The Beauty of The Contrived Solo, or How To Answer a Question With A Question!

Q: Why Do My Solos Always Sound Like I’m Just Playing Scales?

Q: Why Do I Always Hear You Playing Scales When You Practice?


That is the essence of a conversation I once had with my Berklee college teacher and mentor just before he introduced me to the idea of a contrived solo: a solo which you plan out, practice, analyze and maybe even memorize if you really like it. I studied pages of Bill Leavitt’s jazz solos and beautiful reading studies (which were guitar centered melodic compositions actually) based of course on the chord progressions to standard tunes. I loved learning and studying them, they were so cool and musical and gave me lots and lots of ideas on how to treat various chords and standard cadences.

This did seem to be in direct contradiction of one of the prime directives I had often been taught or at least heard discussed countless times in reference to jazz soloing and that is the famous quote by someone I considered to be a national treasure, Chick Corea.

Pic Tim Dickeson 14-07-2010 Chick Corea (Piano), Roy Haines (Drums), Kenny Garrett (Sax), Christian McBride (Bass)

Credit: Tim Dickeson

Of course when you develop the hard skills, creativity, and the ability to play creatively, intuitively and perfectly right on your very own mark, creating the sounds you have dreamed of and imagined during all your hours of practicing, you have attained a serious and prodigious level of musicianship, that is a level which I do not think I am on personally and have known very few people that have attained such a serious and complete mastery of jazz performance.

Personally, as one of the mere mortals who inhabits planet Earth but still enjoys playing jazz music on my highest possible level, I have found other ways to adopt and function and still play nicely -even when I can’t create beautiful lines right off the top of my head!


First and foremost, I have always been one to copy the solos of my jazz guitar heroes and also study books of licks and tricks for hours and hours. I think of all the little gems I have mined over the years in much the same way a baseball pitcher thinks of his best pitch, such as a fastball.  A Pitcher will use the fastball to get in the rhythm of the game, to settle things down and inspire confidence in his teammates.

I use a contrived solo in much the same way: I like to start out sounding good, to settle into the rhythm of my game,  and inspire cooperation and confidence in my band mates. I use my found and discovered little musical germs and gems as my point of departure, the material on which I base my solos.   It’s not like I have to recite them note for note, but since I know how they work, I can play hot solos just like them and still be assured of getting a good sound because I know how they were made. It’s much easier to get a swinging musical sound, are that melodic jazz effect this way than it is to just dive into scales and start reciting them -looking for interesting notes or modes to compensate for the boring sound of straight scale patterns with dull and even rhythms, which we all can easily fall right into.

The solo below is 24 bars of a swing blues in F.  In it I am playing that nice relaxed Wes Montgomery sound using really accessible rhythms, cool notes and simple melodies based on streams of octaves.

I made this up many years ago, as I was first studying jazz and was visiting a jam session, when I finally got the nerve to go up on stage the leader called “Blues In F”.  As a young guitar player who played “Blues In E” all the time I was really not able to get anything going that day. That evening, my friends and I went back to our laboratory and came up with a nice little solo, a good convincing fastball if you will.  Now it’s here for you to study, copy and then make your own.

F Blues Solo.musx

F Blues Solo2.musx

Carl, Zoltan and Joe: These Three Studs Shoulda Had A Rock Band ! (…do you wanna be a better guitar teacher?)

Guitar Teachers And Students

Most come to teaching guitar as a supplement to a performing and writing career, in fact I would warrant a guess that many turn to guitar  tutoring as a profession because doing real music, actually breaking into the music business as a writer and or performer is an extraordinarily difficult process.

No Room For Musical Snobbery

In my career I have had many teachers who were not university or formally educated but we’re still excellent players, good performers and amazingly competent educators such as the legendary Ted Green author of Chord Chemistry and a virtuoso musician, whose education came from listening, studying and other great teachers. I was a  guitar student of his after I had graduated from Berkee College of Music and I was in awe of how much he knew, what he could play -I had never, seen anything like it.   Believe me, I am no snob when it comes to college degrees and other pedigrees.  The proof is in the pudding!

