Image of Joseph Alexander Author and Publisher

I really struggled at music college. I mean really struggled. I was probably the least talented guitarist in my year and found myself practising eight hours a day just to keep my head above water.

Going to music school in London was an honour and a privilege, but I couldn’t keep up with the workload in such a competitive environment. Each week I was given music to learn by vastly different musicians, and I struggled to process this information overload. I thought that I had to get all these influences into my playing instantly when in actual fact it would take years to fully master a small amount of these skills. In fact, I was never taught to prioritise the most important musical ideas, so I tried to work on everything, all at once. Unsurprisingly, my guitar playing sucked.
This overload led to me having a breakdown and quitting music college. I took a year off to get my head together and transferred to Leeds College of Music in the North of England. Leeds saved me as a musician and one conversation with my guitar teacher in particular sticks in my memory.

On my first lesson, my teacher Jiannis asked me who I wanted to play like… who was my biggest influence?

“Pat Martino”, I said.

“OK, the way you’re playing, you’re never going to get there with the way you’re practising,” Jiannis held his hand high up by the ceiling and looked up at it. “That’s Martino, yeah? He’s a God”.


Next, Jiannis leant down, put his hand an inch off the floor. “This is you. Compared to him, you’re shit. You’ll never make it”.

“…right…” I was almost in tears.

Jiannis stretched out both arms wide, struggling to show the distance between Martino and me.

“The reason you’ll never make it, is because you’re trying to make this massive leap all in one go. You’ll fail quickly, and you’ll fail hard. You’ve already seen that.


“But, what you can do is this,” Jiannis used his thumb and index finger to measure out about half an inch. “It’s really easy to move a tiny step forward many times, but it is impossible to make the kind of leap you’re aiming for in one go.”

Everything suddenly clicked for me. A huge burden had been lifted, and I was suddenly able to stop judging myself against world class musicians, and free to only focus on the next tiny, logical step in my playing.

It may seem obvious, but that short conversation changed me as a musician and as a person.

Over the next two years, Jiannis’ job was to feed me the next incremental step, teaching me piece by piece the small individual skills that I needed to master to play jazz. As I could manage each tiny task, I got constant positive reinforcement. I quickly learned that I could enjoy guitar again if I regularly accomplished small goals, rather than forever feeling trapped under the weight of my own unrealistic expectations.

It was my teacher’s job to keep an eye on the big picture and my job to complete the tasks he assigned me each week. His one rule was that I worked only on his assignments and didn’t get distracted by the multitude of other musical possibilities out there such as books, YouTube, other teachers, etc.

This rule of non-distraction was the second most important thing he taught me. It’s also the reason I started writing and now make $60,000 a month in royalties.

After music college, I found myself with a degree in Jazz and therefore completely unqualified to do anything that society would deem ‘useful’! Luckily for me, I always loved teaching guitar, and after my struggles in London and my success in Leeds, I was excellent at it.

Because I’d never been a natural talent at guitar, I had been forced to develop the ability to break down music into its most basic parts. I learned how to ‘reverse engineer’ music so I could teach it to myself, piece by piece. This skill was instrumental in my teaching because I became very good at breaking down skills and techniques so that I could pass them on to my students.

A few years later, I was teaching hundreds of students and noticed that many new students were approaching me with many of the ‘overload’ issues similar to what I had experienced in London. This time, however, the problem was YouTube! There are so many resources out there now that my aspiring guitarists were confused by what they needed to work on. With so many voices telling them what they ‘needed’ to know, they had sought my advice to help put it all into some sort of context.

Now it was my turn to hold my hand high up to the ceiling!

It occurred to me that, seeing as many students were coming to me with the same issues, particularly with regards to learning jazz, I should type some hand-out sheets to save time in lessons. I sketched out a complete path for an aspiring jazz guitarist that grew each week as I saw my students.

One off-hand remark by a student started me on this path.

“Hey Joseph, this stuff is great! You should take a look at publishing it.”

That bounced around my head for days.

Most music books come with a CD or DVD to help the student hear what the exercises should sound like, so I sat down and recorded every exercise in my book at two speeds. The content filled three DVDs.

I sent out my manuscript to a music publisher and waited. The inevitable rejection came, but not on the grounds of my writing (which they loved), but because it wasn’t financially viable to produce a book with three DVDs. They also said that the guitar book market was dying and they were even struggling to sell their own titles.

Another of my students said I should self-publish my work, and I quickly discovered Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); Amazon’s digital self-publishing department. It took me a few days to put together a cover (which was terrible!) and upload the book to Amazon. Through KDP I discovered CreateSpace (CS), Amazon’s paperback publishing department. Suddenly I had both a Kindle and a paperback for sale.

To handle the audio side of things, I bought an internet domain,, and uploaded the MP3s to a very basic site I built with WordPress.

Despite my terrible cover and ugly website, my book actually started to sell a few copies. Even more bizarrely, it even got a few decent reviews. I guess there wasn’t that much competition for guitar books in 2012! In my first few months, I started to make a few hundred pounds which, on top of my teaching, would make a nice little retirement contribution.

Encouraged by this success, I wrote another book, and then another… Amazon started to cross-promote them, and sales started to grow. I used my experience as a guitar teacher to write simple, yet detailed guides that answered the most common questions and problems I’d encountered from my students.

The most important thing to realise is that I wasn’t writing for the money. I wrote out of a genuine desire to help guitarists who were struggling with the same issues that had caused me so much pain as a young musician. Everything was written to the best of my ability with integrity and as much value as I could cram in.

Readers responded well to my books, and the rest is history. After one year, I’d written eight books. As of today, four years since my first book, I’ve written thirty books, and they’ve been translated into four languages. I’ve also used my branding to attract other musicians and authors who publish under the Fundamental Changes label. They get a great deal, and I get to expand my catalogue reach.

Currently, we are expanding to encompass books on singing, bass, drums and keyboard and I have a whole team of freelancers working for me around the world to make my publishing machine as smooth and streamlined as possible.

At the heart of everything is the mantra, ‘have integrity, add value’. My best advice is to forget about the money and concentrate on making the best possible product you can. If you get it right, the money will follow.