Book Review --How to Play by Ear

by Jack Hatfield

Jack Hatfield is a regular columnist for Banjo Newsletter, and the owner-operator of Hatfield Music in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Jack has written several books about playing the banjo, including one that I feel is probably the single most important collection of Scruggs tablatures on the planet -- Scruggs Corner -- which is a collection of tablatures taken from the playing of Earl Scruggs which appeared in his Banjo Newsletter column of the same name.

Jack has been teaching for many years. He has also done lots of stage and studio work, and decided to put his vast knowledge of the inner workings of music down on paper. The result is this book.

This is an exhaustive treatise on practical music theory. It explains almost everything you will ever need to know about how it works. He teaches you the "Nashville Number System," as well as traditional music nomenclature. Much of the focus of the book is on how to recognize chord progressions and play them.

He teaches chord structure, chord substitutions and, as a special feature, has a section that tells you the probabilities of running across a particular type of chord in a particular style of music. This is absolutely invaluable.

He gives sample chord progressions, based on songs you probably already know. This is a great help to the beginner.

The book comes with a CD or cassette of exercises that are also in the book, so you can hear what the exercises actually sound like. Also, as the name of the book implies, there is a great deal of emphasis on ear training. A book like this has been needed for a long time.

Once you have finished The Natural Way to Music by Jim D'Ville and Bill Keith, or if you already have a rudimentary knowledge of some chord progressions, you will certainly be ready for this book. I recommend it highly.

How to Play by Ear is not limited to any one instrument. Anyone can use it, and it does not require that you know how to read music. It is softbound, 176 pages, and a bargain at $25.00 from Jack's web site.

My recommendation for theory books for the complete, absolute beginner -- get your feet wet first with The Natural Way to Music, then follow with How to Play by Ear. There is some overlap, but not enough to bother anyone.

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