For many years i was a self-made guitar player, learning only from records, from watching other guitar players' hands and from a few hints i got from some friends who were good guitar players. In the '70s this was the only way to learn how to play, unless you had the money for private lessons (...not feasible for a poor student as i was).

Now i think that giant steps have been made in this matter. There are so many instructional methods on VHS and dvd, books, magazines, sites on internet, PC interactive instructional software. Not to mention the music schools! Really, now the big problem is to find in this sea the right tools to help you improve your playing. Nobody would like to spend weeks and money and effort on a low quality instructional video when maybe there are better (and often cheaper, sometimes free!) tools available.

I didn't make a comprehensive analysis on this matter, but i will try to mention some tools i found outstanding.

  • School. If you want to take music seriously, a good idea is to subscribe to a music school. Apart from what you learn from the classes you attend, the nice thing is that you meet many music professionals and you breathe a very nice atmosphere. Schools can be expensive, but often they allow you to "customize" your training so you decide yourself how intensive you want it to be and also what to study (beside instrument lessons of course): music reading, harmony, composition, and so on. Personally speaking since 2001 i'm a student of the Saint Louis Music Center in Roma.
  • Instructional videos. Nowadays there are so many VHS available that it's hard to choose. They are quite expensive (they cost 50 € on average) so it's important not to make a mistake. Differently from instructional books, normally you can't give a quick look at them before you decide. To make things even more complicated, i realized that very often instructional videos from great famous guitar monsters are very poor: such people don't understand that BEFORE clicking the "rec" button on the video camera you must make a big work on planning the lessons and the exercises you want to put in the video, and you must try to see it from the students' point of view and ask yourself questions like "Am i GIVING anything to the student? Will he get precious hints to develop his own style?". This is the point: some guitar players make instructional videos just to prove that they are monsters, but no one wants to pay 50 € for this. On the other side there are plenty of unknown guitarists who are very good instructors. Personally i had the opportunity to view about 20 instructional videos. I'll give you my opinion about the ones i found more interesting, but i'd like you to send me your opinions as well!
    First of all, there are mainly two possible directions in a instructional video. Some of them are for the guitarist who looks for warm up exercises, licks, or in general for exercises to improve speed, accuracy, hand stretching, etc.. Other videos focus on theory, giving hints on how to approach phrasing, how to improvise and so on. Some videos have a hybrid approach and deal with both exercises and theory.
    From the first group i recommend the first two videos by Paul Gilbert and the first video by Joe Petrucci ADD TITLE AND INFORMATION ABOUT THESE VIDEOS. They are all heavy-rock oriented, and actually i don't know about any good video for the jazz guitarist who wants to practice.
    In the second group: for jazz/fusion players i warmly suggest the first video by Scott Henderson "Jazz-fusion improvisation", for blues (...and beyond!) there is the excellent "The Blues and beyond" by Robben Ford ADD INFORMATION ABOUT THESE VIDEOS.
  • Books and methods. This is a big mess! How can i pick a few books from such a crowd? I'll try...
    I won't suggest any book about practicing and exercises because videos are much better than books (or audio tapes). I think you should see the player's hands in order to figure out how to practice or how to play a lick or an exercise.
    The Aebersold collection provides a very wide set of books with CD (or tape or even vinyl) with backing tracks to allow you to improvise. For many aspects they are a bit old and have been obsoleted by PC software which provides more flexibility, such as changing the key or the tempo, for example. Among the titles in the Aebersold collection you can find generic backing tracks in different keys, jazz standards, or volumes dedicated to some author.
    As a generic jazz/fusion reference you can give a look at the Frank Gambale Technique Book vol.1, (including a tape, maybe a CD version is available?). This is a schematic and comprehensive primer on what you can play on each chord type: scales, pentatonic scales, triads, arpeggios, intervals. The approach is purely diatonic: for example it looks like you can't play a minor pentatonic scale on a dominant 7th chord! Geee, this is the very first scale i ever played (i guess the same is for the most of you) ... and it sounded cool, so i felt a bit confused. Well, if you look for suggestions about how to play "out" or a bit more spicy, you won't get it from this book. The Scott Henderson video i mentioned before is perfect for this! But long time ago this was the very first book who thought me about the harmonized major scale and the 7 scales derived from it. Perhaps now you can find many books similar to this and maybe better, but this is a classic.
    If you are interested on sweep picking, you can't miss Speed Picking (including a tape, maybe a CD version is available?) once again by Frank Gambale. I confess that playing arpeggios with this technique sounds terribly good, not only for the speed, but also for the fluidity you get. And when i play three note per string scales the sweep approach comes very natural for me. I think that you can't base all your playing on Gambale's approach (Frank himself doesn't sweep all the time!), but i think you can really get a lot from this technique and incorporate smootly in you playing. Highly recommended.