19 Best guitar books

Books I use and recommend as a guitar teacher

I have been teaching guitar since I was in highschool.  I am sure I have not always done a good job, but 20 years of experience has a way of shaving off the rough edges.  Over the years I have acquired at least 100 drum and guitar books, not to mention 100s of magazines.  I have finished many of them, been bored by some of them, and in others have hit walls that I have yet to break through.  Learning an instrument is a lifelong journey, and the books that I have studied from are, and will be cherished memories on that journey.  On this page I will point out some of my favorite books, what I currently use in my teaching and give some recommendations.  I hope the best for you on your musical journey and maybe one day we will make some music together.

A case for book learning

Should I learn guitar from a book?

You may be wondering why you should learn guitar from a book when there are literally millions of hours of video for free on the internet.  As a content creator myself, I can safely say that there are a ton of great video lessons online and you should be watching them, and more importantly playing along.  But books offer something a bit different than the videos you will find online.

Books are portable

Books don’t require an internet connection, need no batteries, and are light and small enough to fit in your guitar case.  You should always have at least one book tucked away in your case for easy access wherever you happen to be.

Books are well thought out

Generally a book is going to be much more thought out than the typical youtube video.  Content creators are just trying to get the next video out, they are thinking in 10 min chunks, a week at a time.  This is great for licks and tricks, but if you want to take a deep dive and really learn something you will need significantly more time, and more thought. 

Books generally have to get through a publisher, they often take months or even years to produce.  they are edited, scrutinized, and published with tons of eyes on them.  This means that the quality, and depth of the information “should” be good.  And the material should be enough for you to really grow as a player, not just learn a new lick, but 20 new licks and how to apply them to 20 songs for example.

Books stick to a single topic

Books tend to focus on and exhaust a single topic.  Youtube videos (my own included as much as I try to make longer series) tend to jump from one topic to the next following the trends.  A book on sight reading, for example, you can expect to focus on sight reading, and in most cases will get harder as it goes.  This is called grading, books are graded.  Not just in the series they happen to be in, but in the way they introduce material.

Books make you work a bit

A good book will challenge you enough to keep you working, but not give you so much that you give up.  There is really an art to producing a good educational book, one that excites you but does not leave you frustrated.

There will also be some guitar books that you will need to come back to when you have acquired a little more skill.  I have had a few books on my shelf for almost 10 years that I still can’t play everything out of, but they have helped me to become the player I am now, and give me something to work towards to become the player I want to be in the future.

Do I need to play through a whole book before moving on?

In short, no.  Some books are designed to be completed before moving on to the next.  Like book 1, book 2, and so forth.  But many books are good reference books.  You may pull a concept or idea out and then put it back on the shelf until you are ready to study that topic again.  Some books are just filled with songs for you to play, you can learn as many or as few as you like.  

Best Guitar Books for beginners

Modern Guitar Method Grade 1
Expanded Edition

There are a ton of guitar method books out there and I have played through most of them.  Mel Bay’s Method is my go to book for beginners.  The expanded edition has over 80 pages focused on sight reading and basic chords at the 1st position in the keys of C/Am and G/Em (These keys are relative to each other, meaning they use the same key signature).  This is the book I use for students who want to learn how to really play the guitar, not just strum some chords, or play a few riffs.

After completing this book you will know how to read music, play basic rhythms, learn several scales and be able to play several nice pieces of music.  Getting through this book will open a world of material up to you, material that is not accessible unless you can read notes.

The fact that there is no tablature can be a little scary, but I promise notes are introduced in such a way that you will be reading music like a pro in no time.  This book leans more toward folk and classical styles with a bit of bluegrass thrown in.  You will not find any rock style music here, but a great musical foundation.

I would say it will take 3-12 months to finish this book depending on how much time you invest into it.

Here is a sample of what you will be able to play towards the end of the book:

Modern Guitar Method Grade 2
Expanded Edition

Grade 2 in Mel Bay’s Guitar method picks up where grade 1 left off.  The book continues to add more keys and moves the player into the second position, away from using open strings.  

Mel Bay’s guitar method goes through grade 7, while I own all 7 and have a goal to finish them all, I am currently only in book 3.  I will update you as I finish each and let you know what I think about them.

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A Modern Method for Guitar - Volume 1

A modern method for guitar vol. 1 is the book I choose for intermediate players who want to learn to read music, strengthen their music theory knowledge, and challenge them selves.  If you can get through book 1 of Mel bay you could pick up this book and be ok.  

It starts from scratch, and also does not have tab, but gets harder way faster than the Mel Bay method.  it covers open position for the first half of the book and then starts moving up the neck.  Chords and scales in all keys are covered as you go along.  This book is challenging but I feel so good everytime I complete a new page.

While this book has a classical and jazz leaning to it, there is also a supplementary jazz book that I have enjoyed playing out of, but I would recommend getting at least halfway though Volume 1 before diving into it.

I am recommending this addition because it comes with video instruction and play-alongs for every song in the book, but there is also a version that has volumes 1-3 for less money, you just don’t get the video or audio examples, and the book is HUGE, I would recommend taking it to your local print shop and having it spiral bound.

