Craig Hall

In “Garage Band Theory” Duke Sharp has delivered to us the anti-textbook. Apparently inspired less by the tired approaches of endless theory books on the local music store rack, than by, say, Dave Barry’s delightful drollery, GBT reads at moments like a coffee shop conversation twixt rock band sidemen at a restaurant after a questionable gig, complete with puns both good and bad, musician ‘inside humor’ and self-demeaning laments.

The genius within the madness is that after finally acquiescing to the har-har humor, the reader will find himself actually learning a lot about music along the way. More to the point, learning how band-stand musicians THINK about music.

There has forever been a gap between the way music theorist negotiate their topic and what a pianist is thinking about when he glances at an upcoming C#7#11. (The truth is, he may still be thinking about the joke he heard last break.) The gap between traditional theorists and the musicians who play mostly “by ear” is even wider. GBT comes very close to bridging those gaps.

Mr. Sharp has taken a shot across the bow of academia (this isn’t how I was taught theory!) and delivered to us a quite accurate and unconventionally authoritative romp through the slightly circuitous logic of a guy making a hundred bucks on a stage somewhere tonight.

Funneling in most effectively on guitarists, other instrumentalists need not fret. (Sorry. It’s contagious.) The book also reads well to other fretted stringites, with a plethora of TAB and notation layouts for banjologists and mandolinonians. Truthfully any humor-deprived soul interested in how pitches relates to another might be advised to take the GBT plunge, if only to research just how absolutely twisted we habitual pickers are.

With dozens of relevant music examples ranging from the pen of King Henry the Eighth to recent pop, a few thematic threads are recognizable throughout the book, two being: “Experiment. A lot.” And, “You can learn this stuff! If I can do this you CERTAINLY can do this!”

I recommend this superficially light but painstakingly complete and well-crafted book to anyone who enjoys pondering, for example, one of its many included quotes: “I know canned music makes chickens lay more eggs and makes factory workers produce more. But how much more can they get out of you on an elevator?” (Victor Borge.)

Rich Robiscoe

It’s a fresh approach, a “we’re in this all together” vector not often found in theory texts. Duke Sharp makes a solid hit with a work aimed at players that want a comprehensive manual, but don’t want to wade through Walter Piston’s “Harmony”. Mr Sharp provides a user friendly platform for players of all abilities, with a special emphasis for the gigging musician looking to touch up the ‘zen’ behind that tricky chord change or progression.

A certain sense of humour is an essential part of ‘Garage Band Theory’. The perspective of a working musician gives this primer a unique vantage. This ain’t your standard Mel Bay!

A strong emphasis on analytical listening is evident throughout Garage Band Theory. In order to play by ear, a musician must be able to understand what he or she is hearing. Sharp has many tips that will help the player who can ‘hear’ a tune, yet find themselves at a loss when describing what it is they hear!

A wealth of practical examples are a feature of this work. Although copyright laws prevent  Sharp from supplying specific notation/tab for your favorite songs, the tab and notation included is deadly accurate and very helpful. Of particular interest is the chapter/section entitled ‘Song Structure/Reading the Road Map’. Over the years I’ve found that a solid knowledge of a song’s structure will help any musician play a song by ear more confidently and correctly, and Sharp’s explanations of common symbols and practices is an area often overlooked by methods primarily intended for guitarists.

As advertised, this is a theory text, and as such, has certain portions that are not as sexy as others (don’t we all), but these concepts are well thought out and easily accessible to the serious student. You may end up learning to read music despite yourself!

Mr. Sharp does not promise any miracles. Practice and repetition are as much a part of a musician as talent and a penchant for odd hairstyles. Be prepared to live with this book for a while, at three pounds and 500 plus pages, it’s a work that will take some time to assimilate.

I’ve been a gigging musician for thirty plus years now, completed a degree in Music Education in the misty past, and I find myself reaching for a guitar every time I pick up “Garage Band Theory’.

Kyle Brenner

I love this book and will recommend it for all my students looking to pursue ear training! As a studio teacher, I’ve often heard students complain that they wished they could figure out what chord that was that just went by….”How do you know that’s a minor chord there?” or “Why are you using that voicing or inversion for that?