Legendary Text: Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene

Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene

Having And Being The Right Guitar Teacher

Berklee College: Bill Leavitt

The Legendary Bill Leavitt

There are many people like me however, who actually really want to be guitar teachers and had teaching as a career goal. I decided this while under the mentor-ship and tutelage of William G. Leavitt, author of the Berklee method and one of the finest musicians to have ever lived. There were innumerable amazing lessons and experiences with him but the one thing that really struck me was that anyone can excel when shown the type of teaching, education, respect and mentorship that I saw from him, very quickly into that 6 year relationship I decided to dedicate myself to this art, the art of teaching the guitar.  To follow in his footsteps as a guitar teacher.

The Three Mak Daddy Studs Of Music Education


I have based my work as a professional instructor on three of the world’s great theories of music education -the first one of course is the Berkee method, which was adapted from the work of Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) a truly remarkable and gifted Renaissance man whose work and importance is sadly obscured by time. Schillinger’s mathematical system of music analysis was embraced by all the top musical minds and  luminaries of the day like Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.  Schillinger was actually a teacher of the great genius George Gershwin and quite interestingly, he worked with Leon Theremin and was deeply involved with the ‘rhythmicon’ a primitive electronic drum machine.

Joseph Schillinger And The Rhythmicon

Joseph Schillinger And The Rhythmicon

It’s a highly mathematical system that see music as movement but I think it bridges the gap between classical European theory and modern jazz music theory courses. Popularized just after World War II the Schillinger system is a work of pure brilliance like the world is seldom seen. Although there are many wonderful things about this system I would like you, the reader to have one takeaway or salient quote for immediate use.

In terms of chord to chord motion the principles of the Berklee/Schillinger method states chords most commonly (root motion) move by fourth, fifth, half step or whole step.


Of course, that is in over generalization but you will find it to be an extraordinarily accurate and useful construct for giving music theory and songwriting lessons. I also find this idea useful in memorizing or transposing songs -test it out.




Our next stud is Carl Orff the author of Carmina Burana (which many people state as their favorite opera or favorite piece of classical music), and developer of an amazing system of musical education called ‘Kindermusik’ that is still in use today and provides one of the core standards for early musical educational at institutions throughout the world. Although the work of Carl Orff is deep and unbelievably complex, and takes years of study to truly understand, let’s find some great take aways from his work for application today.

Carl Orff- A Beautiful Mind.

Carl Orff- A Beautiful Mind.

One most Orff’s most beautiful and interesting idea is this: music lessons should resemble a child’s normal state of play. I absolutely love that and I always think of that when teaching: creating a comfortable play like environment for the student.

For me ‘play’ means jamming so for beginners I say, “learn to be a guitar player by making one chord sound good with picking or strumming”.  The student and I begin to play that one chord vamp, with or without a rhythm track, and we start to enjoy some question and answer jamming.  For experienced students, find something easy for them, and play with them, using small bites sized ideas to share and exchange.  The people who really know the Orff method are able to weave threads of fun, joy and musicality throughout their lessons.

The second takeaway for is Carl Orff is that many lesson plans and or exercises actually involve the idea of dramatizing music, putting little skits to existing music or conversely putting music to existing skits or dances, it’s an amazingly insightful idea.

The application for us as guitar teachers (or music teachers in general) is I simply this: when working with a solo piece, ask the student to imagine a scene from a play or movie –imagining the scene in your head while performing the song.  The student is learning to concentrate their musical efforts on the artistic and not the technical aspects.


Zoltan Kodaly: Respected Pedagogue

Zoltan Kodaly: Respected Pedagogue

My third cornerstone theory of musical education, another widely excepted industry-standard in the teaching business is the work of Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), the Kodaly Method. Kodaly began music instruction in his homeland of Hungary because he once heard Hungarian children singing folk tunes horribly out of key and decided then to dedicate himself to the art of music education. The Kodaly Method relies heavily on solfege and sight singing of rhythms.  You have probably seen his system of hand signals to represent the notes of the major scale.

Kodaly Hand Signals For Major Scale Notes

Kodaly Hand Signals For Major Scale Notes

Kodály’s musical compositions are influenced by Hungarian folk songs (nationalism) and the impressionistic movement and most notably Debussy.  Accordingly, the study material is drawn from common knowledge, native language folk songs.

