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Great Guitarists' Stories and Styles

Perk up your ears to the stories behind unforgettable guitar-led songs-and the fire-fingered guitarists behind them.
Great Guitarists' Stories and Styles is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 5.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable! I enjoyed this short course! I do feel some viewers were looking for "instruction-led" course on Guitar music, but this short course with stories, narratives and some sampling was good enough for me. Thanks.
Date published: 2023-08-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A great disappointment The instructor’s style is awkward. I was expecting 30 minute segments so that we could really delve into each artist….not nine minute, shallow, barely breaking the surface snippets. I was also expecting brief examples, from the artists themselves, to illustrate the points being made, not totally unsatisfying imitations. I barely learned anything from this course that cannot be found on YouTube documentaries. This falls so far short of the standards of The Great Courses it should be embarrassing.
Date published: 2023-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining This is an entertainment video/audio and not a "learning" course. Most of these segments are a subset of his other courses. Could use more pictures.
Date published: 2021-03-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not up to the standards of The Great Courses I have been a devotee of The Great Courses for over a decade, having learned about subjects as varied as existential philosophy to religion to my true love, music. Having only recently discovered the charms of blues and rock guitar, I was thrilled to find Great Guitarists Stories and Styles. I was vastly disappointed, both by the content and the instructor. Granted, Prof. McAllister is up against some heavyweight competition: His direct competitor at The Great Courses is Robert Greenberg, whose fulsome treatment of classical music in How to Listen To and Understand Great Music covers 400 years of music in extraordinary detail but with a charismatic teaching style elements from music history, biography, technical theory and style that keeps your attention. Outside of The Great Courses, Prof. McAllister is up against documentaries such as the Eric Clapton biography A Life in 12 Bars. There is no comparison in either forum. Prof McAllister gives some impressive performances, but his lectures (which is what I came for) are shallow, not even competing with the overview paragraph in a Wikipedia article. My context for this comment is that most of the Great Courses I have taken to date have been anywhere between twelve and twenty hours. (This may be too long for many students, but let's be fair: The Great Courses advertises these courses as University Level Courses, not YouTube quickies.) This course is seventeen nine minute videos, including performance time. His presentation is awkward, using multiple camera angles while he stares unblinkingly at a single camera (or teleprompter?) In truth, I would like to see what Prof. McAllister is capable of. He's a talented musician, with an impressive resume. I'm sure he can do better. I know The Great Courses can do better. What do you say, Great Courses? Are you willing to let Colin McAllister show us what he can do?
Date published: 2020-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazingly entertaining and Instructive! This was a wonderful surprise! It was so nice to get a sense of the particular styles, background, and influences that forged these amazing guitar players. The instructor is outstandingly qualified for the subject, and a very versatile guitar player. I'm not done with all of it yet, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. The only caveat is that lessons are shorter than most courses, but given the subject and format they are very enjoyable.
Date published: 2020-10-13
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Hear the stories behind the music you know and love as Professor Colin McAllister walks you through the fascinating histories of some of our most iconic guitarists.


Colin McAllister

Most importantly, good technique allows us to express our musicality without inhibition.


University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Colin McAllister is the Music Program Director at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He earned his master's and doctorate degrees in Musical Arts at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied guitar with Celin and Pepe Romero, interpretation with Bertram Turetzky, and conducting with Harvey Sollberger and Rand Steiger.

Dr. McAllister has taught the guitar and performed professionally as a guitarist for more than 25 years. He has made more than 1,000 appearances with organizations including the San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony, and the Colorado Symphony. Dr. McAllister is also a member of the jazz ensemble Hennessy 6. In 2016, he entered an artist partnership with Taylor Guitars.

Dr. McAllister has recorded on several record labels, including Albany Records, Tzadik Records, and Naxos. He also pursues research interests in 3rd and 4th century religious beliefs related to apocalypticism and early medieval commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Dr. McAllister lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado, with his wife Barbara and their children. In addition to his academic studies in music and the apocalypse, he has climbed more than 35 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, along with Mount Whitney in California and three high volcanoes in Mexico.

By This Professor

Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales, and Solos
Playing Guitar like a Pro: Lead, Solo, and Group Performance
Pink Floyd's Second Guitarist: David Gilmour

01: Pink Floyd's Second Guitarist: David Gilmour

David Gilmour wasn’t Pink Floyd’s first guitarist, but he was the band’s most well-known. Professor McAllister takes you into Gilmour’s early days and how he went from watching Pink Floyd to playing with them. See how his masterful string bending technique and lyrical vibrato has made him an icon.

9 min
Eric Clapton's Acoustic Blues

02: Eric Clapton's Acoustic Blues

Eric Clapton got his first guitar when he was 13 and joined his first band a mere five years later. His unique mix of blues and rock brought him fame both as an ensemble player and as a soloist. Learn about his history as a musician and discover how to capture the heart of an acoustic blues piece as only Clapton can.

8 min
The Watercolors of Pat Metheny

03: The Watercolors of Pat Metheny

Jazz Guitarist Pat Metheny’s life changed within the first five seconds of hearing a Miles Davis record. Follow his road to success and how he bridged both the traditional and the new approaches to jazz with his innovative techniques. Discover the quiet beauty of his style through a waltz with lose rubato phrasing and arpeggio-based improvisation.

11 min
Two-Handed Tapping with Eddie Van Halen

04: Two-Handed Tapping with Eddie Van Halen

Van Halen’s guitarist was a fan of Eric Clapton and Cream, as well as Jimmy Page from Led Zepplin. He took the signature styles of his idols and made them his own with a two-handed tapping method which transformed the frets into a stringed keyboard, allowing him to play at a phenomenal speed. Find out more about Eddie Van Halen’s influences, style, and how he altered the perception of what rock guitar was in one minute and 42 seconds flat.

