After playing guitar for the past 27 years (and teaching guitar for around 25 of those years), I often wonder about the different ways people learned to play guitar.
I remember learning to play by reading music from the start of my first formal guitar lesson with my first guitar teacher, Adee Arifin all the way back in 1996. At that time we used a book called A Tune a Day for Classical Guitar by C. Paul Herfurth and Stanley George Unwin. I still have fond memories of studying using that book and believe it worked out well for me.
Later, different guitar teachers taught me with other books over the next year and a half before I started studying in a music degree program.
Point is, it was only until much later that I encountered this book by William Leavitt. At that point, I was studying for my Masters in Music at San Jose State University. My instructor, Rick Vandivier used this book for the group guitar class that was offered at the university for non guitar principals.
So is this a good book?
After recently going through the entire book, playing part by part, melody by melody and studying the text, I have a newfound appreciation for how William Leavitt organized the material. Compared to his more well known A Modern Method for Guitar 1, 2 & 3 book series, this book definitely is “friendlier” and easier to digest.
That being said, it’s best for group guitar classes and perhaps private lessons because of a few aspects. There are a number of three-part and four-part arrangements that make it more fun to learn using the book in a group guitar class. There are also A LOT of duets that make it more fun to play together with a good teacher guiding you with the book.
If you want to use the book to learn on your own, there are some aspects that may make it feel like it moves faster than other books.
Also, this is not a styles based book, meaning it doesn’t lean towards jazz, folk or rock playing. But it does teach you how to play guitar by reading notes.
Compared to A Tune a Day for Classical Guitar (which is how I started learning), William Leavitt doesn’t teach sight reading string by string in open position, but adopts a “musical approach” you learn to play the four notes: G, A, B and C starting from the middle of the G clef. Eventually he adds more and more notes until you are able to play all the notes (including chromatic notes) in the open position of the guitar. The majority of the book is written in C major (with added chromatic notes) and eventually G major (with one sharp).
William Leavitt includes useful suggestions for practice and emphasizes the need to repeat the exercises to really master the material.
You learn to play single notes at first and then start to play three note voicings. Acknowledging that some guitarists may be impatient with just single note playing, he also includes some common chords shapes at the end of the book for those who want to play more rhythm guitar to accompany vocals or lead. However, this is not the main focus of the book.
The way I look at it, the book can help you learn to develop a few things:
1) Good sight reading habits
2) Basic single note melody reading
3) A solid understanding of basic rhythms applied to notes, in a step by step way (I found this to be a strength of this book.
For anyone familiar with William Leavitt’s other books, you might notice how this book clearly gives a foundation for his other works.
For private guitar lesson teachers, this book is worth considering for your 1-on-1 lessons and group guitar classes. I recommend this more for the group guitar classes but it could be used for private lessons, depending on the kind of students you get. If you’re learning on your own, this book could be used if you’re very patient and don’t mind playing folk melodies and simpler melodies that were written for the book.
In conclusion, even after all these years, the book is still a useful one to use for teaching. If you want to rock out immediately, do not buy this book. If you want to strum and sing, other folk or methods might be better for you. But, for those who want a traditional strong foundation on the guitar & enjoy a step by step method, you might benefit from this book.
Pros: A musical method to learn basic guitar playing skills especially single note melody playing in open position,
Cons: Pieces included might be boring for some people.
TLDR: A good beginner guitar method based on learning to sight read and understand the open position.
You can easily buy this book on Amazon and other bookstores. The current cover will say “Berklee Basic Guitar – Phase 1” – but it is the same book.
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