These “mother tongue songs”, the students national music, are the perfect material for study, performance and analysis.

The take away for us guitar teachers ( and music teachers) is that the Kodaly Method stresses children learn songs of their homeland and understand the folk songs and nationalistic pieces of music that come from where they were born, the music that came before them, the music that educated the people they learn from and listen to.

For Implementation of this concept, I always include fiddle tunes, bluegrass melodies, or pieces of traditional American (or world) instrumental music, common knowledge songs we all have in our ears.

By introducing a traditional music component into your guitar lessons you are actually honoring and practicing the Kodaly Method. If you don’t believe me just look at the repertoires of people like Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, or Danny Gatton  who take instrumental music folk music and rural music to new heights by making something really special out of those well-known melodies.  The example below shows Roy Clark playing a few easy Spanish flavored licks and weaving them into an amazing performance.  Encourage any 4th or 5th year player to copy this whole thing by ear, because it’s doable, simple and sounds amazing.

Joe, Carl and Zoltan

Hopefully, now is the time when a few readers will start Googling these cats and make a few Amazon purchases.  Hope you like my three friends.

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Using Music Technology To Make Guitar Lessons Fun, Interesting & Profitable

Music education and modern technology are a match made in heaven.  Way back in the early days of music programs and apps, (when computers were slow and lacking essential music specific components) I was experimenting with lots of music education, ear training, transcribing and recording programs which I had access to as a student at the world renowned Berklee college of music. I was fascinated by all these new learning approaches and by the progress I was making in key areas such as reading, transcribing and ear training that I was struggling with. Granted, this was in the late 1980’s and you really had to be determined to get those old-school computer things to work. Nowadays it’s a completely different story as most gadgets and programs not only interface beautifully but yield huge payoffs while being easy to learn and use.

Music Notation Programs

A music notation program is essentially the Microsoft Word of music, there are many but the one that I use is called Finale -it was really the first company in the space and in my opinion it’s an essential tool. There are those who would argue for other platforms so I encourage you to make your own choice but I strongly recommend Finale.

For me a music notation program is essential because it allows me to provide students with high quality, subject specific and accurate transcriptions of their lesson material and repertoire pieces that I have complete control over, since I make them myself.  The work can be time-consuming but you will quickly amass a nice collection of high-quality reusable lesson plans that will prove to be a time saver in the end.

As guitar teachers we constantly encounter students who have difficulty learning, or simply don’t want to learn to read music. I counteract this problem by constantly prosecuting the case of musical literacy using a process that I liken to reverse engineering.  When a student expresses an interest in a particular guitar tune or lick I make or provide an accurate transcription of that music, including tablature, for use as a lesson plan.  Most students are very interested to see what their favorite songs look like written out properly, this approach works like a dream for rhythm guitar notation especially because we don’t have the added burden of finding notes, were just talking about the figures but that is a very good way to open the door to more serious discussions of reading music on the guitar. Aside from that having high quality transcriptions of all lesson material inspires confidence and adds to credibility, below is an example of a famous rhythm guitar part that I have used as a teaching tool.


As an unexpected benefit, you also get paying students who actually want to learn to use the software because finale is a central and wonderful tool but does come with a learning curve.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

A DAW is a program that allows you to create and record music using a computer. It’s like a huge bad-ass tape recorder with the ability to edit and manipulate practically anything you could think of, and much more.  If you go for the top-of-the-line, it will take years to learn to use it and the cost may well be prohibitive.  Fortunately, the entry-level programs are amazing, intuitive and, with an incredible level of functionality that eclipses the finest recording studios of only 20 years ago. The one that I recommend for use in guitar lessons is GarageBand, which comes free with any Apple Computer. If you use a PC, I recommend Sony Acid -both programs are easy, intuitive and fun being based on using loops, small bits of pre-programmed music are passages recorded by you.

These types of programs make the process of figuring out guitar licks and teaching ear training more effective and enjoyable because of the workflow they create by allowing you to isolate, slow down and repeat difficult passages with ease.  This works especially well for fast are complicated guitar solos because it seems to demystify the process of creating interesting solos by reducing the work to manageable and understandable chunks.

