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Best Guitar Method Book: Mel Bay Modern Method vs. William Leavitt Modern Method vs. ???
  • For thorougly learning the instrument and learning to read music, what method book is the best and most complete book available? I know that e.g. for bass there is the Simandl book, but I am not sure what method book to choose for guitar. I am looking for "the" classic complete method for guitar and have found out that the Mel Bay Book has been around for a long time (since 1947) and a lot of players have learned from the Leavitt book, too. Which one would you recommend and which one helped you more on your way to become a musician? Or are there any alternatives to these two? Thanks.
  • I have a friend who I take lessons from who gave me a book from the 30's on how to sight read for guitar. While not a "method" book it is the most concise step by step process for learning how to read on guitar that I have found after many... many failed attempts to learn on my own.

    If anyone is interested I can scan it and send it out. The Leavitt book is sitting behind this book waiting for me to become a competent sight reader so I cannot give feedback on that though many friends speak highly of it.

  • There was a thread about sight reading but I can't remember one about method books. I think the Mel Bay book might be interesting, because it was one of the first complete methods for playing guitar with a pick. So maybe some of the players that a lot of us admire might have learned from it.

    Does anyone know more about methods used by players in the forties or fifties? I know that Chet Atkins once mentioned that he used to study George M. Smith's book and also studied Roch's method. Jimmy Wyble said that he started learning from a Nick Manoloff book. (Here's a link to a very interesting Jimmy Wyble interview, in which he tells a lot about his development as a musician: http://www.davidoakesguitar.com/pdf/interview.pdf )
    The Eddie Lang Method Books are also quite interesting and give a lot of insight.

    Leavitt's book was published much later, but he is from the same generation of players like Jimmy Bryant, so maybe he uses similar concepts. Has anyone of you ever studied Mel Bay's or Leavitt's Modern Methods and can tell if they are worth the effort?

    Jim, you had the chance to learn from Jimmy Rivers. Did he ever tell you how he learned to play? I am reading "Thinking in Jazz. The Infinite Art of Improvisation" by Paul F. Berliner at the moment, who tries to explain how Jazz musicians learned to play and improvise and now I am very curious to find out more about the way Western Swing and Country players used to learn. But this thread may need a new name now...
  • " I am reading "Thinking in Jazz. The Infinite Art of Improvisation" by Paul F. Berliner at the moment, who tries to explain how Jazz musicians learned to play and improvise and now I am very curious to find out more about the way Western Swing and Country players used to learn. But this thread may need a new name now..."

    Oh man!!! THAT would be an interesting thread!!! There are alot of METHODs out there, but very few "teachers" seem to talk about the art of improvisation... at least that I have found. I'm going to look into that book- thanks!
  • ruger9 - It is great book book but rather academic and sometimes a bit dry. Nonetheless it is a very interesting book about learning to be a musician.

    cwilliams - What is the title of that old book? Please let us know if it worked for you and good luck with the Leavitt book! I would appreciate to hear what you think of it.
  • Telecaster- after reading the reviews of the book you mentioned, I instead purchased a book called "Free Play-Improvisation in life and art".... it's written by a musician, but he generalizes the entire improvisation concept, relating it to other art forms as well as life itself.... not so much a "how to" book, more of a "how to THINK" book, or a "this is how it works, you need to get there" book, if that makes any sense. I've read alot of books about music, being yourself, finding yourself, transcendence, all that kinda stuff.... and this seems to be a good one....

    Basically, the goal of improvisation is to be your whole self, in the moment, at one with the music. You aren't pulling licks from your "library", you are actually composing music, on the spot, in real time (and usually with other players, so there's an interaction there.)

    I don't want to say I recommend the book yet, but the first 2 chapters have been excellent, expectations are high.
  • Coming from a guy who has tried to learn to sight read a few times and failed, I would think that any good method would work as long as you stay disciplined and stick with it. Mel Bay appeals to me because it has pictures and is broken up into a bunch of small volumes so that it doesn't seem overwhelming, and I suspect you get a feeling of accomplishment after finishing one. In fact, don't they have a little graduation page at the end of each volume where the instructor signs off that you completed it?

    Additionally, I think that there is a "baby" Leavitt book that's quite a bit thinner and has a more gradual approach than the standard Berklee Method.

    Notice that my goal would be to make it as easy and painless as possible. Perhaps even enjoyable. But I completely understand the OP's goal of tackling "the" classic method (if there is one) that allows you to traverse the same path that some great players have. Jim's already chimed in for Mel, so you know there is at least one great player who's taken that path. I guess you can also assume that the greats who have gone to Berklee have studied the Leavitt books. Go through a few at the same time and see what you gravitate towards.
  • Professor Fred Hamilton from UNT has a good sight reading book. I think it's a Mel Bay publication. It's what we used in the jazz program. From what I remember it gets going pretty quick, but a lot of the learning is on cool little tunes he wrote. Also it's in a manner in which you practice a lot on reading on a single sting, and then the same piece again on a different single sting. This helps with learning to read on the whole neck up and down rather than just positions.
  • I've used each. Mel Bay to start, then once you are about at book 3, start mixing them some. The problem is that at each level of each book there isn't enough music reading pieces to become competent at that level. They both need supplemental reading pieces to fully develop sight reading.

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