A Modern Method for Guitar (vol. 1) – William Leavitt

I got his book a long time ago. I was on Berklee craze then because I had discovered that some of my favorite guitar players have been studying music there. Naturally, I wanted to learn things my heroes were taught. So, I’ve been reading things and found many praises for this particular book. Needless to say, I had to get it. When I received it, I was somewhat disappointed. I was hoping for some kind of secrets, exercises, theory, and magical tips how to become a player who is on the level with my guitar heroes. Yup, I know, naïve. Because of that disappointment, I never got past few first pages. To be clear, the disappointment was caused by my stupid expectations.

As the author writes, this book is about learning to read musical notation and gaining some dexterity in both hands. There’s no shredding, no progressive metal, no fusion licks… Despite that, I think this book accomplishes its goals which makes it a great instructional material.

Main things that one can expect to learn:

  • To read notation. Perhaps some complete beginners may need just a tiny bit help from a teacher (or a Google search) but I think this book does good job explaining things for inexperienced players.
  • Different fingerings for major scales.
  • Some of the most important chords (I counted over 50 shapes in total).

What really surprised me about this book is the sheer amount of music written here. There are no empty words in this book. Actually, there aren’t many words at all. You’ll find notation, chords, music, or exercises on every page.

I particularly liked few exercises that author calls Speed Studies. These are the closest thing to what I expected to find in this book when I got it. At this moment, I wasn’t looking for this kind of exercises but I still enjoyed them. These basically are expanding scale patterns that gradually increase in complexity as you add more notes and strings. In this regard, Speed Studies are very methodical and awesome.

The book includes some fundamental chords. I’d say that I could play most of the popular music with these chords. These truly are the fundamentals and one should definitely learn them. The only somewhat questionable thing was few chords that have root as the melody note. These are legit chords but I don’t really use them so I didn’t even try to memorize them. I prefer chords that have root in bass. By the way, the author also advises to use chords that have root or fifth in the base. I guess these other voicings were given as an example that chords don’t always have root in bass. Heck, sometimes they don’t even have the root note at all. One more thing about chords: there is a nice chord simplification and substitution chart. This would definitely be useful for beginners who don’t know many chords. The chart simply tells which simpler chord can be used in place of unknown and more complex chord.

I learned reading musical notation a long time ago so I thought this book would be a breeze for me. Ah, how naïve again. It was all simple as long as I had to play single line melodies. As soon as I encountered multiple sounds happening at the same time, I got my ass kicked. To my defense, I haven’t played much chords from notation. So yeah, I struggled quite a bit but that’s great because I feel like my reading skills have improved.

Since single line playing was easy to me, it was a great opportunity to try something new. Thing is, I never count beats as I play. Meaning, in 4/4 I never say 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4… as I play. I may tap my foot or nod head but that’s it. I also rely on my picking hand to “count” how long the note should last. So, I tried to count beats. I didn’t feel much of improvement but it may be so because the material here wasn’t rhythmically complex. I’ve seen few great musicians sharing the advice of counting aloud (right now I can recall only Jordan Rudess saying so) so I’ll continue this approach.

Author introduces quarter note triplets. That’s cool. Sadly, there are only few lines of exercises for it and then I saw these triplets only once in the book. So, I got only introduced. If I wanted to master these triplets, I would need to study them outside this book. There also aren’t many eighth note triplets. Most of the book is in quarter notes and eighth notes with few sixteenth note grouping and very few syncopations. I guess it makes sense since I think this book is mostly for beginners.

Most of the book deals with keys that have none or very few accidentals and the open to second position fingerings. Towards the end we get introduced to more accidentals and third, fourth positions. I felt like this jump was a bit too big and rushed. The book ends shortly thereafter, without much exploration of these keys and positions. Now, it probably would make much more sense if I had the whole set of Modern Method for Guitar. I bet that the second book takes things from where the first book ends.

All in all, I think this is really awesome book for beginners and/or players who want to learn reading music notation. I think this is the main focus and strength of the Modern Method for Guitar (volume 1). That being said, I’d like to consider myself somewhat above beginner and I also know how to read music. Despite that, I had some difficulties with the material. So, perhaps even intermediate guitarists will find some beneficial things here.