Rob MacKillop

George Van Eps Method For Guitar

[Update: 20 December, 2013, Etude Study – last page]

George Van Eps was one of the greatest guitar players of the 20th century (1913-88) – just ask any jazz guitar player. Although he was an early pioneer of the 7-string guitar, much of his published work is for six strings. He encapsulated his understanding of the guitar in three HUGE volumes, Harmonic Mechanisms for Guitar.

Harmonic Mechanisms

The publicity blurb for this book states:

“The most in-depth, revolutionary presentation of the harmonic framework of music is applied to the guitar fingerboard ever presented. Leads to total mastery of harmonic and technical aspects of the guitar. The material in this landmark series of 3 massive volumes address virtually every aspect of playing jazz guitar representing the fruits of years of the author’s investigation of harmony and fingerboard mobility. This series of books leads to total mastery of the harmonic and technical aspects of the guitar.”

One day I might tackle the lower slopes of that mountain. But thankfully Van Eps wrote a slim Method for Guitar in the late 1930s, and although not as highly regarded as the Harmonic Mechanisms, it still has a lot to teach us.

Check out what Matt Warnock has to say about Mr Van Eps: LINK

I am making a survey of classic early jazz guitar tutors, and could not ignore one written by the colossus which is George Van Eps. I suggest you make the exploration with me…

1st Step – Buy the book – original copies can still be found…

Here’s the cover of the Mel Bay edition, which I’ve just bought on ebay!:



Or it can be downloaded for (last time I looked) $10 from Django Books

2nd Step – Get to work!

Here are a few videos I’ve made to help you along, if you need help, that is.

N.B. I give Skype lessons. Contact me if interested:
robmackillop AT gmail DOT com.

Ex.1 Form 1:

GVE starts by showing us six “formations” of chords in the key of C Major. Each formation has a different arrangement on the fretboard. He asks us to transpose these to all 12 keys.

Ex.1 Form 2:

Ex.1 Form 3:

Ex.1 Form 4:

Ex.1 Form 5:

Ex.1 Form 6:

Ex.3: Here we learn an arpeggio picking method which GVE wants us to master and use on all these exercises. I think he picked this up from his father (who was a great banjo player), as it is a staple technique for the early plectrum banjo.

Ex.10: Here GVE extends the scale above the high tonic…

Ex.11: and below…

Ex.12 Form 1 – here we have three forms in the key of D, though all keys are to be explored.

Ex.12 Form 2

Ex.12 Form 3

Ex.14: The important point here is to sustain the notes. This will become more important when we try to extract melodies from chords, and play counterpoint.


Ex.16: Jazz guitar players are often called on to flatten the last joint of their left-hand fingers, in what might be described as mini barres. This is a very important technique:

“With Minor Chords”

Here Van Eps introduces a few different takes on chords of the minor scales. Form 26 is the harmonic minor. Form 27 has the ascending form of the melodic minor, but with the the harmonic minor in descent. Form 30 is the melodic minor – sharp going up, flat coming down.

Ex.26 Form 1 – I add a few rhythmical variations here. Why not try a few of your own?

Ex.26 Form 2

Ex.26 Form 3

Ex.26 Form 4

Ex.26 Form 5

Ex. 26 Form 6

Ex.27 Complete – Six Forms

Ex.30 Complete – Here I give a little introduction to the melodic minor scale. There is a mistake in the notation for the 4th Form – the first string is not to be used.

“With Seventh Chords”

Ex.33 and 34 Complete – I have a not quite so deliberate mistake in the video of Ex.34 Form 2: the 4th chord should be on the top three strings at the 5th and 7th frets. Sorry about that. There are mistakes in the printed score as well, with the indications for string sets in Ex.34…
Form 1 – Top notes are on strings 4 in the first bar, then string three for two bars, then string 2, and finally string 1. This could be notated as: 4 3 3 2 1
Form 2 – 4 3 3 1 1 (I play 4 3 3 2 1). Also, there is a sharp sign missing for the f in bar 2.
Form 3 – 4 4 3 2 1
Form 4 – 4 3 2 1 1

“With Diminished Chords”

Ex. 48 to 52 Complete

Ex.53, 55, 56 and 58

Ex.60 to 66

More explorations of the diminished chord…

Ex67 and 68 -Try to sustain the bass notes in Ex.68 – not easy when the bass is on the 5th string…


A nice chord sequence to play with…

Etude Study, page 40 – this is from the last page in the book. I make a point of mentioning I am using Van Eps’ left-hand fingering, as there are places where a much simpler solution could be used, but it is his study, after all…Good luck with this one!


  1. Great inspiration for me to dig out the Van Eps book.

    Thank you very much for your generosity.

