Finale Spotlight on Ashkan Mashhour, author of Guitar Fingers

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Guitar Fingers: Essential Technique in Pictures is an ingenious new guitar book that analyzes the mechanics of left and right hand technique with the aid of more than 250 photos and diagrams and over 200 exercises, all notated with Finale. I recently spoke with author Ashkan Mashhour about the book and some of the unique aspects of its creation.

Scott Yoho: What was the inspiration for this book (and when did you start work on it)?

Ashkan Mashhour: A lot of guitarists, me included, are attracted and wowed by the technical wizardry of their favorite artists and the sounds these artists can achieve through their technical ability. But there is great detail involved in guitar technique which is all too difficult to decipher: most of us gather this information through observation, trial-and-error, and awareness. There is also something utterly beautiful about good technique. I wanted to focus on these elements and make them visually appealing. So Guitar Fingers is full of pictures, diagrams, exercises, and explanations about the nitty-gritty of guitar technique.

Guitar Fingers has been a long time in the making. I started jotting down notes and ideas for the book in 2010 but only put pen to paper in 2012.

SY: Are you aware of other books that have a similar focus on the mechanics of playing the guitar?

AM: Few books delve into the mechanics of guitar technique, in particular for modern guitar playing (using pick or pick+fingers). Classical guitar is well known for its codified emphasis on technique. Electric and acoustic guitar have always been more informal with technique but many players have been pushing the boundaries in a variety of styles. For classical guitar, works like Scott Tennant’s Pumping Nylon are on many nylon string players’ bookshelves. For the guitar played with a pick, a great exercise book is Troy Nelson’s Guitar Aerobics. Take a tour on YouTube and you will come across a rich offering of short technically-focused tutorial videos by players around the world. One of my favorite is UK-based guitarist Rick Graham’s wholesome approach to guitar.

SY: What were some of the greatest challenges in creating the book?

AM: Creating and organizing content, which must anticipate the needs and wants of the readership, was the first challenge. Guitar Fingers dives deep into guitar technique and each section had to set the stage for the following section. The next challenge was to make that a reality and putting it on paper, working with a variety of software tools to achieve this. That’s where Finale came in. In Guitar Fingers, there’s also plenty of photography, illustration, and recording involved, which meant juggling with very different skillsets. The last step was to prepare and format the book in accordance with the printshop’s capabilities and limitations. This is actually something to keep in mind throughout book production in order to avoid surprises in print, especially when a book is in color!

SY: What do you like about Finale?

AM: The reason I first picked Finale over competing products was what some considered an advantage, and others considered a drawback: Finale’s flexibility. This can translate into a longer learning curve but the user’s ability to customize Finale’s features is tremendous. Where other notation software give you a pre-defined framework to work with, Finale gives you access and allows you to tailor many of its parameters to your specific needs. As an example, for my first book Intervallic Fretboard, I created a new interval-based notation style, coined IVL, and Finale had the bells and whistles to make that possible.

SY: Do you have any tips for those notating guitar with Finale?

AM: Absolutely! MakeMusic has had in place for years a very active user forum. A great deal of issues are discussed on a daily basis in that forum, with solutions, suggestions, or workarounds available for almost any problem one can encounter when engraving music. Whether it’s for Mac or Windows, the most recent or an earlier version of Finale, the forum addresses common and obscure issues and features alike. A number of regulars, most of whom are power users, will chime in within minutes of your posting a question! It’s an outstanding resource. And that goes for any instrument, not just guitar.

SY: Do you have any suggestions for others who would like to author guitar literature and see it published?

AM: The market abounds with tutorial material for guitar. Can I write something new, can I write it better, or can I write it differently? As an author, you write about what you know, research what you don’t know, and put yourself in the reader’s shoes, always aiming for quality. Aspiring guitarists are more likely to pick up a book if it’s easy to read (cuts to the chase and uses clear language), easy on the eyes (illustrations, pictures), participative (exercises), and overall user-friendly. But once it’s published, you’re not done, you must use all the means available to you to get the word out (traditional press, online media, social media, academe, etc.). It’s a fun journey and you learn a great deal along the way—but it doesn’t happen overnight.

For an example of writing something new, take a cousin of the guitar: the ukulele. This little instrument has grown oh-so popular over the past few years and opportunities to create innovative instructional material for it are numerous.

I’d like to thank Ashkan for sharing his insight with us. What are you creating with Finale? Guitar music? Something else? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

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