William Leavitt Modern Method for Guitar / Reading / Positions

Question by Anonymous


My question concerns above mentioned Modern Method for Guitar. The Leavitt books focus on how to get the student learn sight-reading. The chords are presented entirely in notes (no names of the cords are mentioned, you need to read each note of the chord on the lines).

Modern Method for GuitarMy actual jazz guitar teacher said this method is too academic. In “real” musician life, you wont ever get sheet music like this to play because what most musicians use is stuff like the Real Book. So my concern now is that practicing this method with stuff like the chord etudes or reading notes in all positions on the fretboard could be waste of time, if you don’t take it too academic and want to focus on playing in a band.

Same goes for the entire Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method. I mean in the higher levels (eg. Vol. 5) you have sheet music you hardly EVER can sight read. You have to go through the whole piece several times and then kind of mock sight read it. But this is not Jazz then, but more kind of classic guitar playing.

Thanks for your comments.

Best regards

Hello Ryan,

Thank you for an excellent and relevant question. To summarize it in my own words :

“Why would I need to work hard on THIS type of reading/practicing if my #1 goal is to perform in THAT other bandstand context?”

(…and I’m assuming the “different context” is a jazz trio or quartet where musicians almost never read music on stage.)

I hear your pain! It seems rather illogical and counter-intuitive to do “A” while all you want to do in reality is “B”! So please let me clarify a few things about the Modern Method book:

In my opinion, it was not meant to teach only sight-reading and chords “note by note”.

Leavitt’s method should help the student learn about music and about the guitar at the same time. It just so happens that publishing a book was the best way to spread this kind of knowledge around in the historical era it was written in (mid XXth century)…

Paper was the best “media” to reach people back then; same for classical music … and even novels! So I would say that learning to read is just a happy by-product of going through this method… learning to read English made you get invaluable information from this website, yes?!

The real “meat and potato” of the method (the chords, the scales, the melodies, the positions, etc.) are really what it’s all about : genuine musical “good stuff” that you’ll need onstage. Those are all basics that every jazz guitarist should get (at least a little) familiar with.

In short, the Modern Method Books are about preparation : the musical material inside should help you be prepared for the tasks you’ll have to accomplish while on stage (play smooth chord accompaniments, improvise single-line solos over chord progressions, read from time to time, comp in different styles etc.)

How can preparing yourself for the “ultimate task” (a concert) be either a waste of your time or too academic then?! It was certainly not a waste of MY time…

I think you get the picture, let’s add one more analogy:

Imagine an Olympic sprinter that doesn’t want to jog a little, or even stretch, because it would be a “waste of time” or “too academic”… in the end, we know that all (s)he wants to do is sprint!


Get it?

…so the book is not “incomplete” or lacking on any level. I find the method to be very well organized : a nice balance between theory, reading notes, reading chords and guitar related technicalities.

Furthermore, I believe that its biggest feature is the gradually increasing challenge of all music presented. From page to page, it get just-a-little-more-difficult. I’m sure it was an incredible task to write and organize all this material meticulously enough to give that effect. If you play the three books in order, the next page is never too hard nor too easy.

It’s obvious that the Modern Method was written by a guitarist (William Leavitt) for guitarists of generations to come. So far, it’s one of the best guitar books I came across. It really helped me in the preparation of what’s happening on the instrument, and later on the bandstand.

Anyways, I’ve never seen any guitarist perform well and argue that this book was a hindrance or a waste of his time!

I hope this helps,
Practice Well,

Marc-Andre Seguin


Of course, an “academic” approach doesn’t always work for everyone. Since we have different medias widely available (audio, video, teleconference , etc.), it’s a good idea to check out other, more recent tools for learning jazz guitar.

“The chords are presented entirely in notes…”
—> not true, even in the first volume: plenty of chord “shapes” to apply.

-As soon as page 51 (old edition), you get duets written in “lead sheet style” (melody + chords).

-As soon as page 11, regular chord shapes (that every guitarist uses on a regular basis).

Old Comments for William Leavitt Modern Method for Guitar / Reading / Positions

Mar 05, 2012
Only a minority is sight-read
by: Matt

If you look ahead in the book you will find some exercises that are *explicitly* called out as reading studies. The first one appears at page 64 in my edition. So the rest – that is, the vast majority – is clearly NOT intended to be sight-read. Rather, it is there to be read and/or memorized, and to teach various aspects of music and guitar technique.

Some of the pieces in Section 1 took me hours and hours to put together from the notation, and then more time to bring up to a decent standard.

But none of this felt like wasted effort. If you plug away at the first picking exercise, for example, holding all of the notes for the required duration (i.e. playing legato), picking accurately, avoiding muting strings inadvertently with the LH fingertips, the strength and skills you gain will transmit into everything you ever play on the guitar.

I’m not sure how much I want to follow into all the fingerings and positions in the later volumes, but I think Vol 1 is well worth it.

Jan 17, 2012
Re: Is Leavitt meant to be sight-read?
by: Anonymous

Thanks, for your reply, that does indeed help. ]]>

Jan 13, 2012
Reading and Sight-Reading
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)


The Leavitt book is probably better to be “worked out” slowly. I know what you mean with the harmonies… so, take your time. Re-read and “figure out” the chords slowly and then build yourself up until you can play a piece completely, convincingly without mistake.

There’s a few place where the author specifies that this material is really for “sight reading” (reading studies I believe he called them) … so these, just go through it once without correcting your mistake.

I hope this helps,


Jan 12, 2012
Is Leavitt meant to be sight-read?
by: Anonymous

Do you think Leavitt is meant to be sight-read, or read by ‘working it out’. I can sight read the melodies OK so far (p.17), but the harmonies are difficult to sight read.

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