Mel Bay’s 100th Birthday!


Feburary 25th, 2013 would have been Mel Bay’s 100th birthday. Not much is commonly known about the man whose name graces many of the books that are among my favorites to recommend to guitar students. For instance, not many people know that he started his publishing company to help train GI’s coming back from World War II to play guitar, but you can find about all that and much more when you read “The Mel Bay Story” by Ray Dankenbring. To celebrate his centennial, Mel Bay Publications has made is biography available for a free download here.

Mel Bay refined his approach over the years to include many styles of music, always keeping a solid grasp of musical fundamentals in sight. His efforts to do so are far reaching and legendary. None other than famed actor Johnny Depp claims to have locked himself in a room for a year with a Mel Bay chord book to learn how to play guitar! Numerous notable guitarists and musicians that have learned from Mel Bay’s books have gone on to write for Mel Bay Publications such as Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel. It’s fair to say that Mel Bay broke ground like no one else to take steps to educate guitarists about the amazing possibilities of six strings and your imagination.

Mel Bay’s chord books, along with his well studied Modern Guitar Method One are chock full of rock-solid musical fundamentals applied to the guitar. While I do supplement with my own hand-outs and other books, the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method series serves as a great start in a lifetime of musicianship, music making and guitar playing.

I believe that guitar/bass lessons involving standard music notation first, along with other guitar-centric notation (tablature or “tabs,” chord charts and diagrams, etc…) and a flexible plan to engage the student’s interest, is still the best way to gain a well rounded understanding of the instrument. Trendy methods or “music schools” touting “no music reading needed” may be useful to the most casual beginner just starting out, but for a serious advancing student with goals of playing beyond in a school jazz band or orchestra, a church praise band, or looking to gain techniques to meet and/or exceed expectations in musical performance and artistic challenges, a basic understanding of standard notation enhances musicianship and raises the game.

The skills gained when learning standard-notation music reading translates to other instruments and to other musicians -it’s universal. Music reading will go a long way to improve overall musicianship- including the ability to play by ear. In my teaching studio I have a “Hall of Fame” gallery with pictures dozens of students that have completed the Modern Guitar Method One and the equivalent children’s methods – it’s quite an achievement! Who’s gonna be in the “Hall of Fame” next?

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