What is the best guitar learning book that I know? Well, my answer has to be William Leavitt’s Modern Method for Guitar, also known as the Berklee Book, because this is the official guitar method used at Berklee College of Music. In fact, the author – William Leavitt – was the chair of the guitar department at Berklee. I just love this book. As a matter of fact, I consider it “the bible” because I never went to music school and this is as close as I can get to getting a college degree in music. This book really made a whole lot of difference in my guitar playing since I started learning from it (click here for my take on guitar learning books)
What is so special about the Berklee book?
First of all, it is super professional and thorough. It starts with no assumptions – except that you can read music (sight-read). It then makes its way up incrementally through open position scales and then over to position playing, teaching you many different scales and fingering types along the way. Second, the exercises in the book are really mini etudes, or songs, if you will, in their own right. Each exercise teaches you something new – a new scale, a new playing technique, a new fingering option or a new chord. At the end of every exercise you will feel that you have reached a new milestone in your guitar playing. Third, the book covers so much content that it’ll probably take you many months (or years) to complete, and once you do, it will always be there to go back to if you need a little refresher on a particular scale or technique. It really is that great. A note about the sight-reading part – the book doesn’t have any tabs in it. Now a great deal of guitar learning books and guitar teachers may skip teaching you sight-reading altogether and I totally respect that. We all like guitar tabs, me included. However, it always feels more complete and professional when you get the full musical notation for the piece you play, even if you don’t plan a career as a session musician. Check out what other people think about this book.
Learn directly from a Berklee professor
Now combined with the video tutorials by Larry Baione (the current chair of Berklee’s guitar department, and Leavitt’s student), this really becomes as close as you can get to going to Berklee. I like to start with Larry’s video lesson to get an idea of what’s coming and what I need to focus on, and then I’d head over to the exercise. Here’s a sample video from Larry Baione so you’ll know what to expect. You’ll note the professional approach, no gimmicks, no tricks.
And here’s a sample of an exercise from the first section of volume one. Note that this is really a duet, so you’ll be hearing two guitars playing. In the book you’ll find two parts (one for each guitar part) that you should practice on individually. What I would do next is record myself playing the first part and then use it as a playback track while I play the second guitar part.
Getting all 3 volumes at once
The book has 3 volumes, about 120 pages each. Yes, it’s quite a big book… You can start with volume 1 or get the complete version that includes all 3 volumes, which is what I did. Note that the video lessons are optional, you can get the books only. Funny story: when I finished the first 60 pages (which took me about 6 months) I was a little frustrated that I was only 1/6 way through the book rather than half way (had I bought volume 1 only). After all, you do want to feel that you’ve accomplished something, right? But then I’d always remind myself that this was my “bible” – my favorite guitar learning book – and I never want to be done with it, so it’d better be long enough to challenge me with new exercises time and time again.
A guitar learning book for the long term
Here’s another thing I absolutely love about this book. While other guitar learning books that I’ve come across seem to focus on short term goals or somewhat narrow ones (like teaching you genre-specific licks), the Berklee book seems to offer a long-term approach. It teaches you the foundation of guitar playing through a series of non genre-specific exercises (though I guess they could easily fall under the broad category of Classical or Jazz Music). Anyway, those fundamental guitar playing skills go a long way. Picking techniques, finger strength, stretching, speed studies – these are all explicitly or implicitly covered throughout the exercises, and to be honest my whole guitar playing improved dramatically as I made progress through the book without me being aware of it. Because my own passion lies more in Rock and Blues rather than Classical or Jazz, this was even more apparent. Almost none of the exercises or etudes in the book are something I’d play just for fun (unlike pieces in other guitar learning books that focus on Rock for example). Yet, after just 6 months of learning these “out-of-genre” exercises, my playing skills in my own genre improved drastically. And I can attribute that improvement only to this book, because it was my only guitar learning book at that time.
How to get this book
Decide whether you want to get the whole set (volumes 1, 2, and 3) or “just” the first volume. To be honest, volume 1 will keep you busy for quite a while and also comes with 14 hours of video lessons. So if you’re not sure – I’d pick this option (click here to get it on Amazon). You could get volume 1 alone without the video part (click here), but I wouldn’t recommend it at all, especially if you are a beginner. The video lessons help tremendously to put your focus on the right playing aspects. It also helps to see and hear how to the exercise at hand should be played correctly. The complete set (a single book with all 3 volumes) may be more attractive if you eventually intend to own the whole series, or if you’re not a beginner and want to have the entire set of exercises available (click here to get the full set) Anyway, the price tag on any of the above is so low compared to the ton of professional guitar knowledge you get out of it that it’s really a no-brainer purchase.