Guitar Method Options from Hal Leonard

Lesley Schultz • July 2021String Section • July 10, 2021

This month I am wrapping up the series of considerations for starting (or inheriting) a guitar class, with reviewing the options from one of the most prolific music publishers in Hal Leonard.  They publish two major guitar methods, the Hal Leonard Guitar Method by Will Schmid and Greg Koch and the Essential Elements for Guitar series by Bob Morris.  Hal Leonard also publishes most of the “Pop Hits” books that you see in music stores or online, and while most of these are not directly tied to these methods, using these methods can get your students used to what they might see if they pick up one of these books on their own.  

The Hal Leonard Guitar Method

First, I want to talk about the Hal Leonard Guitar Method. Technically this is divided up into three books, but I use the Complete Edition, which is all three in one. This method which has been around in one form or another since the mid-1990’s is a tried-and-true method at this point. The recordings that go with the method are stellar, and useful in class situations as backing tracks. It goes through first fret position notes on all six strings, and the chords of C, G, G7, D, D7, Em, and A7 in book 1. The reason why I suggest the complete edition is in the first couple of pages in book two, you get the Am chord, dotted rhythms, the Dm chord and the A Chord, plus several songs that are popular with the students.  I sometimes feel that the Hal Leonard Guitar Method doesn’t have enough exercises on each concept for students to truly assimilate the learning, as I find students get bored doing the same exercises over and over. Also, this method does not even address tablature notation until about halfway through book two when it covers power chords and putting chords into the melodic lines. This makes it a harder method overall for your differently abled learners and ELL populations. Still, the quality of the pictures, and the backing tracks makes this a method worth a look.

The Essential Elements Guitar Method approaches guitar playing from a different angle. It starts off with teaching three string chords and having students strum along for a few pages. This builds confidence in hesitant players, but I also find that students (particularly high school) get bored with that fairly quickly. It then adds first fret position notes, starting on the High E string then quickly adds a D7 chord to the mix. It continues to follow a similar pattern, having students strum along with songs that should pique their interest, while leaving the melodies extra simple. This book goes through more

Hal Leonard’s Essential Elements for Guitar

chords in book one than almost any other method I have seen, which if your goal is to produce good chord strummers, this is a book high on the option list for you. Again, there is little tablature notation, only bringing it in for some fingerstyle and some power chords at the end of the book.  There is also a book two in this series, but again, tablature is limited, making this method potentially harder for your differently abled learners. Book two continues the learning of chords and strumming interspersed with melodies that get progressively harder. Again, this could be the right method for you if you are looking to build guitarists that know and accompany lots of songs.

Where Hal Leonard shines is the wealth of supplementary resources that tie in with either of these methods. Under the essential elements banner there are several guitar ensemble books that will enable you to gear small group instruction to the level of student. Do you have students that read music exceptionally well? Give them a trio from one of the intermediate books. Do you have some students that need reinforcement on the beginning techniques? Give them a trio from one of the mid-beginner books. The only drawback is these do not have tablature notation, but I spend the time making the resources the best for my students, using a notation software like MuseScore (available for free!) add the tablature. This helps me cover IEP/504 compliance as best as I can, by creating the learning resources my students need to be successful. Hal Leonard also publishes several pop solo books and holiday books that are appropriate for class. Again, no tablature in some of these, but they do offer tablature in several, like the holiday books and a Disney book. I usually take one of my final playing test options from a J.S. Bach book for easy guitar that has tablature. 

Overall, Hal Leonard guitar methods are widely available and are good for teaching class guitar. Like any method you have to ask yourself what do you want your students to get out of your class, and choose the best method (or methods) for the learners you have.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter president and on the National Conference Committee. 

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