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Any advice on how to start with classical guitar?


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  • Any advice on how to start with classical guitar?


    I have a question. I'm playing guitar for about 4 years, and am playing an acoustic (also electro-acoustic) steel string guitar, and electric guitar. I'm used to playing both with a pick and my fingers (steel-string fingerstyle playing). Quite good with both soloing, chords, scales, and knowing tones on the fingerboard. I usually read tabs, although I also know notes in both bass and treble cleff (have played violin, cello, and some synth in music school when younger), just never used them for the guitar, but I'd be okay with spending time (as much as needed) to learn that. 

    Now I'm interested in broadening my knowledge about guitars. As I'm used to playing on steel-string acoustic and electric, I'm now thinking about trying out some classical guitar techniques. I love its sound and love them in both Latin and Classical music. 

    I know the basic differences between steel-stringed and classical guitars, such as strings, neck, shape, but know nearly nothing about classical guitar playing techniques. In past I tried out a classical guitar, just to see how it feels, but played it like my acoustic. 

    I'm now really in need of some advice. I'm quite seriously thinking about starting to learn. Now... would it be okay for me to try out with classical guitar? How difficult is usually the transition from other types of guitars (acoustic, electric) to this one? What's different with classical guitar playing, technically speaking? Would I have much trouble with reading sheet music for a guitar?
    What should I be aware of? What kind of classical guitars would be a good starter guitar? Also, can you recommend any good book for starting out? Does anybody have some knowledge or experience on that matter and any advice for me about how to proceed?

    Thank you very much!

  • #2

    The main physical difference of classical guitar (apart from the strings) is the wide, flat neck.  This is the reason for the conventional technique of always having the thumb behind the neck, never over the top.  Thumb behind gives the fingers maximum reach and flexibility.

    If you want to learn classical technique properly, you really need a teacher, because - unlike popular steel-string styles - there really are right and wrong ways of doing things, tried and tested since the 19th century (if not before).  It's a strict technique, which (along with the usual left leg position) can feel unnatural at first, but is really the most efficient and ergonomic way of playing classical guitar music. So you need to learn it and stick with it.

    I was in a similar situation to  you when I was a relative beginner; I taught myself folk-blues fingerstyle techniques on steel string, and after 4 years bought myself a cheap nylon-string and applied those techniques as well as I could to classical pieces, learning from a book (notation only, no tab).  I did OK, I think, and learned the wisdom of the classical conventions through practice, although I still use my thumb and fingers in a slightly unorthodox way (due to habits of alternating bass).

    But it was only ever a sideline to my main interest (blues, folk and rock).  A classical teacher would frown at some of the things I do .

    If you're not too bothered about learning 100% correctly (and fast), and want to teach yourself in your own time, the best books I've found are the Frederick Noad series:


    That's a really excellent introduction to the style, and has been around for years (check the reviews).  If you eventually decide you want to get a teacher, there'll be no problem in working from that book (and moving on to the others); it's widely recognised.

    I also suggest buying a book of tunes for classical guitar. Personally I like Bach, Tarrega and Villa-Lobos, for melody and not-too-challenging difficulty, but you can find dozens of good etudes by Sor, Carcassi, Carulli, Guiliani, etc.  There are plenty of books with mixed selections.

    As for a starter guitar, you probably have enough experience to choose your own. Decide on a budget, and go out and try anything in that range.  All classical guitars have very much the same size and shape, so it's sound and quality of workmanship you're looking for.  Generally you get what you pay for, so the more you can afford, the better the guitar (and the more pleasurable it will be to play, and the better an investment should you decide to sell it in future). 


    BTW, one other difference you'll find with nylon strings is that new strings can take weeks to settle into tune. If you find they've slipped flat again every time you pick it up, that's normal -  nothing wrong with the guitar!  It's in the nature of plastic...  Eventually they will hold their tuning, but it can take a while.



  • #3

    Yamaha makes great beginner classical guitars.


    You should look for "Pumping Nylon" by Scott Tenant. 


    Find an instructor.


    • #4

      Hi Blue River!

      So a huge difference between nylon-string and other styles is how you hold the guitar.  Classical players place the guitar on their left leg, with the left leg lifted by using a foot-stool.  You can check out a description of how to hold the classical here: https://tunessence.com/guitar-guide/how-to-position-a-guitar (5:12 in the video).

      The biggest difference for the left hand is the feel of the guitar.  Nylon-stringed guitars have wider necks (so the strings are farther apart).  And the nylon strings themselves can feel a little weird, being softer than steel.  I found that my left hand was able to adjust to this from steel-string over time pretty easily.  Just keep playing, and eventually your hand will hardly notice when you switch back and forth between nylon and steel.

      As far as the right hand, classical players typically play with their fingernails.  This was like a lifestyle change for me when I started playing classical   This takes quite a bit of slow technique work to get used to the feel of plucking with the nail, and to work out the right shape for your nails.  Also, you'll need to either get several grades of sandpaper, or a Revlon nail kit to work on your nails.

      Right hand technique was the biggest challenge for me in picking up classical.  I needed to work on a lot of different arpeggiated fingerpicking patterns.  I also needed to work on linear scale playing, alternating between your index and middle fingers as you play scalar lines.

      I typically use two books with students who want to learn classical: "Solo Guitar Playing" by Frederick Noad, and "Classic Guitar Technique" by Aaron Shearer.  I'd recommend getting both and working through them at the same time.  In the end, though, getting a good classical teacher is really a huge help, even if it's just to get started.  There's a lot about classical playing that really changed my playing aside from technique (tone color, dynamics, pushing/pulling the tempo, etc.).  It's hard to pick this stuff up without having someone experienced there working with you.


      Good luck!



      Blog: https://tunessence.com/blog/