The number one use of the DAW is of course creating recordings of your student’s ideas, songs and arrangements. By introducing recording projects as part of your guitar lesson not only will you retain students longer, you will be providing, with a richer and deeper lesson experience because you are teaching them to listen to themselves, teaching them to create things, teaching them to find themselves.  As you may imagine students and parents alike love this process and are excited to receive the finished products.

You will find it the proper application of music technology will not only add an air of credibility and professionalism to your teaching services, they will become more profitable, effective, interesting and enjoyable.  The days of scribbling in a students empty manuscript book are long gone.


The Sanity of Starting an Impossible Business with the Odds Stacked Against You

My Calling

I have had a long career doing professional music, nothing in the big time showbiz vein but I’ve made a great living writing guitar books, teaching guitar and of course performing on the general business level of music, private parties and nightclubs, restaurants and hotels. In fact, when I first left Berklee College of Music and was able to make a living with my guitar I felt like I had really made the big time anyway, and although I had aspirations of fame and fortune I found that I really loved teaching and sharing my knowledge, so all my dreams of writing hot guitar records and film scoring seemed secondary and unimportant next to this passion for sharing, helping and teaching -seemed silly next to the kids I was helping and dreams I was keeping alive.


Feeling Completely Alone With My New Start Up

Bedroom Tears

When I was a boy, trying to learn guitar my mother said I would sit on of my bed and cry because I couldn’t figure out how to play the Beatles and Chuck Berry. I also listened to guitar records interminably that I found in the family junk shop, lots and lots of them -stuff like surf music, Les Paul, “101 Guitars” and “Romantic Guitars”, fluff that the record companies were cranking out in the 50’s and 60’s.

In those days, there was very little for a person who wanted to learn the instrument: no Internet, hardly any good books and very few qualified teachers and no teachers my family could afford. I had to learn by listening, watching and talking to people and believe me, my study of the guitar was 24/7 365.  Nonetheless, I was going nowhere fast even though I could get the occasional gig and was always respected in any musical circle I entered into, I knew what was possible, I knew what I had and  what I wanted and there was no way I was getting there teaching myself.

I was particularly frustrated with the lack of meaningful  educational material available to me in those early day.

Berklee College of Music

After spending my 20s playing in rock bands and learning to write songs, an old family friend an icon of jazz guitar named Tony Mottola encouraged me to go to Berklee School of Music in Boston.  It was the best advice I ever got, because the very moment I walked in the door I met and befriended the greatest guitar teacher to have ever lived, William G. Leavitt creator of the Berklee method. For some reason which is still unknown to me within about 10 min. of that meeting I became his adopted son and although I was the worst guitarist to ever enroll in Berklee, he dedicated incredible amounts of time, effort and energy to me, teaching me that anyone can excel in their desired endeavors if they’re given a chance.  During my time with Bill, I decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps to carry out his work and become a great educator. He really was my 2nd father.


Fly By Night Get Rich Quick Schemes

I fell in love with music education and learning because of the many great teachers I found at music schools, even the grizzled old burned out veteran teachers, still had the passion and the love of sharing, they were all easy marks for free lessons and invaluable insights.  I often wondered about and felt for all the people who wanted to go to music school but couldn’t get there -it’s ridiculously expensive, time-consuming, competitive and you have to leave home for a strange city.  So many people would relish this guitar experience and such high quality information, so many who deserve it, but because of the barriers to an electric guitar higher education I came to believe there were relatively few who could experience it.

I began working for a former teacher from the college who shared my viewpoint.  My new employer was long on cryptic talk, pedantic riddles and pseudo Socratic mind games and convinced me he had all the answers. It took me about a year to figure it out it was a fly-by-night get-rich-quick scheme, a scam with absolutely no thought or regard for the user just a desire to cash in on his reputation and resume. Some of our material was nothing more than the outstanding assignments and term papers of former Berklee students! Needless to say his education business, with very little real or valuable information, was a big failure and remains so to this day.

