Should you learn to play classical guitar?

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One of the questions that I’ve heard many guitarists ask is whether they should learn how to play classical guitar. I’ve stated often on my blog that I studied classical guitar for a few years in college, and I can state unequivocally that those two years made me a better guitar player. However, learning to play the classical guitar is not for everyone.

Learning to play classical guitar music will not make immediately make you a better rock, blues or metal guitar player. It will, however, make you a better technical player, which often translates to a better command of the instrument. This in turn will help you get better at other musical styles. During the first year or so of learning to play classical guitar music, you primarily focus on technique, rather than on making music. This lays the foundation that you can then build upon.

When I started playing the classical guitar, my guitar teacher at the time indicated that the classical guitar is a different instrument than the standard acoustic guitar, and he was right. A classical guitar is not simply an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. The classical guitar contains different dimensions and has a wider neck that allows for more precise finger picking. If you’re familiar with playing a standard acoustic dreadnought guitar, then playing a classical guitar will feel awkward at first. However, I found the classical guitar to be quite comfortable after getting used to it.

Additionally, classical guitar music is very different from modern rock, blues and metal music. With classical music, you should attempt to play the music as it is written; there’s not a lot of room for improvisation when playing classical music. This isn’t always true, but more often than not it is. Thus, learning to play classical music will not directly help you improvise when playing rock or jazz music, but the music theory foundation that is often built in correlation with learning the classical guitar will help you learn the instrument in detail so that you can improvise when playing other styles of music.

Although more rigid than other playing styles, I love playing classical music and the classical guitar. As I stated earlier, I believe that the technique I built while learning to play the classical guitar has ultimately translated to other styles, but it wasn’t a direct translation. If you want to get a better command of the instrument, I’d recommend attempting to learn to play the classical guitar. To truly gain any benefits for other playing styles, you should be willing to commit to spending the time to build the technical foundation, and I believe doing so will reap rewards in the future.

* Photo from Yuen-Hui (Flickr)

Posted in: Beginners, General

9 Responses to “Should you learn to play classical guitar?”

Are there any resources you would recommend for learning to play classical? I had a few months of tutoring long, long ago. It started me down the path of finger picking, but I never really try to learn any more classical pieces or technique.

September 18th, 2007 at 14:25

Hey David,

I really enjoyed Scott Tennant’s (from the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet) method book titled Pumping Nylon:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/088284721X/

In the book, he delves into technique and also includes several musical pieces that focus on the specific techniques being discussed, which makes the learning a little more fun. He has also created a few repertoire books to go along with Pumping Nylon. You can also get tab and DVD versions of Pumping Nylon.

Christopher Parkening has also created what I think are very good method books:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0793585201/
and
http://www.amazon.com/dp/079358521X/

September 18th, 2007 at 16:20

I personally think that I didn’t really benefit that much from playing classical guitar except when I play acoustic now my right hand picking technique is pretty good. Myleft hand is still as sloppy as the day I started playing electric and I was continually told this by my teacher at uni Simon Dinnigan.

When I pick up an electric everything I learned at uni on classical goes right out the window, there’s nothing like getting your thumb over the neck and smashing out some Stevie Ray Vaughan!

September 18th, 2007 at 21:14
Josh

There’s certainly truth in that! While I often will selectively use the technique that I learned for classical based on what’s appropriate, I still think that the focus and determination that I learned playing classical have helped me, and I now know “proper” technique that I can use when needed. Did I have to study classical guitar to obtain this knowledge? No, I don’t think so, but it definitely helped more than it hurt, IMHO.

September 18th, 2007 at 21:20

I’d say, learn classical guitar if you really like classical guitar music and really want to make that sound and make and enjoy that music on guitar. Learning it as a basis to improve technique or focus or what have you should come second. Do it cuz you really want to play the music.

Whenever I work with folks who want to tip their toes in classical guitar, I encourage them to pick up a basic classical guitar book that has short classical pieces (about a piece per page) and an accompanying CD. That way, the pieces are easy to start with, and the CD helps you to understand what the music sounds like. I do this simply because most folks who want to try it typically don’t read music and aren’t very familiar with the repertoire. So, this route is one that gives you the opportunity to start playing something right away and encourage you to grow.

I can’t remember some of the specific titles of the books, but, if you go to Amazon.com in the books section and search for classical guitar books, you’ll get a few and you can pick from there. They’re all basically the same, they have some of the same traditional pieces. But, you just gotta make sure the CD comes with it, so you can “listen” and play.

That’s the IG two cent. Great post…

IG

September 19th, 2007 at 10:10
Josh

I would agree, IG. Classical guitar isn’t for everyone. Even though I think it will help round you out as a musician, you should not pursue it if that style of music doesn’t appeal to you.

I really like the Pumping Nylon book from Scott Tennant that I mentioned earlier in the comments, so I’d highly recommend picking that up if you’re just getting started. It’s a great book for people just getting started with classical guitar. Buy the one with the CD so that you have everything you need to listen and play.

September 21st, 2007 at 22:57

Hey, nice article. I study and play jazz electric guitar right now but im thinking about starting some classical guitar lessons. Especially since I purchased a nice classical guitar on a recent trip to Spain.

September 22nd, 2007 at 23:48
David Martin

Hi there

I have been playing electric guitar for 2 years starting off in the heavy metal genre and moving into rock instrumental music such as joe satriani. Im thinking of learning classical guitar,at the same time as my electric guitar, question is would this benefit my electric guitar playing.

August 4th, 2009 at 14:09

I really enjoyed this and hope to see more soon.

August 7th, 2009 at 15:31

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