Roadmap of Classical Guitar Methods?

In another recent thread, @joebegly was discussing things he’s learned in the rigorous study of classical guitar.

I’d like to invite him and others who have made a serious study of classical guitar to shed some light for meatheads like me on the curation of classical guitar methods.

Most of what I know about classical guitar methods comes from google, so I know names like Moretti, Sor, Giuliani, Carulli, Carcassi, Parkening, etc., but I can’t place any of them in context in terms of how they are generally regarded by modern classical guitarists (e.g., some cursory reading about Moretti’s method suggests that it’s historically important, but perhaps of limited applicability to modern classical guitar).

Also, from my superficial understanding, the early guitar methods are essentially collections of studies and etudes without any technique instruction per se. Newer methods like Parkening seem to include technique, but who was the first important classical method to give prose and pictographic explanation of technique? And which one(s) is considered the gold standard today?

So, short of attending an established conservatory in a major city, what kind of definitive resources are there for classical guitar that one could use as a “sanity check” against the instruction of a less-esteemed local classical guitar instructor? I’m only asking as a hypothetical for now, but in the broader sense: if you were restarting your classical guitar journey today, what resources would you use to supplement the instruction of the most-respected local instructor you could find?

3 Likes

Hey man! Thanks for asking!

I’m a little torn on how to respond, because if I had it all to do over again…part of me thinks I probably would have just not played classical. I say that because I love the way it sounds. The pieces written by Barrios are among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. For me, it would have required total dedication to get to the level I was after. That was difficult, because during that same period I was in a metal band that was trying hard to do it professionally. I was torn between 2 masters. Without giving it that total dedication, I never got any of the pieces quite as flawless as I would have liked, so it was a frustrating experience. Wanting so badly to perform in a way I really thought I was capable of, but falling just so slightly short of execution was tough for me. I did learn a lot from the whole experience though, and the small recitals I played in at college got a good response and some people did genuinely seem touched by the music I made. My mother loved it too, so maybe…

if I had it to do over again I never would have joined that metal band haha! It did not end well, for me anyway. I became bitter with the music industry and really jaded in that the basket I put all my eggs in was not going to work out for me, career-wise. Fortunately I landed on my feet and learned software/web development on the fly, I have a great wife and son and time to play as a hobby, just for fun. So all’s well that ends well. I was only doing classical the past few years until I found out about CtC. Maybe I have ADHD or something haha.

Buy yeah, if you’re serious about it, I’d say step #1 is to get someone who can teach you tone production. I don’t think that’s quite possible to get from any book. I certainly was doing EVERYTHING wrong when I taught myself. You need someone giving you constant feedback telling you when it’s correct and verifying the technique you’re using is helping to produce those sounds. I was fortunate in that I lived about an hour away from Baltimore Maryland, home to the Peabody Conservatory. So I was able to secure 6 months of lessons with one of their department chairs. Pretty much all he taught me was tone production, which is 95% picking hand. I did not go to school there, but the university I chose had a very good classical guitarist who was himself conservatory trained. He’s the reason I rant about the proper way to do left hand slurs. He was so picky about them, but when done the way instructed, they sure sounded good.

As for gold standard resources…hmmm. I am not sure. I was never taught from a book. The only books I ever bought had pieces in them, not technique, with the exception of Pumping Nylon. Technique instruction was always administered via 1-on-1 at the lessons. I do know there are respected method books out there. Aaron Shearer’s books are respected. Pumping Nylon by Scott Tenant is respected too. These are modern though, of course. I should probably look into what standardized body of work kept the tradition going all the years. I didn’t gravitate towards music history in college. It was all performance, composition and theory I focused on. I always just trusted, almost blindly, that my instructors were giving me good info because of their credentials.

That’s probably terribly unhelpful, and for that I deeply apologize.

Is your goal just to learn some classical pieces? Or do you aspire to be a guitarist that other ‘authentic’ classical guitarists wouldn’t sneer at (classical musicians can get snobby haha)? Depending your goals you have different options. Honestly learning what I consider “the way” is overkill for anyone who isn’t pursuing a career as a classical guitarist. And that brings me back to my original feeling of just not playing classical. It is terribly difficult, to play extremely well. It’s a different kind of virtuosity than what we see in CtC. Not as flashy, but the coordination between the hands, attention to detail for tonal consistency and overall concentration required to play with no mistakes, while maintaining musicality is just amazing.

This is one of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire, though it doesn’t even sound it when heard casually.

Imagine if that were played on piano? It would be so easy. That was always a running joke of mine. “If I could play classical guitar well enough to sound like a bad pianist, I’d be happy”.