When I left his employ I moved to California and I started my education anew studying with all the most famous guitar teachers in the Los Angeles area like the legendary Ted Greene, Robert Conti and Ron Eschete. I had all the book learning I wanted, I was interested in more real-world approach, based on experience and long successful careers. I was impressed at the amount of original material my new mentors have generated, at the thought they put into their students and although not one of them had a college degree they were some of the finest educators I had met.

How The Heck Did It Get To Be 2016 Already?!

In Orange County, I became a sought-after teacher and I would say in all modesty, a respected author with six books “in the can” (not the trash can thank you). Just about the time I finished school (1992) the Internet was exploding, and I saw the opportunity I was looking for, a way to create and deliver rich multimedia content, to anyone, anywhere and at any time, the barriers that had I been fighting seemed to melt away! I got bored with writing black and white paper books; they seemed inferior to multimedia content.  I begin making webpages for my private students and for my own entertainment, a process which was time-consuming and crazy expensive.

As part of my job as an elementary music school teacher, I studied curriculum design at a local college as well as the world’s great theories of music education: Schillinger, Orff, Suzuki and Kodaly mainly. I was obsessed. I was on a mission. I wasn’t thinking anything about money I was just thinking about those guys who wanted and deserved to go to a big time guitar school but couldn’t get there. I wanted something wonderful for them, I wanted to share something amazing. I have worked on that material religiously, and obsessively –wanting to post a true, on line music school type curriculum, never satisfied with my work, constantly rewriting everything and  learning software of every description, computer platforms and even HTML, it sounds crazy but I felt as if I had no choice, as if someone asked me to do it.

That curriculum grew and grew, I foolishly ignored the advice (and desire) to publish everything immediately because of perfectionistic tendencies and a need to get it right.

Today, my program is about 3000 pages of text, organized into core courses, and scores of separate modules, just like you would find in real guitar school.  I called it ‘’ and entered the competitive, saturated market of online lessons in 2016, I am embarrassed to say it’s at least 15 years of development and testing because the work had to happen around a successful and busy career I had teaching, writing and gigging –during those years it seemed like a pipe dream because my “web development hours” were between midnight and 2AM.


So if my target audience couldn’t go to a special place, like a big time guitar school, I could give them the psychologically special place, their own music school. I still think it’s a beautiful idea.


The Old Thinking On The New Model

As I desperately tried to work and develop my program, my life’s mission while keeping my high standards, I saw one guitar education site after another go up on line.  Most of them were a mishmash of unorganized videos, posting 10,000 videos by a thousand rock stars. I love and respect my rock stars but very few of them should be considered serious educators -you don’t have to take my word for it just ask them personally as I have.   In the 80s we all had boxes of Hot Licks and Star Licks videotapes, if that were the way we learn guitar there would be no teaching business, no music schools and no teachers -just video stars. Video education just doesn’t work all that well.

On top of that online teaching businesses try to charge the same amount of money that they would charge you for it one-on-one private lesson -which I think is a rip-off. I saw nothing but money grubbing, selling the sizzle for a steak that didn’t exist. Big time guitar schools will charge you the same amount of money they would charge you as if you are actually going to the school -which you think is a rip-off.  All of these great curriculums are nothing more than a mishmash of videotapes, and some perfunctory poorly thought out text and graphic files.  With one or two notable exceptions, online guitar schools try to operate like real guitar schools, failing to seize the opportunity of true multimedia learning and training –forgetting they need and actual sequential well thought out course of study -oops. This is something I call “the old thinking on the new model” or “glowing books” –text pages in the virtual world instead of the physical one.

The Strength Of This School Is That We Have A Good Curriculum And We Stick To It. –William G. Leavitt, Berklee School Of Music

Telling Me Everything But Telling Me Nothing

Many of my students became frustrated with the most common type of educational site, the “telling me everything but telling me nothing” approach.  This means that the ‘content’ is nothing more than a few low level, common knowledge, over written clichés designed to sell you a self-produced DVD or book, big fat time wasters, the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.

