Like many other forms of instructional videos, it was only a matter of time before guitar instructional videos made the leap to DVD. Austin Blues for Guitar, Volume I is an enjoyable four song instructional video, as the DVD takes an in-depth look at four Stevie Ray Vaughan standards: Cold Shot, Couldn't Stand the Weather, Crossfire, and Lenny, which range considerably in level of difficulty from rudimentary to complex. All four songs are taught by the same instructor, Dan Warner. For each song, Warner takes the viewer through tuning (all four songs are in E flat), the intro of the song, the main riffs and an additional section, usually the song's bridge. The DVD uses onscreen tablature to supplement Warner's instruction and his incremental approach to the songs prevents the viewer from feeling too overwhelmed by the occasionally complex songs. Throughout the instructional period for each song, Warner will go back and run through what has been learned, before a final performance of the song accompanied by a singer, Tommy Anthony, who does a decent job singing but isn't the type of singer one would expect to see on this DVD.
On to the big question: does this DVD work? Yes and no. At best a poor guitarist going in with some idea about the main the riff in Cold Shot and Crossfire, I know feel that I can do a serviceable job with the songs which is admittedly an accomplishment. However, for someone who has barely touched a guitar before, this DVD may very well be a bit too advanced. While Warner explains the makeup of the chords and licks used throughout the song, some of the chord structures are a bit unconventional and might be a bit awkward for someone who has not played them before. Further, Stevie Ray Vaughan employed a fairly advanced strumming technique which requires comfort and familiarity in picking and strumming in order to play the songs well. His stutter-step strumming is perhaps one of the hardest parts of Cold Shot, and while it plays less of a role in Lenny, the chord structures are the most difficult in that song. Also, some of the songs include licks which are played rather quickly. While Warner is willing to slow it down to get a better comprehension of the faster material, when it is time to play along with the whole song, one might feel a bit left behind. Nevertheless, if one is willing to go through the video a few different times, this DVD puts these songs within the range of comprehension and competence in a way that is superior to simply using tablature.
Of course one of the best features of this DVD is that it offers, in effect, an instructor with infinite patience, as a viewer can go back again and again until they feel comfortable that they have gotten it right. The viewer is also aided by a DVD that is quite easy to navigate, as the viewer can go directly to the song of their choice and then to the opening, the intro, the main riff, the bridge or the performance section just be advancing the chapter. This proves somewhat invaluable to any viewer who wishes to go back and review what they have just learned, or for someone who just wants to go to the performance portion and play along with the musicians. In addition, as mentioned below, during a couple of the songs and as a special feature on the DVD, there are additional instructional sessions on blues scales and blues chords which allow the viewer's learning to extend beyond the bounds of the four songs and to begin jamming. While the DVD does seem to eschew complex portions of the songs such as the solos which would be a bit more difficult to both teach and learn, all in all it is an enjoyable, fun experience from which it is easy to learn and get a taste of the Austin blues.
Perhaps the least important feature of this DVD, the picture is presented in full screen projection. Neither the colors and texture of the picture nor the tablature on screen appears sharp and well defined, but this should not present any sort of impediment for the viewer who is simply seeking to learn the Austin Blues. There is some shimmer which occasionally occurs on screen and pixelation may be perceived as well.
The sound transfer on this DVD is in Dolby Digital 2.0. While one never feels surrounded by the music with which one is playing, the sound quality is sufficient to clearly hear the notes and any distinctions between them, along with the use of tremelo, trills, etc. While the sound quality of the DVD makes this a poor DVD to use to show off the clarity of one's home theater system, the sound is more than adequate to get the job done, and there is no need for adjustment of volume throughout the DVD, unless one wishes to turn down the song to hear their own playing.
The DVD does have a decent amount of supplemental materials, most of which are fairly useful. There is a separate tuning section in the Special Features which contains a standard tuning of a guitar (E instead of E flat) in which each properly tuned string is struck, allowing the viewer to adjust his strings until they sound identical. While this may not be the easiest way to tune one's guitar, (I recommend a small electric tuner), it does as good a job as can reasonably be expected, and can be helpful for anyone who simply wants to tune up their guitar. Next, the DVD contains drawn out chord patterns for each of the four songs as a ready reference for someone who simply wants a refresher or to practice proper chord formation. Further, there is sufficient explanation in the course of the video that even a relative novice can use the chord formations chart to properly practice the chord, and the tablature which is also included.
The DVD also contains a section referred to as additional tips, which includes instruction on a blues scale. The blues scale instruction is fairly easy to follow and will allow a viewer to pick up the basics of lead guitar through the simple scale in question, while also offering tips for extending the scale for an even greater range of sound and playing, along with a few other nice suggestions for extending the range of the scale through bends and vibrato. The only negative about these sections is they will very likely leave the viewer wishing there was even more detailed instruction on these additional tips.
Also among the additional tips is a section on so-called blues chords. This is a rather interesting eleven minute section which, along with the other parts of the additional tips section really augment what this DVD has to offer. The blues chords are a bit difficult at first, and this is a section that would benefit from illustrated chord patterns or tablature, however, watching this section a number of times would definitely seem to expand one's blues repertoire.
Finally, the additional tips section contains a twenty minute long feature called Tips & Tricks. The section begins with instruction from Warner on how one accomplishes bending of notes while playing. He actually does a great job in his instruction here, really allowing even beginners the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of bending, as well as vibrato, the next lesson. He even takes the viewer into the worlds of finger-tapping, a style of play that Eddie Van Halen made popular, and tremelo picking, both of which are rather difficult techniques to learn. Nevertheless, Warner provides a comprehensible explanation of the technique before breaking out into a more complex style which even some intermediate players might have difficulty playing. By the time Warner makes it through the intricacies of surf guitar, trills, and the whammy bars, it seems somewhat disconcerting that this instructional section was hidden in the bonus features section.
While most of the instruction on this DVD is a bit advanced for beginners, it is definitely worth picking up for anyone who is a fan of the Austin style blues and who wants to expand their guitar repertoire. It is enjoyable and, if a viewer has patience and desire, this DVD will very likely make them a better overall guitar player.