2 Likes

As an electric guitar player, I found these masterclass videos by Julian Bream to be captivating

There’s also the Pumping Nylon video series

2 Likes

I’m gonna research that for you! I actually run the website of the instructor I had in college, so I could ask him. I do recall him mentioning writings of Francisco Tarrega, one of his pupils named Miguel Llobet, Guiliani etc.

1 Like

Man, I spent so much time on my classical guitar technique…

I went so said conservatory, diploma and all for what it’s worth!

Classical guitar technique is an unsolved mystery. Even some professional players sometimes struggle with basic stuff, and there is a lot of inflexibility and conservatism going on.
It would definitely need another Cracking the Code Team to figure that mess out. Any chance we get some Interviews with great players? @Troy

Sorry for the rant, just be aware that there is a lot of superstition and bulls*** passed around.

Here are my two cents:

Since they are long dead, IMSLP.org is a great source for the original schools of the classical-period guys Also a great source of classical sheet music. Here is a link to the complete Sor Coste Method:

https://imslp.org/wiki/Méthode_Complète_pour_la_Guitare_(Sor%2C_Fernando)

This has lots of descriptions and pictures, and is still relevant in todays context.

More recent, quite influential and very structured is Abel Carlevaro, but it is overpriced.

One thing about all these schools though: They won’t teach you how to play fast!

The basic idea of these traditional methods is, that fast scales are played with alternating two fingers, index (i) and middle finger (m). But none of them tell you to get that up to speed in a way that reliably works. BUT… some people can do it anyway.

I’ll also recommend Matt Palmer here, since he is an amazing guitarist who has written a book on his right hand technique which is - revoultionary - using three fingers for scale playing. Hes is neither the first nor the only Guitarist to do that (e.g. Narciso Yepes), but he has written a good book about it. It is basically what Billy Sheehan does on Bass, but well structured and with fingerings for examples from the actual literature. here he is:

I could go on for hours about this subject, but I don’t wanna ramble anymore than I already have :grin:. I hope this helps!

1 Like

Right now, I’m just at the stage of: “that is a world that I know very little about, and as someone with a general interest in guitar, I ought to know more about it”. Your posting about slurs inspired me to pick the collective brains of any code-crackers who have an insider’s perspective on classical guitar.

@7th11th, interesting…2 guys on here who studied classical guitar in college and both (sort of) saying watch out! lol

My experience was a little different. I think there is some superstition, but I do there is a fair amount of standardization that is present in just about all the greats. There is good stuff in there!

This made me smile. Though it surely does not ‘reliably’ work, I am pretty sure they all say “practice with a metronome and move up a few clicks at a time” hahaha…I’d definitely be interested to see Troy get a magnet on someone with great strict i m technique because I’d love to crack that code. Same with someone with a great tremolo like Pepe Romero. That would be cool.

1 Like

:grin:

That is definitely what I got told in class at every turn. But it doesn’t get you fast! At the height of my day I could maybe reach 138 bpm for sixteenth notes runs with i-m technique, and never got past that. And I am not an exception! In my class were two GFA-Winners and both of them had a faster technique than me, but not by such a large margin, they were both in the 150ish bpm region. My former Professor also cannot play faster than that, and he is a world famous guitarist.

Yet there is Paco (and a lot of the other flamenco guys) with blazing picado at 200 bpms for sixteenths.

But I’m ranting again! Sorry, this is a little bit off-topic.

For this thread, you should definitely check out Gerardo Nuñez and his series about technique. Flamenco technique is very well developed, and they actually have a concept about what the correct picking motion is.

EDIT: Although they also have two schools, Sabicas and Paco de Lucia

Yep, Paco (RIP). Still have goosebumps from their trio (McLaughlin, DiMeola and de Lucia).

Also don’t forget contemporary guitar players. Don Ross, Andy Mckee, Anotoine Dufour… because of these guys I even thought about buying baritone acoustic back in the days ) While their technique may be not so superior, their musicality is what like most.

2 Likes

@Frylock I’m going to search youtube for some good videos on nail shape and tone production and send post them here. If you’d like to pursue traditional classical guitar, everything has to build upon that foundation. From there, it’s maybe some arpeggio exercises, some scales, then learning pieces. I’m with @7th11th that there is BS in classical instruction…hours of scale practice are preached. For what reason I do not know, because the majority of the repertoire only has brief passages of scale work.