We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time

Everyone urged me to post but I didn’t want to rush my curriculum, I continued to work on it in confidence knowing that the more YouTube guitar channels, online schools, and book selling guitar blogs that appeared the better it would be for me because with all that unending noisy content, some great and some terrible, it’s very hard to find anything, very hard to get down to work to study what you need and too easy to be distracted.  Learning guitar online was nothing like the experience of having a top flight curriculum to work through; in fact it was a confusing waste of time for the serious student.

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime went live early in 2016 anyone, on any level can begin anywhere in my program for free, when they are satisfied they are learning, they can continue for a small fee.  I also mail all of my students a giant proprietary full color poster for their practice space. Finally after all that time, effort, money and trouble I felt as though I had completed my dream from all those years ago, or kept a promise I made to myself to follow in my teachers footsteps.  Now I am discovering all the challenges and trials any startup experiences and I am realizing how difficult and impossible a task having a successful online school truly is.  As I said the competition is out there, they are big, bad and capitalized so I must be nutty as Snickers bar, right?

The Sanity Of It All

You’re probably thinking that me,, online guitar lessons and all my ideas are crazy, I mean how and why would I take on all the big players in a competitive, saturated niche? I don’t know, but I know the truly crazy, the really nuts thing to do with a dream that won’t let you sleep is nothing.  The sanity is that I have a belief in my ideas, knowing they are valuable and can help so many deserving people, believing I have something to add to the world. I know my work is imperfect but is off the drawing board and is being given to all who want (sans barriers), I may never make a dime but I am happy to do it, because it was driving me crazy!


The Story Of My Mentor:The World’s Greatest Guitar Teacher

Did You Know Bill Leavitt?

Today, like any other day, I saw my students, attended to business, and found a little time to work on some tunes.  Unlike any other day one of the budding guitarists, produced a copy of A Modern Method For Guitar and asked me “Did you know William Leavitt?” “Bill, he liked to be called Bill” I quickly added then continued, “Yes, I knew him”. I then started the lesson, but when my student asked,  “What was he like?” I began to tell my story.

While I had very few music education experiences as a child, the profession of music did choose me at age 19, the moment my friend Kemp let me play his sunburst Stratocaster and showed me a D chord, which caused everything else to leav my head and was replaced by all things guitar.  At that point, my only connection to this world was Guitar Player magazine and the Berklee College catalog I acquired when buying a used guitar.  That was the first time I saw the name of Bill Leavitt. I loved what he had written in Guitar Player magazine, always something like “guitar ensembles sound just gorgeous”.

I lived in Atlantic City New Jersey; it was as good a place as any because I met many famous players in my capacity of pool boy at Resorts International.  I received the occasional impromptu lesson from an old family friend, the famous Tony Mottola, other luminaries and serious working guitarists. Most of them all had one thing in common: some sort of connection to or knowledge of the Berklee method and Bill Leavitt.  For years, I tried to become a part of the big scene in Atlantic City but it was loaded with pros and I was in over my head, flunking auditions as fast as I could find them.

I was an amateur and a music career seemed impossible, despite my level best efforts I was going nowhere fast.  At 26 I thought there was a good chance that I was never going to amount to anything; I literally couldn’t think of anything except guitar playing but I wasn’t very good at it.  One day I declared I was going to attend the Berklee College of Music.  In my small circle of working class people, it was just a cute little pipe dream. I found a local teacher and in exchange for $15.00 he quickly spelled it out for me: I knew nothing about music but how to copy records. I had no training, no experience, very little talent and no chance: Berklee was no place for me.  I thought about it and decided to go up to the college for nothing more than a look see, buy some books and try to make some friends.  It’s easy for a twenty something to blend in at a college I thought and I just wanted to see it.   I’d had Berklee on my mind for years; I felt I owed it to myself to at least have a look and maybe check out a few of the guys there, all in order to find out if the local teacher was right about me.

When the day of the big road trip came, the little commuter plane from Atlantic City to Boston ran late.  I didn’t make it to the school until the dusk of an arctic November evening.  It was ice glazed cold, dark, depressing, and deserted; it was shaping up into another one of my infamous crapshoots. When I finally made it to the mythic 1140 Boylston Street,  I ran up to the 5th floor, knowing that was the guitar department. I thought I was alone but at the exact moment I crested that final stair the door facing me opened and a portly older gentleman emerged with a trash can in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, probably the janitor I assumed.  “Hey Chief” I said, “Do you know anything about the guitar department, and is it any good?”  The Chief did know about it and thought it was quite good.  I told him I had been trying to become a guitarist and was desperate to learn.  Since I thought he was the janitor I found it easy to let my guard down and relate to him as another working class person.  I was cold, sad and I needed a friend so I began to share my situation a little bit with him; he was a nice old gent.

