Howard Morgen’s “Through Chord-Melody & Beyond”: A Book for Building Insight – Jazz Guitar Life Book Review

Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank John Huntley for his time and insight in writing this review!

Howard Morgen has built a prolific career as a guitar teacher, writer and clinician based upon a simple paradigm in music – knowledge equals creative possibilities. Ignoring the hot licks-oriented trivia, Howard’s work focuses on teaching the whole fretboard in a comprehensive, intrinsic approach. The endgame here is a guitarist who can express their own creativity through the instrument and through their arrangements. In this sense, Howard’s latest book, Through Chord-Melody & Beyond (published by Alfred Publishing and available at www.howardmorgen.com), is a distillation of a career’s worth of teaching conceptual information in a functional context.

Although Howard is a fingerstyle jazz guitarist of elite ability, Through Chord-Melody & Beyond is not designed around any one technique. While it does have an appendix dedicated to fingerstyle applications, the book as a whole is ideal for the straight-ahead picker or the hybrid-plectrum stylist too. Additionally, it is accompanied by a CD loaded goodies, including multiple arrangements of the eleven jazz standards used throughout the book, exercise worksheets, and 6 videos of Howard performing the tunes.

One of Howard’s main strengths as a teacher and writer is the way he arranges information into logical and manageable portions. Howard divides his latest work into two sections that nicely display this talent. The first part starts off with a chapter on self-accompaniment, getting a player going with the chord-melody basics before adding chapters on derivations, comping bass melody and walking bass. Each chapter builds on previous ideas and provides exercises and worksheets that culminate in a practical application. The tunes used to work through these ideas include ‘Round Midnight, It’s Only A Paper Moon, Li’l Darlin’, My Funny Valentine, The More I See You, Body And Soul, Stardust, My Foolish Heart, Alone Together, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Speak Low.

I was amazed at how much my own understanding and interpretation of these tunes grew by following Howard’s insights. Each section and chapter provides a clear explanation of what you as the reader/player are delving into and how you can or should approach the subject. Howard never leaves you hanging out over the musical cliff. He walks you down the path with relevant and expressive text. Additionally, each chapter ends with a reference list of books for further study on that chapter’s subject with a master list in the appendix. It is a very thorough (and gracious) list that allows students to delve even further into subjects that interest them.

Part Two’s subjects include theoretical and harmonic concepts, ways to think about constructing arrangements, and techniques. Again, Howard nicely illustrates his concepts in tune arrangements. In this section the concepts include chord voicing formulas, chord theory, chord substitution and addition, natural and artificial harmonics drop tuning, and key modulation. I found the chord concepts especially useful in that he explores 7 variant approaches that a player could use to understand harmonic structures of tunes. A common thread throughout these approaches is the use of standard chord progressions as an indicator of inner voice movement and other concepts that a player can harness to open up their playing. Part two definitely takes more work to digest, but is worth every ounce of concentration as the pay-offs are big. This is where the theoretical world of musical concepts meets the creativity of musical expression.

Although the publisher adds the caption “Solo Jazz Guitar” at the top of the book cover, Howard Morgen’s Through Chord-Melody & Beyond in reality is an essential reference for any guitar player interested in opening up new approaches to their playing. Whether your goal is a more expressive comping style, fingerstyle technique, or full-scale arranging for guitar this book has a lot to offer. Howard comprehension of and skill in explaining musical concepts are second to none. This is a book that a guitarist at most any level can come back to again and again.

John Huntley (jhuntley@embarqmail.com) is a freelance writer based in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina area. His work focuses on music and the arts, and has appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and web sites.

2 Comments

  1. A finely written understanding of Howard Morgans approach. Howard would be very pleased with your positive review. He was not only a great player but an expert teacher in his teaching techniques as you point out…” He doesn’t leave you hanging off cliffs. ” He was also my friend and a giving positive human being. His encouragement when i produced my first solo cd will never be forgotten. Joe Amplo

    • Hi Joe and thanks for the comment and memories of Howard! This review was originally written a while back but I will send the reviewer a message stating what you wrote!

      Take care and thanks again for dropping by.

      Lyle – Jazz Guitar Life

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