Much more time is spent playing melodies while accompanying yourself with chords/bass lines/counterpoint. Once the tone production is second nature, I think the true difficulty of the instrument lies in the left hand. There are some very awkward left hand stretches and finger independence required to keep all the various voices sustained/dampened at the proper time. It’s a different demand than what shredders usually think when someone mentions a guy with a good left hand (i.e. blinding legato).

1 Like

As for flamenko there was nice video from Gerardo Nunez but I don’t know whether it exist with english dubs or subs.

Totally different things. I mean, I spent months trying to get all notes clean while playing stuff like Bach’s C-dur Prelude… and now I spend my time learning the opposite - muting everything that possible ) Electric and acoustic guitar they are like volleyball and basketball - both use a ball indeed but…

1 Like

Agreed, but when most people say ‘acoustic’ I think steel string. A traditional nylon string is then a third instrument. One could be an amazing ‘steel string acoustic’ guitarist, even finger style acoustic. That wouldn’t mean they could instantly convincingly play a challenging classical piece. And you could say the same of an accomplished classical guitarist. He might struggle with a Tommy Emmanual acoustic fingerstyle piece. It’s amazing how 6 strings and the same tuning start to mean nothing when jumping between these disparate worlds. So, excellent point!

Hell yeah. When I moved from nylon to steel I was like ‘what the hell?? why my pulgar sounds as shit? and why these satanic strings are trying to cut me??’
Though, I can’t deny it, through the time I become a big fan of these metal things )

1 Like

By the way, looking at Yngwie’s rotational mechanics I start to think that he practiced flamenko besides classical stuff. Basically, rotation is a foundation of flamenko technique.

I didn’t study flamenco, only went to a master class in college. My understanding was their ‘rasgueado’ technique is accomplished by fanning (extending) the fingers rapidly, in the order pinky, ring, middle, index. Where does the rotational mechanic come into play, in flamenco?

Flamenco right hand technique is quite different to classical guitar right hand technique - in flamenco there is a higher emphasis on volume and speed (which makes sense given the genre’s history as a dance accompaniment), where classical guitar RH technique has an emphasis on dynamics and articulation in polyphony.

I would say a really important technique that was absolutely stressed to me by my teachers for classical guitar is right hand planting, which I didn’t really understand until I had to play contrapuntal music:

‘Rasgeado’ is an umbrella term. Basically, it’s a hit-like strumming. There are a lot of combinations, some use index and thumb, some use other fingers. I did it using p,i,m,a.

Basically everywhere ) The way they use thumb is far from classical, it’s a rotational movement. The same with fast triplets,quadriplets. It’s a fast rotational motion, opposite to classical ‘calm’ position.

sorry for russian dubs ) but the video is obvious itlself. Here he explains the basic techique

1 Like

Wow, cool! I have never seen that.

Yep. Any classical teacher would kill me for that ) But since I’m selftaught I used a combination of techniques from different styles.Basically I was trying to imitate sound of LPs we had at home. And I was a kid so I didn’t know much about styles and genres

2 Likes

A quick answer here.

Classical guitar has an extensive library of methods at your disposal. And there are many “schools” you could follow.

I’m a classical guitarist myself and a fan of following methods.

I’d recommend you:

  1. Join the classical guitar forum DelCamp. It has 100% classical guitar courses ordered in a progressive fashion.

  2. Work on your single line improvisation skills with the classical guitar technique. Not just pick

  3. Learn your triads all over the neck, this is a daily job I enjoy doing (at least 3 times a week).

  4. Work on your repertoire. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking notes of your right and left hand fingerings.

  5. If you do decide to follow DelCamp free courses, by this point you’d have a solid selection of pieces that you’d be able to play. I do recommend you to keep practicing them. Make yourself a schedule where you always are playing a lot of things.

  6. Keep always improving how you practice your instrument.

  7. Play for others, share with others, play duets, play with your electrical guitarists friends and so on.

  8. Use the classical guitar and your new acquired technique in many situations as possible.

  9. Listen to this recording. You will realize how similar the many sections of this musical piece are https://youtu.be/5Mo_EybsGnU so, when you learn to play classical guitar it’s important that you learn to listen deeply and understand the structure of pieces like this one, composed by many similar parts with subtle differences.

  10. Something the method books don’t usually tell you is: To play a classical guitar arrangement is like being a one man band. There is a melody part, a bass part, an intermediate section. You got to be in total control of this, no matter what style you decide to play on the classical/fingerstyle guitar.

  11. Cracking the code material actually helps you being conscious of how you design your fingering patterns on the classical guitar too! Indeed I mentioned it a few days ago here in another post.

3 Likes