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Michael Berard writes a new jazz guitar method for students

Practise those scales

by Paul Serralheiro

The guitar is one of the easiest instruments to pick up, but one of the most difficult to master, according to Music Professor Michael Berard. "Its tuning makes it multi-dimensional rather than linear, so it requires a totally different approach."

To help his students overcome the instrument's inherent complexities, the assistant professor in the Music Department has written a guitar method titled Jazz Guitar Technique: Exploring Chords, Scales and Arpeggios. Berard recently completed the book as a thesis for his Master's in Education.

The book goes further than most available guitar methods in integrating theory and practice, and providing students with guidelines that are both simple and thorough.

"You want the student to get as far as possible in as short a time as possible," Berard said. About 80 students are currently enrolled as guitarists in the Music Department.

Because there's so much to cover and study time is limited, simplicity -- a principle preached by jazz guitar greats like Joe Pass and Pat Martino -- is the key. Taking some basic concepts of successful study habits and time-management, Berard came up with a streamlined approach to promote the essentials of instrumental technique, reading skills and repertoire development.

He also drew on his own professional background. A one-time student of legendary jazz guitarist and teacher Mick Goodrick in Boston and of Gene Bertoncini in New York City, Michael Berard is a graduate of the Concordia Music Department and has performed with international jazz stars like Cleo Laine, John Dankworth, Don Thompson and Bob Mover, as well as local artists Charles Ellison, Jeri Brown and Dave Turner (all Concordia faculty).

Berard has also performed in a "pops" setting with Erich Kunzel and the National Arts Center Orchestra. He is a member of the Valentino Orchestra, the successful swing band led by Concordia's Andrew Homzy, and has recorded his own CD, Good News, a collection of original compositions and standards. He has performed at the Concordia Concert Hall as part of the Shannon Thomson Quintet.

Jazz Guitar Technique: Exploring Chords, Scales and Arpeggios features extensive musical material of a theoretical and practical nature, such as chord voicings, common progressions, chord-scale relationships, and practice patterns covering all 12 keys. This orients the budding jazz
guitarist toward a thorough
knowledge of scales, chords and arpeggios, which Berard insists is essential in jazz.

"Jazz guitar is different from classical guitar because you have to improvise," he said. "You need to find what you need instantly." To promote this facility, Berard has simplified the approach usually taken to scale study, and established five equidistant positions on the guitar's fingerboard, allowing the student
to cover all the scales all over the neck with the most logical fingerings possible.

Students who took part in the field testing of Berard's method praised the liberating logic of the book and were especially thankful for the practice tables, which break up the rigorous work of daily scale-practice into more appetizing morsels.

An additional significant premise of Berard's method is "learning through improvisation." Berard has produced a companion audio cassette which serves as accompaniment to the many exercises.

Berard's thesis will earn him his Master's degree in Education at fall convocation. He will probably publish the book himself. He plans to promote Jazz Guitar Technique: Exploring Chords, Scales and Arpeggios via the Internet and, of course, to provide it to his students.

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.