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I've been teaching guitar on and off since 1978 and I'm constantly on the lookout for learning aids for my students. So when Musician's Friend asked me to review the Rockhouse Method DVDs I jumped at the chance. The DVDs I reviewed are Learn Rock Guitar Beginner Program ; Learn Rock Guitar Intermediate Program ; Advanced Metal Riffs, Arpeggios & Speed Runs ; and Blues Riffs, Rhythms & Secrets. Generally the better the aid, the happier I am, but this series is so good it's making me worry about my job security.
A totally unique system
Before I even start on the various and significant strengths of the DVDs themselves, I have to say I was totally blown away by the Rockhouse Method interactive Web site. Every Rockhouse Method DVD comes with a membership number inside. Just sign onto www.rockhousemethod.com and this little number is your passport to a whole nation of musical marvels. There's a substantial bank of FAQs on all manner of music-related questions. This, plus the ability to ask the Rockhouse Method instructors themselves specific questions, is one of the site's greatest strengths. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
There's a Tips and Tools section with a raft of useful how-to articles; the Take a Quiz section that lets you test your level of mastery; and a Backing Tracks section that lets you download all the backing tracks from the Rockhouse Method DVDs. Downloading these tracks and practicing with them gives you the chance to get used to playing with real musicians before you actually go to your first jam session. The Message Board section has tons of lengthy threads in which the Rockhouse Method instructors are heavily involved. My favorite part of the Web site is the Tabbed Music section, which has a wealth of great songs made easy with well-written tablature (a graphic means of writing guitar music that's far easier to learn than you might think). This section alone would be worth the price of one of the DVDs. There are cheat sheets for dozens of killer tunes ranging from Zep to Radiohead. The Rockhouse Method web site sets these DVDs apart from any other at-home music-training systems I've encountered.
In addition to the Web site, each DVD comes with a booklet that features everything I would want my students to have were I presenting the lessons. It covers all the basic information presented on the DVD so you can quickly review before you begin each day's lesson. It also has a glossary in the back to remind you what all the terms mean.
Not your daddy's rock
The opening theme music of Learn Rock Guitar Beginner Program
is intense, wild, expressive, and advanced, demonstrating right off the bat that John McCarthy is a force to be reckoned with, not some poser who's teaching because he can't do. The opening video clip of him playing brings this home in spades—in one extended solo he displays virtually every kind of lick yet invented for rock guitar and executes them all flawlessly, musically, and with great feeling. Right from the start you know you're not in for some boring old guy who's going to teach you how to play elevator tunes.
Though his fiery intro might seem intimidating, John's teaching style is anything but. He takes you step by step through every technique with a perfectly clear presentation and reminds you from the start that "repetition is the mother of skill." He even presents you with the little tips on technique that make it clear he's been teaching for some time. Most videos and books touted to be for beginners start off extremely easy but within a few lessons take you in way over your head. John doesn't do that; he keeps the same pace of learning throughout, leaving nobody behind.
Using a DVD as a training method is a great way to learn. In some ways it's better than a live teacher because you can pause, back up, and look at each lesson over again as many times as you want. The video presentation is varied and includes inset shots of what John is doing on the guitar as you will see it when you're looking down at your own hands. There's also split screen sections to show you close-ups of what John is doing with both his right and left hands. The frets of John's guitar are numbered at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets so you can see where his hand is at all times. Sound-wise, the DVD is even better than real lessons because you can turn it up as loud as you want, and there are parts where John shows you how what you're learning sounds with drums and bass in the background. Like all the Rockhouse Method DVDs I reviewed, this DVD also features a Spanish language track.
Just as a live teacher will, John throws in little displays of skill here and there to keep you enthused about what you're learning and remind you of what you'll soon be able to play. The course is quite thorough for a solid beginning in electric rock guitar. It explains everything you need to know, from describing and naming all the parts of the guitar to describing how to hold the guitar and the pick, all the way up through learning to read tablature (which is way easier than you might think).
Movin' on up
Learn Rock Guitar Intermediate Program picks up right where the
Beginner Program leaves off and takes you through more advanced techniques like bidextral hammer-ons, hammer-ons and pull-offs, arpeggios, and sweep picking-the critical techniques you need to get that modern refined, pyrotechnic sound. This program also covers a number of serious skill, dexterity, and endurance-building exercises that put me to the test. Most of these exercises can be used as high-tech flash riffs while you're soloing. Run through a few of these and you'll quickly see how John became such an awesome chopster. He also covers basic blues techniques that'll have you sounding like Stevie Ray in no time.
Advanced Metal Riffs, Arpeggios & Speed Runs plunges straight into a full palette of scorching riffs you can use right now. As is appropriate for advanced players, this video is more meat-and-potatoes with less hand-holding, even though John's infectious enthusiasm still shines through. John shows you each riff slowly and then plays it at speed. The cool thing is you're watching on DVD so you can make him play it over again as many times as you want. His demonstrations of such techniques as pick harmonics, natural harmonics, rakes, and whammy bar tricks are very complete and easy to follow.
The coolest thing about Advanced Metal is the riffs themselves. They have all the harmonic power, grace, and speed you hear in your favorite solos from the pros, but they're amazingly easy to play (OK, most of them are easy to play). With a little hard work, it won't be long before you're sounding like a virtuoso yourself. Incidentally, this DVD ends with some truly amazing soloing.
Blues Riffs, Rhythms & Secrets introduces the beginning-to-intermediate student to the music that formed the basis of rock. John's coverage of playing techniques gets you immediately into the subtle nuances that make each blues player unique. One thing I really like about this DVD—and the whole series—is the way John is constantly encouraging you to be creative and develop your own style. He always reminds you to take ownership of the material you're learning. John is also really skilled at elucidating obscure points of technique and often articulates ideas that I never even realized a student wouldn't already know.
This DVD does an admirable job of covering the major styles of the blues and giving you all the essential tools you need to master the style in your own way. He does a great job of pulling all the parts together so you get a good feeling for how solos fit with rhythm parts. And you get plenty of chances to jam along with bass, drums, and John playing rhythm. Even old blues hands will enjoy this DVD while picking up some very cool licks.
This series is so intelligent, well-thought-out, and clearly presented that I'm tempted to hide it from my students. Why pay me every week when you can pick up a DVD at such a low cost and get the same information from a teacher whose patience is literally unlimited? Especially since John is such a fun guy to hang out with and you can even ask him questions online. But while John McCarthy will encourage you to work hard, he can't crack the whip on you. If you need that, you'll have to keep coming to guys like me.