Old School

An appreciation of the works written by a great guitar educator… William G Leavitt (1926 - 1990)

One of the most helpful books in my personal guitar journey was “A Modern Method for Guitar Volume 1” by William Leavitt, often referred to as the “Berklee Book”. This book is over 50 years old, and yet it still sells everywhere because it’s so good. I’d like to pay tribute to this fantastic book, as well as a few others written by this dedicated author. A big thanks to the Berklee Press, who keep books like this in print.

My story

I first began guitar lessons when I was 11 years old. My teacher at the time suggested I get this book. So I did. And then sadly…it sat on my book shelf for about 2 years because I was an ambitious but distracted and irrational learner. But, later I changed teachers, and we worked through this book together and it totally changed my playing and approach to guitar more than any other book I’ve ever come across. You see, it’s written in music notation only. No TAB. It’s a book to help you develop guitar skills, build your theory and so on, but there’s no TAB. In my generation, TAB was everywhere and was easy the way you learned songs. But, I realised that to be a “true” guitar player, I needed to have some idea of what I was actually playing. This book forced me to learn to read music, which brought about some amazing “fruit”. It taught me how to:

  • interpret rhythms
  • read multiple notes at once
  • boosted my sight reading
  • play in a duet situation
  • understand dynamics
  • build speed with alternate picking
  • play solo guitar pieces
  • build repertoire to perform to people
  • hear more complex chords

Now, the thing is… this book is over 50 years old. The material in it certainly sounds like something from another era, often having a slightly “Jazzy” edge. But it stretched me so much! Especially as I was learning heaps of Metallica at the time. It was a nice counterbalance.

Now you have to understand, my goal at the time was to become the greatest guitarist in the world (ambitious…I know…) and to achieve this I needed to know the nuts and bolts of not just playing guitar, but also music itself. A Modern Method for Guitar Volume 1 was the spring board for me.

In A Nutshell

This book has a huge focus on reading and playing in the first 5 frets of the fretboard. As you work through this book your fingers are used in all sorts of ways to develop coordination and technique. Your ears will be exposed to a huge variety of sounds and colours. If you’re disciplined, this book will give you an incredibly solid foundation to build some terrific guitar skills on.
In it you’ll find…

  • basic note reading exercises
  • duets, where both parts can be learned by the student
  • scales
  • chords
  • accidentals
  • technique building exercises
  • chord solo’s
  • dynamic’s
  • picking studies and etudes
  • heaps more good stuff!!!

“By the end of this book I’d say you’d be a very well rounded guitarists with some solid skills.”

The Next Step

The following book, Modern Method for Guitar Volume 2 builds on the material covered in the first book with one distinct new feature…It takes your music reading skills and applies them to the entire guitar fretboard. The Major scale studies near the front of this book would have to be some of the most helpful and skill boosting guitar content I’ve ever come across. This is where I saw the guitar in a completely new and clear way.

How Long Does All This Take?

Good question. It took me about 3 years. That’s a pretty big commitment I know, but I was learning other stuff alongside this material. Some people could do it faster and some people would move slower. That’s not really important, what really matters that if you were to practice anything, invariably learning any instrument well takes a few years. If this was not the case, every body would be fantastic guitarists (or whatever…)

By the way, there is a Modern Method for Guitar Volume 3. This is an in-depth book and may not be suited to everyone’s tastes, but to the studious, die hard guitar ninja’s, this book might be of interest to you.

Some Other Goodies By Mr Leavitt

To finish up, I’d like to briefly mention two other books written by William Leavitt that are terrific. There are more, but these stick out the most as I look back.

  1. Classical Studies for pick-style guitar : This book is great! Classical guitar pieces arranged for solo guitar or duets and written in multi-position. This is an awesome supplement for your reading skills and building some interesting repertoire.
  2. Melodic Rhythms for Guitar : As I was going about the early stages of learning guitar, I found my ability to read and interpret rhythms somewhat weak. This book is very helpful. It’s nice that the rhythm studies are also melodic and have a musicality to them.

It’s A Big World

I know there are tonnes of guitar books and resources out there, but I wanted to share these with you as they were such a great help to me. As mentioned, they are from a different era, but they are incredibly helpful if you put the time in.

Not to inform you about William Leavitt and his valuable contributions to the guitar world would be a disservice. Rest in peace Mr Leavitt.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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