  2. Thanks so much for doing this. Until I can read music, your examples are the only way I can move through Van Eps’ book.

  3. Rob,
    A while back I decided I should learn a bit about playing with a pick and started in on all the single-note stuff in Shearer Vol 1. I also dug out my old (and rarely used) copy of Van Eps “Method” to have something a little more musically interesting to play with at the same time. A few days ago, I ran across the first of these videos on YT, and I thank you very much for making them. I can read them well enough, but listening to someone else play something seems to help me a great deal in hearing myself.

    So now it’s Van Eps “Method”, then “Harmonic Mechanisms”…. What’s after that? Perhaps all of the connected changes in Greene’s “Chord Chemistry”, or maybe complete examples of “Single Note Soloing”? 🙂

    Thank you very much for everything you have made available, Rob. There is a clarity and musicality to your playing that is instructive and inspiring as well as enjoyable, and even (perhaps especially) listening to the stuff for instruments I don’t play has improved my musicianship and ability to hear.

    • Thanks, John. I know what you mean – it’s helpful to have an external source sometimes, to help get a perspective on what you are doing. Well, I’m pleased to help you out there.
      There is the question about how to apply this stuff to real-world situations, rather than just learning a bunch of exercises. Although I just want to record what’s there, without putting any interpretation on it that would influence people (it’s better to come to your own conclusions) I might address it a little in the next video, which will be on 7ths, Exercises 33 and 34 [Edit – this video now added].
      The Harmonic Mechanisms will have to wait a while! That mountain scares me!

  4. I also have an early method from George Van Eps in my book collection. It was given to me by my first teacher many, many years ago. I will find it and review it for fun.


  5. I have this book and the 1964 version of the solos, both of which have confounded me for years. Not until now, with your videos’ help, has this become a manageable work for me! I am inspired to not just be able to play thru his stuff, but now understand it better. It’s like Jimmy Wyble’s works; I never grasped it fully until David Oakes came along and made that all clear. Whew! Thanks!!

  6. Hey Mackillop, these george van eps book is it we can learn arrangement? all you played on youtube is in the book? in which version of the book?

  7. Is the original “Method for Guitar” out of print? The only copies I could find on amazon were priced, on average, & used, around $300.00. I hope I’m not looking in the wrong place… I now have the first volume of “Harmonic Mechanisms…” but would love to use your videos to get going with the original “Method”. Thanks for a wonderful service to music!

  8. You can get it here for $10.00 as a PDF.

  9. Oops, sorry Rob; I was 3 minutes too slow.

  10. Thanks to all of you!!! Now it’s time to practice!!!

  11. Forty years ago I spent two years doing nothing but working on this method. I had the original book and studied everyday. The book, if I remember only had 20 something pages. It was very difficult to make myself work the exercises daily but I did. Now I am retired and am playing 5 to six hours a day mostly jazz standards. I searched everywhere for my copy toady to refresh my memory on the minors.and found this online. Thank you. Those few pages learned and applied properly can change your life as a guitarist .

    • Hi Stan. Great to read your story, much like mine with the Mickey Baker book (which I also cover here on my website). I think the key phrase you use is “applied properly” – that takes some doing. I’ve found myself using quite a few of these examples, so they have definitely been helpful to me.

      I do Skype lessons too – just saying 😉


  12. Rob, Thanks for doing this. I’ve had this book for a while and often work out of it, but I haven’t gotten too far into it because I haven’t mastered the first several exercises flawlessly in all keys.

  13. Rob, Thanks for doing this. I’ve had this book for a while and often work out of it, but I haven’t gotten too far into it because I haven’t mastered the first several exercises flawlessly in all keys. Also, Harmonic Mechanisms blows my mind!

  14. Hi,
    First thx a lot for the videos. When doing the first exercises i noticed that when the triads get to A minor you play F instead of E. Is that right? Cause for it to be A minor it should have an E.

    • Hi Pedro. This is a well-discussed topic on jazz guitar forums. George deliberately made it an F chord, or, more specifically, the notes cfa. Try to figure out why. You might learn something in the process.

  15. Just wonderful. Some people discard triads and began to play complicate chords not knowing the beauty in those little shapes.

    • I agree, Sergio. Plus, a lot of modern jazz guitar utilises triad pairs, sometimes unrelated to the underlying chord. So, it’s still good to study them.

  16. I find it a bit weird that Van Eps uses an F triad as the sixth chord in Ex 1. Shouldn’t it be an Am if he’s diatonically harmonizing the C major scale?

    Notice the fingerings in Forms 2, 4, 5, & 6 are also incorrect if he’s really going after an F major triad, but are correct for Am. Conversely, the fingerings in Forms 1 & 3 will work for F major.

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