Here is an example of what you will encounter in this book:

Best guitar Books for Intermediate Players

Supplemental reading material from Berklee

Once you learn to read notes, a world of music will open up to you.  These three book will give you tons of material to keep your reading chops up, and have some incredibly beautiful pieces in them.  They are supplements though, so you will find no instructions just sheets of music.

I have all three of these books and have not even come close to mastering all the music that is within them.  You can guess what is inside based on the titles.

Classical studies is a collection of classical guitar pieces arranged to be played with a pick (most classical guitar is fingerstyle).  The pieces range from easy to advanced and are in all positions.  There are at least 5 pieces in first position so this book is accessible to someone working through Modern method book 1.

Reading studies covers all 12 keys in all position on the guitar neck, systematically getting more difficult as it goes.  If you can get through this book you are a monster reader.

Melodic rhythms focuses on getting your rhythm reading up to speed.  The pieces are fun and have a jazz vibe to them.

Here is an example from the classical studies book:

Guitar Aerobics:
52-Weeks, One-lick-per-day

Guitar Aerobics (has notes and tabs) is designed as a year long study of guitar technique, offering one lick for everyday of the year.  The book is laid out in such a way that each week builds on the week that came before.  So, week 45 will be harder than week 20.  what’s great about this book is it covers multiple techniques in several different styles: country, jazz, rock, and metal to name a few.  Each day of the week is dedicated to a different technique.  

Monday: Alternate picking
Tuesday: String skipping
Wednesday: Bending
Thursday: Arpeggios
Friday: Sweep picking
Saturday: Legato
Sunday: Rhythm

When using this book I found that I could play certain days much better than others, so on rhythm for example I can get all the way to week 52, but I get stuck on week 15 for the sweep picking.  This book will really help you identify and work on your weak areas, even if it takes you 4 years to get through it, you will be a better player at the end.  Plus you will learn a ton of useful licks.

Fretboard Freedom

Fretboard freedom (has notes and tab) was inspired by guitar aerobics and takes the same approach.  365 licks one per day, the difference is this book focuses on playing the same lick in different positions on the neck.  For example on week one you will play the same lick Monday-Friday in 5 different positions on the neck using the CAGED system, Friday and Saturday give you a lick that moves across positions.  Each week moves through Major, Minor and Dominant chords and seeks to make you comfortable playing across the whole neck.

I have not finished this book, but have found it helpful in trying to understand the fretboard as a whole, and applying chordhapes to licks.

Rhythm Guitar 365

Rhythm guitar 365 (has notes and tabs) is yet another lick a day book, this time focusing only on rhythm techniques.  This book is far more than just strumming, it covers all kinds of rhythm playing and that is why I like it.

Connecting Pentatonic Patterns

Connecting pentatonic patterns (has notes and tabs) focuses on the 5 boxes of the pentatonic scale.  Each chapter covers tons of licks in a given position using lots of different techniques (pull offs, hammer ons, bends, slides etc.) and then two full solos using the licks and techniques you have learned.

I am currently working through this book and as a worship/rhythm/blues player I am really enjoying the challenge.  I’ll let you know what I think when I finish it and post some examples of me playing the solos.

Fundamental changes books

Joseph Alexander has been pumping out the guitar instruction books over the last few years.  The crazy thing is that everyone of his books I have looked at is really good.  You can grab the audio for these books for free on his website and use those examples to inform your decision on if you want to buy.  The kindel versions of these books are dirt cheap, pick up a few!

Best Books for Advanced Guitar players

Ted Greene books

Originally published in 1971, Chord Chemistry remains a time-tested industry standard for guitarists wanting to improve their compositions, soloing and knowledge of harmonic motion.

In short it is an amazing reference book designed to teach you how chords are constructed and how they exist together within the musical universe.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to play everything in this book, but I have gleaned so much from it.  

Ted has written several other useful books including modern chord progressions, which is a bit more of a practical application of Chord Chemistry.  In this book Ted walks through how to play beautiful voicings on common chord progressions.

 If you want to check out some of Ted’s arrangements they are available for free at http://tedgreene.com/

The Advancing Guitarist

This book is filled with a lot of great concepts.  It will really challenge your thinking as a musician and help you to think outside of your box, pun intended.

Video courses

TrueFire.com

Although books are a great way to learn, there is something to be said about learning from a teacher or a video course.  TrueFire offers just that, well thought out courses that also include sheet music/tabs that you can print out.  Much like a book, each course is focused on one topic and gives you information in a step by step manner.  You can buy individual courses or gain viewing access to all the courses on a monthly or yearly basis. 

The best part is they offer a 30 day free trial for you to check out all their material.  So you’ve got nothing to lose.

Final thoughts

There you have some of my recommendations.  I will post more as I come across them, but for now pick up a book and get to practicing.  Remember, you only get out of music what you put into it.

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Your favorite book did not make the list?  Leave a comment below and tell me what you think is a must have book.  I am always excited to hear about new resources.

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