Using A Fake Book or Song Collection Book to Sky Rocket Your Guitar Progress

By Eric Dieter

 Everyone wants to learn songs on guitar, right? How do you know which songs is right for your skill level? What will you do when you encounter a chord you don’t understand? What if you spend 3 months learning a song and all you know at the end of that time is… ONE song?

These are all common problems. Let’s take a look at the first question: What song is right for my skill level? I think this question is fundamentally flawed, especially if you are working with a qualified teacher. I think the better question is: How do I take ANY song and adapt it to my guitar skill level? 

I’m so glad you asked…

Fakebooks aka Song Book Collections aka Real Books are a collection of songs put together in one convenient location. On the surface, they may seem like over-priced, as the novice player says

 “I only like 2 of these songs,” or 

“I’ve never heard of half of the songs in this book,” or 

“Why would I buy book when the internet has all of these for free?”

All of these things are short-sighted reasons why music stores and online retailers are unloading this things dirt cheap. Whether or not you like the songs or have heard of them is not relevant (you’ll see why below). And while the internet may have some version of the song you want, I can almost guarantee the online version is not nearly as accurate as the printed publication. PLUS you should stay off the internet during practice sessions anyway, otherwise don’t be surprised when you spent most of your practice time checking your social media and watching silly animal videos.

So go buy a book of any kind then start working!

The Process: Set a timer for 7-10 minutes. Begin your practice session by flipping to a random song/page and doing ONE of the following:

  1. Face Value: sight read the melody. A lot of guitar students cannot do this, and that’s fine. If you can’t move on! If you want to improve in these areas, remember to practice melody and rhythm separately at first.
  2. Borrow the rhythm. If sight reading isn’t your thing, but you do want to improve try this one: Take any ONE measure’s rhythm (only the rhythm) and strum the chords to it. More advanced players can improvise melodic ideas, alternating between several measures of rhythm. You could sight read the entire song’s rhythm (even guess-timate it) while running through a scale in an improvisational way.
  3. Analyze the chord progression. If this song made it to into a song collection book, it was probably pretty popular to a lot of people. Knowing how to write a good chord progression is a valuable skill to all musicians, even if you never play in a band.
  4. Play the chords! If you get a Real Book, you’re going to find a lot of ‘jazz chords’ in there that may be confusing. No problem. MOST of those chords can be simplified to major chords or minor chords. Don’t know how to play a D7(b9b13)? No problem. Turn it into a D major chord. Forgot how to play a Bm9/D? No prob, turn that guy into a Bm chord. Just get playing!
  5. Choose ONE unfamiliar chord and work it into your chord vocabulary. If the book you bought has guitar chord charts, the biggest challenge to this one is limiting yourself to one new chord. The idea is to work this chord into your everyday playing, so just pick one. If the chord charts are NOT in there, it’s best to skip this option for now and discuss the process with your guitar teacher.
  6. Play arpeggios instead of the chords. 
    1. Beginners can play the chord as usually, but try moving the pick one string at time
    2. Late Beginner can play the chord like above, but write out a right-hand sequence:
      1-2-3-2-3-4-6-5-4-CHANGE CHORDS (numbers refer to string numbers)
    3. Intermediate players should be sweeping 3 and 4 string arpeggios
    4. Advanced guitar players should be voice-leading their arpeggios through inversions and adding in tensions where appropriate.
  7. Improvise over the chord changes. 
    1. Beginning students can simply target the roots of chord: Find a G when the song says to play a Gmaj7. If it says something like D7/F#, find both D and F#.
    2. Late beginners should alternate between finding a the single note and playing the scale that best fits with the Letters you’re are seeing. 
    3. Intermediate students should be finding all chord tones 1,3,5,7,b9 etc. as described by the chord
    4. Late intermediate students should be connecting specific chord tones and scales.
        For example, start on the 3rd of CHORD 1 (The E in a C chord)  play through the  
        appropriate scale or mode and land on the 7 of CHORD 2.(the F in a G7 chord)
      I’d recommend writing this down. Keep it simple, don’t do too much at once
    5. Advanced students should be looking at chords as unique key events and finding appropriate scales/modes to play over each chord. Try changing modes and keys to fit the chord

These are just a few ways to learn songs. This way, you are ALWAYS working within your skill level and getting better. The idea is NOT that you learn a new song every day but instead that you learn HOW to learn songs. Practicing in this way will expose you to a new song every day and in just a short time you will be seeing recurring patterns and clichés in many of the songs you like listening to and enjoy playing.

About the author:

Eric Dieter is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher in Lancaster, PA. He has appeared on dozens of international albums as a session guitar player and tours with the synth-pop band Hudson K and prog-rock band Hiding Scarlet. Eric has studied guitar at Millersville University and Berklee College of Music. Additionally, he holds a degree in psychology and certifications in behavioral health and hypnosis, making him uniquely qualified to train the minds of young musicians. Contact Eric if you are looking for guitar lessons in Lancaster, PA.