And as a teacher, I tell students that I’d like them to be able to figure out songs for themselves, instead of relying on my ear or a potentially bad TAB from the internet, but how to get there? Now there’s a tool for the teacher and the student of ear training, and it’s called Garage Band Theory.

Duke Sharp’s book is, simply put, the first book I have ever considered putting on my required materials list as a guitar teacher.

There are lots of worthy books out there, but students would have to buy five books or more  to cover this material in the way that Duke has in just one book. And, its focus is not on reading notes; rather, it helps to train oneself to break free of reading notes and to use one’s ear! I was classically trained as a cellist, and by classically trained, I mean, I was taught to read everything on a sheet of music and interpret everything just as the composer wanted. But most of us classically trained musicians tend to feel glued to the page, or shackled by what the composer wanted. “What about me?” we’d ask. I feel strongly that ear training and mastering an ability to free oneself from the page are not only desired traits, but empowering as well.

This book covers everything you need to know about music theory, and it covers a wide variety of instruments and musical genres, so it’s not limited to being just a manual for guitarists. Starting simple, with note names and counting, then moving into intervals, scales, and chords, this book takes a very in-depth approach to seemingly simple material, fleshing out many ideas that most of us musicians have either glossed over or have only scratched the surface of. I’m very impressed with the versatility of Garage Band Theory, covering such things as moveable forms of scales for guitar, but also mandolin, mandola, violin, viola, cello, and tenor (eleven) banjos as well. Not only does Duke address various instrumentation; he addresses a wide variety of musical genres as well—jazz, rock, blues, folk, classical, and even ska. Chapter quizzes are followed by inspirational quotes, and the glossary of musical terms at the back is worth the price of the book alone. Duke does a great job of referencing and directing the reader to things he’s covered with a clear and concise road map throughout.

If you’re looking for a manual that will help train your ear and fill in the gaps in your music theory, Garage Band Theory is it. As a seasoned musician with 30 years of classical training and 25 years of ear training, I still learned a lot from this book. Empower yourself and start using this book now!

Kris Ellingsen

Clear a space immediately in your music library for Garage Band Theory. It’s not likely, though, that this excellent book will sit on the shelf for long. I’m guessing that your copy, like mine, will either take up a position on your music stand, flagged with sticky notes and paperclips, or perhaps lie on the floor in your favorite practice nook, splayed out flat (thanks to the practical ring binding) and stained with the coffee cup rings that indicate a long and satisfying relationship.

Whether you are just beginning to play music – or, like me, are a classical player who missed school the day everyone got together and learned to play by ear for fun – Garage Band Theory is the last book you’ll need to buy for a very long time. It offers multiple entry points into the vast world of applied music theory and is an entertaining read from start to finish. It’s packed with technical information and exercises that are woven together with anecdotes and historical perspectives.

The book starts out with an introduction to basic music notation and progresses through chapters dedicated to counting, intervals, scales, chords, and harmonic progressions. There are quizzes for the studious and an excellent index. Pages and pages of inspiring quotes from famous musicians and other creative souls offer relief when the learning curve gets steep. Throughout the book, the author’s welcoming, witty, and wise voice provides a running commentary that functions rather like a private lesson in print.

Every line of music written in standard notation is accompanied by at least one corresponding line of tablature. Often there are multiple tabs to cover other instruments or alternative fingerings or voicings, and accompanying CDs provide ear-training and improvisation opportunities. The last couple of chapters form a comprehensive conclusion clarifying most remaining mysteries … at least the ones that involve theory, technique and practice. Regarding the mystery surrounding your own particular relationship with Music, this book gives you the tools, and the tool sharpeners, to do that work on your own.

Andrea Lea

When he started teaching guitar and mandolin, Duke Sharp went looking for a book that explains what his students needed to know. He searched book stores, libraries, universities, and on line databases. What he found were a lot of small pieces of bigger puzzles, and some complicated explanations of arcane theories and phenomena that didn’t matter, but nothing that provided a logically structured and complete picture of what accomplished musicians know and use every day.

