the strings.Staccato is very important, being used in modern orchestra music frequently. At first it will be found rather difficult and will require considerable practice.
Strike the strings quickly with a heavy down stroke. I'll bet Pete Townsend read Manoloff too.