8 min
Andy McKee: 100 Million YouTube Views Later

05: Andy McKee: 100 Million YouTube Views Later

The first guitarist to become a public sensation via social media, Andy McKee claims at the time he was first recorded, he “didn’t even really know what YouTube was.” Yet, it was just that medium that got him noticed by Tommy Emmanuel and Prince. Professor McAllister follows his road to becoming a guitar star.

9 min
Surf's Up: Dick Dale Channels the Ocean

06: Surf's Up: Dick Dale Channels the Ocean

The Del-Tones are well-known for bringing “surfing music” mainstream but this iconic  style started out with Richard Monsour (later to become Dick Dale) and his cousin Ray  Samra playing at the Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor in Newport Beach. Follow the  evolution of Dale’s signature sound: instrumental, rocket-fueled guitar that sounds like  surfing feels.

8 min
The American Folk Ballad

07: The American Folk Ballad

Songs are frequently used to tell stories and histories. Nowhere is this practice more evident than with folk ballads. Professor McAllister walks you through the history of this practice as he introduces singers and songwriters who have used music to tell the story of themselves and the country they inhabited. Get to know early western songs by folklorists such as John Lomax and dig into the resurrection of folk ballads with 1960s music festivals featuring Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and others.

12 min
Alex Lifeson and the Art of No Compromise

08: Alex Lifeson and the Art of No Compromise

If you know Rush, you know they are anything but rushed. 2112 opens with a title cut running over 20 minutes long. Combining heavy metal and progressive music, Rush was known as “the Canadian Led Zepplin.” Follow the life of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson from getting his first acoustic guitar at age 11 to becoming the “Musical Scientist” who invented “The Alex Chord”—the F sharp 7 suspended 4th.

7 min
Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz

09: Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz

Born in a Romany encampment in Belgium, Djano Reinhardt changed the music scene of 1930s Europe by introducing a swinging and folkloric version of jazz that had never been heard before. The thick, rhythmic downward strokes across the guitar soundhole is part of what gives “Gypsy Jazz” it’s unique and recognizable sound. Hear the turbulent story of Reinhardt’s music history and learn why diehard fans play two-finger arpeggios up the neck rather than four fingers across the neck.

8 min
Andy Summers of The Police

10: Andy Summers of The Police

It took phone calls from anonymous giggling girls after a school performance to make Andy Summers want to be a rock star. After a bumpy road, he landed with The Police, who allowed him to make “Every Breath You Take” his own. A right-hand picking pattern—root, fifth, second, third—with slight left-hand muting transformed the song into a smash hit. Learn more about Summer’s story and style.

7 min
Muleskinners: Where Bluegrass Began

11: Muleskinners: Where Bluegrass Began

English and Scottish folk songs combined with the isolation of the early Appalachia led  to the acoustic melodies from guitars, banjos, fiddles, and mandolins known as  Bluegrass. Explore the roots of this uniquely American music as Professor McAllister  introduces you to Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Tommy Magness, and other Bluegrass stars.

10 min
All Thumbs: The Wes Montgomery Revolution

12: All Thumbs: The Wes Montgomery Revolution

A soulful melodist who played strictly with his thumb, known for doubling melodies by playing in octaves, and using block chords across the top strings of the guitar to combine melody with harmony, Wes Montgomery has changed the world of jazz guitar. Discover how this self-taught game-changer took up thumb strumming so his wife could sleep better while he practiced and other fascinating facets of his rise to fame.

10 min
John McLaughlin: The Way Beyond

13: John McLaughlin: The Way Beyond

John McLaughlin may not be a name many people recognize, but the musicians he’s jammed with are notable, including Miles Davis, Paco de Lucia, and Jimi Hendrix. Combining electric jazz, Indian music, funk, rhythm and blues, and gospel, he brought musical hybrids into the mainstream. Find out how his humble beginnings led him down this path of radical change.

9 min
Adventures in Bossa Nova: Jobim and Gilberto

14: Adventures in Bossa Nova: Jobim and Gilberto

Many of us are familiar with “The Girl from Ipanema” but the full scope of Brazilian bossa nova is a music movement worth digging into it. Professor McAllister introduces you to early innovators in this genre including Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilbert and takes you through the exciting history of this style.

10 min
Blue Note's House Guitarist Grant Green

15: Blue Note's House Guitarist Grant Green

One of the most lyrical jazz guitarists to ever live, Grant Green was both a rival and an inspiration to fellow musicians such as Wes Montgomery and George Benson. His signature was a repeating riff, catchy one-note lines, like a horn, followed by endless variations. Get to know the man behind the Blue Note Records sound of the 1960s.

9 min
Where Did Tal Farlow Go?

16: Where Did Tal Farlow Go?

Professor McAllister takes you through the life and impact of Tal Farlow, a bebop jazz guitarist whose major contribution to music was creating a speedy, strong rhythmic style to accent a beat—so strong that Farlow often played without a drummer. Although his career peaked in the 1950s, his innovative techniques of using thick, flat-wound strings to create mellow tones and cathedral-bell harmonics had a strong influence on generations after him.

9 min
Joni Mitchell in DADGAD.

17: Joni Mitchell in DADGAD.

Features a staple of techniques, including hammer-ons, pull-offs, palm muting, and nuanced strumming across multiple chords, Joni Mitchell’s approach to music is one that embraces flexibility and ways to maximize the sound from simple techniques. Professor McAllister takes you through her history, starting with a ukulele and into the magic of her song writing.

9 min