Bill Leavitt

William G Leavitt In His Prime. I Added A Picture Of His Legendary, World Class Instructional Method

He invited me into the room from which he had emerged and began respectfully talking and listening to me and although he had to go somewhere he took 30 minutes and gave me some material to study and the requirements for the first proficiency at the school.  I was taking up too much of his time and had figured out he was no janitor, so I thanked him profusely and asked his name, “Bill Leavitt” he said.  Stunned, I managed to gush “Thank you Mr. Leavitt, I have been reading about you in Guitar Player and have tried to work with your books but found them too hard and….”.  He stopped me and said to come back the following day, for a proper lesson and an evaluation.  I knew he meant it and I was thrilled beyond words because I inexplicably felt the lesson was somehow just as important to him as it was to me.  Unbeknownst to me, I just gotten my one and only big break in the music business; I met Bill Leavitt, the world’s greatest guitar teacher, and for some reason we took a deep and immediate liking to each other.

Thinking about it, I couldn’t believe the chairman of the guitar department at the Berklee School of Music was inviting some kid off the street to his office in the middle of his workday at semesters end.  That lesson lasted an hour and a half and when I left that room, again unbeknownst to me, I just made the best friend I ever had in this world and spent the first of countless hours with the most important person to have ever entered my life. When I got back to New Jersey, I wrote and told him I doubted I would be able to get into the school but Bill promptly wrote back and told me to not at least apply would be a big mistake.  With a letter of acceptance, I moved to Boston with barely enough money for one semester.

Bill was a busy important man, and also one of the world’s foremost authorities on guitars, guitarists and guitar playing.  Everyone was in awe of him.  I was hoping to talk to him again but I was not going to make a nuisance of myself as I had done to all the other guitarists I knew. Little did I know that I, as the new worst guitarist in Boston, had captured Bills’ interest?  In my first few days, I ran into him all the time and he repeatedly and sincerely invited me back to his office but I dare not go, I was embarrassed about my relative ability level and also about my old flat top acoustic guitar with a clip on pickup.  Besides, he was always doing something important or walking around with famous musicians.

Painfully unprepared for my experiences, I was quickly overwhelmed and completely lost in all classes.  Once, I was the object of some harmless jibing in ear training class because I was asked to sing a solo and couldn’t hit more than one or two notes -we all had a little chuckle over it.  Although I laughed it off, I didn’t see anything funny about it.  I continued to redouble my efforts and apply myself even harder, but to no effect: the course material was becoming increasingly incomprehensible and I saw my dream of a Berklee education slipping beyond my reach.

I decided to go see Bill Leavitt, I told him I was in real trouble and it was really looking like I wasn’t going to be able make it as a Berklee student.  That’s when I found out who Bill Leavitt really was.  He told me to come back the next day at 8 AM, I was to bring all my books and everything else I had bought or been given.  At that time, he and I went through all of it, harmony, sight-reading, ear training, whatever -the two of us hour after hour.  I told him I couldn’t believe how much I had learned and thanked him for such a special day.  He said as department chair he had sorely missed teaching and had enjoyed the session, and told me to return the following morning.  That was a ritual we were to repeat again and again, every week, every semester, every year.  At first it was driving people crazy but soon I became like the wallpaper, just a natural fixture in Bill’s office. We were tight, right from jump.

bill leavitt

William G Leavitt And Student (not me) I Am Current Owner Of Guitar In Picture.