So he set out to write a good guitar teacher’s manual, not knowing he’d be at it for seven years—articulating hundreds of non-verbal (i.e., musical) concepts, selecting what the reader needs to know and leaving out what they don’t, creating hundreds of understandable lessons, fnding the right place for each lesson in a basics-to-advanced structure, making hundreds of details for hundreds of diagrams, learning a dozen or so forever-changing software applications, surviving betrayal by forever-outdated and unreliable hardware, and endlessly editing, improving, and revising.

The result is Garage Band Theory, an unpretentious, understandable, and incredibly effective one-stop shop for anybody who teaches guitar, plays guitar, or wants to. First, it demystifes music theory. According to Sharp, a professional musician for the past 30 years or so, music theory is a “very well designed and a relatively simple solution to some really complicated communication issues. That’s what it’s for: communication.” He also says, “A two-word defnition of music theory that I like is this: music vocabulary.” So you might say you start learning, chapter by carefully constructed chapter, how to “speak music.” And you end up knowing not just how to play a guitar (or get better), but also how to play it with other musicians—whether they’re on strings, horns, woodwinds, or percussion.

Just leafng through its pages, I learned a way to tune my guitar that’s better and easier than the method I used for 20 years; that in addition to the F (bass) and G (treble) clefs, there’s another one in guitar called a C clef; what the Circle of Fifths is; how to use the capo that’s been sitting in my guitar case for such a long time; and… …that this one book teaches everything any normal person will ever need to know not just about playing “by ear” and skilled listening, but also musical notation, tablature, melody, harmony, dissonance, modulating and transposing, arpeggios, fngering, picking, tunings, scales and modes, and vocabulary.

For starters. This all goes for mandolin too. Not to mention a lot about the other stringed instruments: guitar, mandolin, mandola, bass, violin, viola, 5-string banjo, octave mandolin, cello (baritone and tenor), dulcimer, four kinds of ukulele, and tenor banjo. Or the hundreds of lessons Sharp devised using examples from swing, jazz, four-to-the-bar, Charleston, blues, bluegrass, rock and roll, American folk, be-bop, country western, nonwestern, children’s, huge famous hits, famous unforgettable standards, Olde English Tudor, classical, classical renditions of all these styles, modern renditions of classics, and more.

Then I get the idea that maybe not having this book all these years (rather than my lack of discipline) is the reason I got just good enough to fake I-IV-V camp songs, throw in a few bar chords, and do rousing concerts by and for myself in my living-room when nobody else is home—but have never been able to keep up with people who can play what seems like anything, with endless variations, on the spot.

So in the sea of information that this book is, something in the chapter on Progressions got my attention: “Have you ever seen a guitarist who is playing what seems to be a really complex chord progression, but somehow barely moves the hand that’s fretting all the chords? This section is an introduction to how that works.” I keep reading, and fnd out “Any fve-fret section of a guitar neck spans two full octaves plus a major 3rd. That is enough notes to play any chord without having to shift your hand up or down the neck.”

I spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon working through this section. Now, even though my fngers don’t get it yet, my brain fnally understands two new common and powerful improvisation techniques. Some proof, maybe, that Sharp’s right when he says that what musicians do to improvise and play by ear is teachable, learnable, and essentially “something we all do on a regular basis.”

Which reminds me: this book is like sitting down with a very friendly and down-to-earth master who’s doing everything in his power to transfer his years of practice and experience to you. Really. There’s no way you could read this book and not get the impression that Duke Sharp’s dedication to your success is absolutely genuine and whole. In addition to all the excellent lessons, he weaves in history, anecdotes, and lots of excellent advice that includes specifc, practical techniques for memory, practicing, mastery, studying, learning, playing for fun, and playing professionally. To name but a few. For any list of great how-to books, this one belongs right up there with such classics as The Joy of Cooking, How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, and Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. And I’ll throw in The Artist’s Way too, because it wouldn’t surprise me if Garage Band Theory workshops pop up all over the place.

If you own a guitar, you will want this book. If you’re serious about playing guitar, you’ll miss it when it’s elsewhere, and you’ll head straight for it when it’s not. Write in it. Draw on it. Read the text. Take the advice. Practice the drills. Take the quizzes. Comprehend the diagrams. Sleep with it. Shower with it. Then go audition for a garage band. You’ll rock.