The classical guitar was preceded by the lute, vihuela and five-string baroque guitar. This legacy is reflected in the repertoire of the Classical guitar which ranges from the Estampie, a thirteenth century dance, to the modern twentieth century masterpiece La Catedral by Agustín Barrios. One of the greatest past masters of classical guitar, Andres Segovia:
"The strongest advice I give to my pupils is to study music properly from the beginning to the end - like the career of a sergeant or a physician, it is the same. It is a shame that most guitarists are absolutely clean of this knowledge. My advice is to study music properly and not to omit any knowledge of music and not to be very impatient about giving concerts. He who is impatient mostly arrives at his goals late. Step by step is the only way"
Quote from Segovia! A 13-part series aired on National Public Radio. First aired April 1983 and produced by Larry Snitzler (Classical Guitarist) and hosted by Oscar Brand (Musicologist/Folk Guitarist).
Classical guitar studies are designed to develop sight-reading skills at the optimum speed. Classical guitarists use standard works to learn from; especially the works of Fernando Sor (1778–1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853) and Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909). For complete beginners the author Frederick Noad has provided the books Solo Guitar Playing One and Two. Book One assumes that the student has no previous experience of reading music and the lessons have been carefully arranged with this in mind.
The Parts Of The Classical Guitar
A foot-stool allows the left leg to be raised when the student is sitting. The early classical guitarists explored all the various playing positions and the seated position with a foot-stool was found to give the greatest access to the fretboard while also allowing barres to be played with ease.
A music stand allows the guitarist to maintain the correct playing position and also ensures that the music is at eye level. Despite its usefulness a music stand is usually one of the last items that guitarists buy. Placing a book on the edge of the bed or on the floor means that the guitarist is looking down at the music and is constantly having to adjust their head and body position to scan the guitar neck when changing chords. Placing the music on a stand at eye level ensures that the guitarist only has to glance at the neck to check for correct finger placement.
A metronome is an ideal tool for improving timing. You should buy a traditional wooden metronome with a wind-up mechanism. A wooden metronome provides an organic click which is pleasing to play along with for extended periods. Many guitarists warm up by playing scales to a metronome.
The classical guitarist plays without a plectrum. The technique for sounding a chord is to first place the right-hand finger nails on the strings to be played and to give a slight twist as though twisting the lid of a jar so that the notes are sounded simultaneously. This technique is similar to the way you sound a chord on a piano by depressing the keys together. Therefore it is essential that your nails should be considered. Professional guitarists may use a nail hardening solution, such as Mavala, which can be purchased in any chemist. The nails should be filed with a fine-grade nail file.
Do not lean your guitar against walls or furniture because this is the most common cause of neck breakage during accidents. A guitar stand will keep your guitar out of the case and ready to play. Buy the best stand available on the market since all the better guitar stands have soft covers on any edges that will protect your guitar if the stand is knocked over. Some guitarists hang their guitars on the wall in the same way that you see guitars displayed in a music shop.
Learning To Read Music
Learning to read music involves mastering reading one note at a time. It is common to find second-hand music books with the letters of the notes handwritten above each note. The idea that you can learn to read music by deciphering a single piece of music that you like should be discarded.
The early stage of learning to read music involves only the open strings. The idea is to introduce the notation for the fretted notes after the notation for the open strings has been mastered. The first day might involve starting with the notation for the open high e (thinnest string), followed by the B string, then the G string and so on. When a student can read the notation for the open strings comfortably the notation for the first three frets of the high e string is introduced and then the first three frets of the B string and so on. The early stages of mastering the open strings does not allow for extended phrases to be played though once the fretted notes are introduced the guitarist will find much of melodic value and interest.
At an advanced stage of reading music the guitarist should note that familiarity with their own sheet music collection can be counterproductive. It is not unusual to find that a guitarist who has used the same sheet music to learn a piece suddenly struggles when the same piece is presented from another publication. Fonts, staff spacing and even elements as benign as paper size and colour can cause difficulties in sight-reading. You should vary your sight-reading by using different publications.
At some point a piece of seemingly simple music may prove too difficult to play. It is not uncommon to find beginner's books with studies where certain passages in the music present a technical challenge that the beginner has yet to master. This is simply a reflection of the author's own advanced technique and a minor lapse in the author's desire to provide studies of value to the beginner. If at any time a study presents a passage of music that is difficult to execute than move to the next study.
Please note that the following list of works will not teach you how to read music. For that purpose you need to use the three Noad books: Playing the Guitar and Solo Guitar Playing 1 and 2 which have proved very popular with teachers and self-taught guitarists.
25 Etudes op. 60 - Matteo Carcassi
This work contains a series of studies designed for intermediate players. Consisting of arpeggio and scale studies this work has served generations of players with its inventiveness and melodies. Though didactic in purpose Carcassi has provided audience-delighting studies that form part of the repertoire of many professional and amateur players. A highly regarded edition of Op. 60 was published by Zerboni with revisions by Ruggero Chiesa.
Espanoleta - Gaspar Sanz (Pujol Transcription)
The Espanoleta by Sanz is deservedley famous. Its simplicity and beauty is accessible to the early-stage guitarist who can read music in the first position. Its common to find a transcription of the Espanoleta in many sheet music compilations and tuition books; including Playing The Guitar by Frederick Noad. The Pujol transcription is a simpler arrangement than the Noad transcription and provides the guitarist with practice in recreating Baroque ornamentation.
The Guitarist's Hour Books 1, 2, and 3 (Walter Gotze)
These collections of studies for beginners consists of pieces by Sor, Carulli, Aguado and many others. They are designed to encourage the student to observe note duration as well as providing an introduction to the works of Sor and Carulli. These progressively graded studies are ideal for metronome practice. Though most of these studies can be found in other compilations; the choice and arrangement of the studies in all three Guitarist's Hour books are exemplary with regards to progressing the beginner's technique.
Greensleeves - Francis Cutting
Francis Cutting was an English lute composer whose patronage eventually led to a position in Denmark. Greensleeves was a popular song in the fifteenth century. The Cutting lute variation has been transcribed for guitar and is part of the beginner's repertoire being easy to play with a recognisable melody. Greensleeves was made widely popular in the twentieth century by the orchestrated version "Fantasia on Greensleeves" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. A modern romantic interpretation of "Fantasia on Greensleeves" by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St.Martin is recommended.
Harmony - Walter Piston revised by Mark Devoto
The revised edition of this standard University text is a complete overview of Western harmony. Limiting itself to the common practice of the Classical Period it provides a clear and concise introduction to harmony.
The Classical Guitar: Its Evolution, Players and Personalities Since 1800 - Maurice J. Summerfield
This work presents a comprehensive overview of the personalities that shaped the history of the classical guitar. It includes biographies of all the major classical guitarists of the past and present. Extensive use of images brings the biographies alive and its comprehensive coverage places this work at the forefront of Classical Guitar literature.
Ways To Improve Interpretation
Playing along to recordings is an ideal way to improve your interpretation. At the end of Solo Guitar Playing One is a short ternary piece called "Adelita" by Tarrega which Julian Bream has recorded. After memorizing "Adelita " the student should play along to the Bream recording as it will improve their interpretation of the piece and will impart a deeper understanding of the popular Salon style primarily associated with Chopin.
The famous "Leyenda" by Albeniz is a technical challenge for any guitarist. Transcribed for guitar from the original piano work it has become part of the classical guitar's repertoire. On film we have two master classical guitarists performing "Leyenda" - Segovia at the Alhambra Palace and John Williams in the Concert from Seville. Due to the popularity of the piece it regularly appears in compilations though it must be noted that original transcriptions of "Leyenda" are personal expressions of the transcriber's own technique. The two guitarists mentioned have chosen to adapt the piece to their own technique and a visual analysis by the student of both performances is recommended.
Many classical pieces have their origins in the dances of the past. The Bourrée was a popular dance that became part of the Baroque Suite. The Canarios and Écossaise are further examples of dance forms that the classical guitarist will come across. The Canarios was originally a lively jig associated with the Canary Island and the classical guitarist will be expected to play a Canarios at a lively tempo. Beginners will find that a small amount of historical investigation into the origins of the pieces they find in the books recommended in this chapter will prove invaluable to interpretation and will help demystify some of the time signatures and tempos given.
- Fernando Sor
- Ferdinando Carulli
- John Williams
- Julian Bream
- Christopher Parkening
- Andres Segovia
- Ida Presti