The magic of Bill Leavitt however was not what he did for me, it was simply who he was and the genuine love and deep respect he had shared with virtually every person who was in his sphere.  Incredible people skills were his trademark.  He was bigger than life, smoked like a chimney, drank buckets of coffee, told jokes that more were silly than funny and would sometimes fill up the entire 5th floor with a bellowing spring reverb of a laugh. When it was cold out, he wore a Frank Sinatra hat.  He was a credit to his generation, now called The Greatest Generation, having served in the Navy close to the end of World War II.   Any good Michigan Wolverine is steadfast, hardworking, genuine, respectful, fun loving, duty bound and down to earth –Bill was no exception. Like many of his contemporaries he understood how to be a true friend, how to celebrate and honor people, had a sense of culture and community and knew how to carry himself with the quiet class and dignity of a true gentleman -the very qualities which are all too scarce in our modern world.  When a lady walked into his office, he would stand up. Quite simply, he was a prince among men and we all knew it.  Everyone (and I do mean everyone) would have done anything for the man. That was probably because we thought he would have done anything for anyone he knew.

Bill was a family man; his wife Ginger was a beautiful, trim, and no nonsense redheaded pianist whom he worshipped. He originally thought she was out of his league but to his surprise and shock she had been hiding a deep infatuation for him.  Once Bill was offered a big break out in Hollywood, but he stayed in Boston to be with his countless friends and start a family with Ginger.  They had two daughters, April and Melody and several grandchildren (with an overabundance of stories concerning each one). Bill loved them and thought about them more that anyone could imagine.  To honor his girls, he published a guitar duet called An April Melody.

William G Leavitt Books

Part Of Bills Extensive Catalog Of Original Instructional Material

Career wise he was most proud of his seven books and many distinguished former students, quite literally, a who’s who of guitar playing.  Before he came to teach at Berklee he had regularly played on the Arthur Godfrey TV show, accumulated 100’s of album credits, written many an amazing song (one of which, My Baby’s Coming Home, Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded) and was known to stars, singers and celebrities as a top arranger whose charts could make even the weakest of bands swing like mad.   Once, he was the talk of his suburban neighborhood because a black limo containing a famous chanteuse of the day appeared needing some emergency writing done to replace lost pages in her book.  In his salad days as a guitarist, he was THE call in Boston, playing one dream gig after another.  His command of the guitar was so jaw dropping in those days that his friends and colleagues nicknamed him ‘the creepy crawler’ because he could, whenever necessary, blow a kaleidoscope’s worth of mind numbing substitutions and extemporaneous chord melodies.  When he did this, his hand looked like a spider inhumanly crawling over the neck.  It was the kind of playing that the most of the guitar world still only dreams about.  During the countless hours I spent playing with him, I never heard him miss a note or make even the slightest mistake.  Really.

bill chart

My Baby’s Comin’ Home written By William G Leavitt For Les Paul And Mary Ford -re released on Les Paul ‎– The Legend And The Legacy Capitol Records ‎– C2-97654

When I met him, I was a young 26, with lots of issues and rough edges. Interpersonally, I was certainly not hot stuff.  Bill always knew what I needed to hear and gently offered kind criticisms and countless lessons in life.  When I did or said something off center, he wanted to talk it over with me.  During my time in Boston, I was a bellboy at the Park Plaza a situation that I often found difficult and humiliating because I was routinely carrying amplifiers and road cases for established musicians such as Chick Corea and Tito Puente who regularly stayed at the hotel.  Bill taught me to be proud of the fact that I was working hard to pay for my Berklee education. He said that I had needed a starting point and helping out the occasional famous musician was not such a bad one.  I regularly sought his advice on how to deal with the people I worked and studied with. When I realized that my mentor, hero and role model believed in me, cared about me and deeply and respected me, some of my rough edges magically became smooth ones.  Today, I copy and pattern myself after Bill Leavitt.  I think about him every day and vividly remember nearly every word he ever said to me.

The last time I saw Bill he asked me what I wanted to do, even though I had accumulated dozens of extra credits, I told him I just wanted to be a guitar player.  Bill replied, “Karl, I don’t see anything in your way.”  At that exact moment, I felt liberated in a new found confidence.   For once in this life, because of those words, I began to see possibilities.  I entered Berklee with very little talent, self-worth or knowledge but I left there with a degree in jazz performance and a new belief in myself, knowing I had finally accomplished something.  Yes, I knew Bill Leavitt -he was my teacher.