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  • Writer's pictureTom Godfrey

Guitar Books I've Studied: Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method

I've learned from so many guitar books. Chief among them was Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method. This method was first published in 1949, so it isn't exactly modern anymore, but it has been updated in recent years with new material. The core materials are the same, though, and it stands the test of time.

This is a picture of my copy, which contains all seven books. The books are all written in standard music notation – no TAB. This is important to me and is one of the method's biggest selling points. For some reason, many guitar players have it in their heads that reading standard music notation is unimportant and even gets in the way of making good music. This couldn't be further from the truth. By not learning to read music, a guitar player is limiting their options. I don't know a single musician who regrets learning to read music. The only musicians I've heard downplay the importance of reading music are those who have never put in the effort to learn how to read it. But I digress. I'll probably rant about this some more in a future article.

Anyway, there is no TAB in the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method, and the student is reading music right from the start.

Selling Points

The reason I love this series is that it's comprehensive. It focuses on both melody and chords, and it includes chord-melody solos and ensemble playing in the form of duets.

The melodies start off like most other books – or maybe I should say that most other books, including mine, begin like the Mel Bay book – with three notes on the first string (E-F-G) and then proceed to the second string. The melodies increase in difficulty throughout the series. The first volume starts you out playing melodies in first position, and you begin working your way up the fretboard with subsequent books.

The first chords you'll learn in the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method are one- and two-finger chords. These progress to full chords, and you eventually learn to play moveable chords that allow you to play in any key, anywhere on the neck.

Aside from gradually moving the student up the fretboard, one the best things about the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method is the sheer number of chord-melody arrangements. Most guitar players play chords while they (or others) sing, or they play melodies while others play chords. Playing solo guitar is a real challenge, but it's incredibly satisfying to be able to play self-contained guitar music. This series does a great job of introducing the chord-melody concept and contains some really nice arrangements.


Every guitar method has its weak points, and the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method is no exception. These weaknesses don't mean that it's a bad series. You'll just need to work on some other aspects of guitar elsewhere.

The music increases in difficulty pretty rapidly. For this reason alone, I never use this series with really young students. Even for older students, it progresses quickly, particularly if a student has never read music before. When studying from this book, you should be learning from other books as well, or be working on songs and performance repertoire.

This book is written for pick-style players only. If you want to learn fingerstyle guitar, this is not the series for you. You can absolutely play any or all of the material fingerstyle, but there are no exercises, picking patterns, or anything else specifically for fingerstyle players. For me, this was not a drawback. I started off as a fingerstyle player and worked my way through these books specifically to improve my pick technique.

There is no TAB. Yes, I ranted about guitar players who are too lazy to learn to read music, but this was not a rant against TAB, which is a useful tool for learning a song. There are so many places to play any given note on the guitar that it can be challenging to figure out the best way to play a song. Understanding TAB helps you figure out the best fingerings for a piece of music. It would be nice if this method spent at least a little bit of time explaining TAB, even if it is geared toward standard music notation.

Final Take

The Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method is the granddaddy of non-classical guitar methods. First published in 1949, there's a reason it's still around today. I first worked my way through the series to improve my pick technique. Later, I played through it again to practice sight-reading. I recommend this book for any highly motivated guitar student.

The Mel Bay company continues to publish great guitar publications. Click here to see what they have to offer. (I'm not getting paid for this!)

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