You’ve no doubt sat and listened to a wonderful melody streaming from the experienced hands of a guitar player at some time or other and wondered what it would be like to try your own hand at it. Probably the first thing you would need to understand is the difference between how to play classical guitar, the more specialized Flamenco – also known as the Spanish guitar – and electric and acoustic variants.
The biggest single difference in the classical guitar style is its elegant, sophisticated range, as opposed to the hard-rock chords favored by pop musicians. While each has their strengths, learning how to play classical guitar will introduce you to the melodic, resonant sound accomplished by master players of old from the rich European tradition.
The nylon strings of the classical guitar is largely unique to its class, are highly responsive to the soft and dynamic touch of the beginning student. It is the best guitar with which to take the private lessons from a good teacher who will make you capable of strumming or plucking your favorite melodies.
Specific Music Styles for Classical Guitar
While the Flamenco guitar of Spain best captures the hectic, rhythmically aggressive dance style that is actually a cultural cauldron of many different styles mixed together, classical guitar specializes in rendering “contrapuntal” sounds: a musical situation where multiple lines are moving against each other (see why a private guitar teacher can be so valuable?!). In general, contrapuntal refers to the ability to render chords and melodies together, as was common in pre-baroque, Renaissance music.
This hardly makes them one-dimensional, however; when you learn how to play classical guitar, you’ll experience both the responsiveness to soft plucking, as well as the dynamism of a full-bodied tone from firm plucking. Although there have been advancements since the earliest European classic guitars, the general comportment remains the same, and is often used today by some of the best: the wonderful Renaissance revivalist Julian Bream, the Julliard-standout classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, and the late great Andres Segovia, the Spanish virtuoso endowed with the title “Grand Master of the Classical Guitar”.
How to Play Classical Guitar: Techniques for Mastery
The classical guitar is a dominant right-hand instrument and your left hand needs to be trained to relax in a series of techniques that any qualified private guitar teacher would be intimately familiar with. It focuses on positioning your fingers in a resting position, from which they will become familiar with distances and the relationships between chord positions and right hand technique – with a lot of practice, of course. All told, this is called the linear position. As you might have guessed, after you’ve become comfortable with the linear position held by your left hand, they will also need to be trained to hold a nonlinear position, in order to take full advantage of the full richness of sound available.
During all this, of paramount importance is developing the flexibility of your left hand so that you can strum hard-to-reach chords. This isn’t at all dependent on long fingers, but on agility – which can be learned (unlike size and length).
Next, you will need to learn how to use that growing dexterity by shifting your fingers to play legatos and arpeggios like tremolo, using the fingers of your right hand for the latter. Bars and simultaneous notes will come next as you start to revel in your growing skill level and realize that learning to play classical guitar isn’t so different from any other endeavor – you’ve got to practice! The entire endeavor can be quite technical for those wanting to play it very well, but there are private guitar teachers a-plenty for that. They will teach you the basics of exercising your fingers, which will allow you to play any note required louder and firmer without straining.
Lastly, even if you’ve always dreamed of rocking out with an electric guitar like the next Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page, you would do well to remember that most of them started out with an introduction to acoustic guitars with the classical guitar. It provides you a wonderful and rangy springboard from which to reach whatever heights you wish.
Photo by Jason Bachman