Guitar/Classical Guitar

The Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor

Classical Guitar


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

The parts of the classical guitar


The traditional wooden mechanical metronome


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.

Music stands

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. 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 right hand produces sound. Although the quality of tone is determined by both hands, the type of tone and the volume are controlled primarily by the right hand. There are seven ingredients that go into tone production: 1. Nail length and shape; 2. Choice of stroke: free stroke (tirando) or rest stroke (apoyando); 3. Hand position and the angle of fingers to the strings; 4. How the fingertip and nail approach the string; 5. How the fingertip and nail prepare on the string; 6. Finger pressure against the string; 7. The release of the fingertip and nail from the string.

Each of these ingredients influences all the others. One will generally determine what come next. For instance, your choice of rest stroke or free stroke will determine your hand position, and therefore the angle of the finger to the string.This will then determine how the finger approaches the string, and thus how the finger will prepare on the string. All of these contribute to the security of the fingers on the string and your ability to apply the appropriate pressure; and the pressure inevitably affects how the string will be released. The length and shape of the fingernail effects how successfully you will be able to carry out all of the various parts of the stroke.

If the nail is too long, the speed and ease with which the fingertip and nail can go through the string is considerably diminished. This is because resistance has been increased. A bad nail shape can also create undesirable resistance against the string and can cause some interesting but unsavory sounds. The reason we play with our fingernails at all is to assist us in securing and controlling the string, to enhance volume and tone. So it is important to grow and shape [the nails] in a way that will make it easier to play and sound good. Scott Tennant: Pumping Nylon 2nd Edition Copyright 2016 by Alfred Music pg 56

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 from any chemist. The nails should be filed with a fine-grade nail file. Professional guitarists always file their nails in one direction only; never back and forth. This ensures a much cleaner tone.

Guitar case

Your guitar should be kept in a case when you are not playing it. A hard body case will offer the most protection to the instrument.

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 then move to the next study.

Standard Works


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 deservedly 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.

Other Works


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.

Classical Guitarists


Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks