How To Play Classical Guitar
By: Ricky Sharples
If you, like many people, are intrigued by the classical guitar and are wondering about how to play it, you might enjoy this little expose. I will be talking about the ways the classical guitar is different from other acoustic guitars and, of course, the techniques employed in playing classical guitar music.
If you look at a classical guitar the first difference you will notice is the way the neck joins the body. Electric guitars and steel string acoustic guitars often have a cutaway neck to allow the guitar player to fret notes at the top end of the scale. This kind of neck is actually a modern innovation. Even though classical guitar players have always utilized the uppermost notes on the guitar fretboard, classical guitars stuck with the original guitar shape.
Another difference between the classical guitar and other kinds of guitars is the width of the neck. On the steel string acoustic guitar the neck is slightly narrower than the original design retained by the classical guitar. If you try to play a classical guitar for the first time you will probably find this difference a little hard to get used to.
The classical guitar uses nylon strings exclusively. They have a very warm, mellow sound. Of course, it is debatable that the nylon string sound is the best for classical music (just look at the success on YouTube of the kid playing Pachabel's Canon on electric guitar) but the use of nylon strings is due partly to tradition and partly to the fact that steel strings are alot harder on the guitar player's fingernails.
Now to the way you play the classical guitar. The basic thing to understand is that plectrums and fingerpicks are not used by classical guitarists. The sound produced is a product of the guitar player's fingertips or fingernails plucking or striking the nylon strings. It is the guitar player's choice whether to use nails or just the flesh of the fingertips. Many people think that it is more difficult to play the guitar without nails, but players who just use their fingertips say it is no more difficult to learn to play that way. If you have your right hand close to the bridge of the guitar you will produce a sharp, dry tone. If you pluck the strings with your right hand nearer the neck you will get a warm, mellow sound.
The plucking of the classical guitar strings can be done in two ways. The "rest" stroke is where the thumb or the fingers pluck the string and come to rest on the next string. The "free" stroke is where the thumb and fingers attack the string in such a way as to avoid the adjacent strings. If you need to know more about the difference between these two techniques a search on the internet will give you videos and pictures that illustrate the two strokes. When you try to use these techniques you will notice the marked difference in sound. Another technique used in classical guitar playing is the tremelo technique where the right hand thumb plays a bass note followed by the index, middle and ring fingers playing melody notes in quick succession. A famous piece employing the tremelo is Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tárrega. Finally a rather tricky technique is used for playing solos using the sound of harmonics. This involves the right hand index finger damping the string while the ring finger plucks.
When you play chords by scraping the right hand fingers or thumb across the strings it is called a rasgueado. You can strum chords with the thumb using a down stroke, the index finger using up or down strokes or, less commonly, by using the flamenco rasgueado which entails the little finger, ring finger, middle finger, index finger and thumb following each other in a down stroke across the strings.
I realize that you are going to need to do further research to see what these guitar techniques look and sound like, but if you are interested in playing classical guitar or using classical techniques to play modern music, sheet music and tabs for classical guitar are readily available on the internet.
Ricky Sharples has many more tips for guitar players of all levels at his blog Learn How To Play A Guitar For Free, a continuously updated directory of free guitar lessons, videos, chord charts and lots of useful guitar stuff.
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