Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
A wonderful starting point
on 10 October 2007
I am a complete newcomer to the blues, coming from a classical background. I bought a few books last year, including this one, which I'm almost done working through. There seemed to be some disagreement among the other reviewers about whether this book develops creativity... Even though I agree to some extent that this won't cultivate spontaneity on the piano "immediately", I personally think that in the medium to long run, working through this book is much more beneficial for creativity and improv then other available books. Improvising Blues Piano is simply fantastic and I would personally even say a "must" for anyone genuinely interested in learning the blues!
From the several books I've seen, I think there are different learning approaches out there, which I think can be categorized into "quick learning" and "real learning". What I call the quick learning options will give you entire repertoires of licks and riffs, which build up your blues vocabulary very quickly, but you don't necessarily understand what you're doing or how to expand on it. All you know is that it sounds great, you're having fun and you're definitely playing some groovy blues! So if improvising is about learning the vocabulary and grammar of the blues and then formulating your own sentences, then this type of approach is definitely more gratifying in the short run, and you'll definitely be learning and having fun. The problem is that you'll only be learning fancy vocabulary and very basic grammar; unfortunately no more, and no less.
The other category which I can discern out of the books I've been working from is the "real learning" kind, which this book falls into. The focus here is on understanding the music and getting a real feel of what you are doing, and this book absolutely excels at this! The theory is explained in a VERY approachable manner (as opposed to dry and technical), moving incrementally one concept at a time, and giving you ample room to practice, create and improvise around that single concept. Each concept is also accompanied by a set piece, which serves as a practical example (or sometimes several examples) of how the concept can be applied, so that you don't start from nowhere, as if you'd just read only theory. Each piece is also fully analysed so you understand what is going on throughout, and the CD helps you to follow in case you prefer to play it by ear or need help deciphering the sheet. And the best feature: the exercises that accompany each piece and challenge you to improvise around what's written on paper.
The difference between the two approaches? I think that both are good, but with different advantages. Again if we compare learning the blues to learning a language, here you're learning a LOT more about the grammar, and in the process a lot of vocabulary also. But the vocabulary will come much more gradually, as you discover new riffs, licks or comping patterns with every new piece you work through... It takes a bit more time and quite a bit more work and thinking, but at the end, you'll actually understand what you're doing; you know what sounds good and why, and also how to refine or develop your ideas; your intuition builds up on a much more solid basis, opening many more doors for improvisation than the first approach; and you develop a deeper appreciation for the blues as a whole, (especially since Tim Richards makes it a point to give you history, short bios and fab pictures of the great blues pianists, past and present.)
So once again, very very very highly recommended! (With one caveat: the book does pre-suppose a basic level... say one or two years minimum experience on the piano.)