Regardless of the style of guitar that you play, having a few classical pieces under your belt is well worth the short amount of time that you’d invest in learning them. Whether you are performing for family, friends, or at a coffee shop, having this repertoire can be emotionally and financially gratifying. But, above all else, the fulfillment of rising to the next rank as a guitarist is often the greatest reward.
In his course, the Classical Guitar Playbook, Fareed Haque aims to quickly get you up to speed with playing relatively easy classical guitar pieces. Without delving into tedious music theory and technique, you can focus on adding these beautiful pieces to your reserve.
Here are nine free video guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Fareed Haque’s Classical Guitar Playbook on TrueFire!
Classical Guitar Lesson – Classical Guitar Primer: 4: Secrets of the Classical Sound
The slight arch in the wrist is an essential part of getting the classical sound. Too flat a wrist will create a plucky, bluegrassy sound. On the other hand, be careful, as too arched a wrist can over-bend the tendons and lead to injury.
The other essential element of the classical guitar sound is a fine instrument. So a few words here about getting a good ax: A fine classical guitar responds to your touch. When you’re playing with good follow through and good right hand position, you can hear the classical sound blooming in response to your touch. You can vibrate a note or play with brighter or darker tone and the audience will hear all those subtleties, even in the back of the room. Conversely a bad ax will NOT respond to your touch and allow you to develop bad habits and unmusical choices, which will lead to being bored and eventually unsatisfied with your classical guitar playing.
All fine guitars have a top made of pine – cedar or spruce or redwood. Spruce is the pine of choice for most fine instruments and historically the greatest classical and flamenco guitars were made out of spruce with either cypress back for cheaper guitars, rosewood and maple for more expensive, prettier guitars. All are concert worthy. In general, old flamencos and classical were the same, just cheaper versions using local cypress wood back and sides for local flamenco journeymen, fancier versions with fancy backwood for classical players. Since the mid 60’s, many guitar makers started to use cedar and redwood as they tend to be more mid-rangy, deeper, and have good sustain. Spruce tends to be brighter and projects well. I’d say many builders and players are reverting to spruce, but a good maker will make a fine instrument out of any wood.
Stay away from guitars that have too much finish. Stick to shellac, oil or urea based varnishes used by Ramirez, Contreras and many other Madrid guitar builders. At least in the beginning try to stick to a traditional fan braced guitar until you get going. Many working players favor flamenco negra guitars, or flamencos with rosewood back and sides. They tend to be traditionally built, easy to play and less expensive.
Don’t shy away from 60’s and 70’s workshop guitars, guitars built on the workshop of famous Spanish builders. They tend to be well made, and supervised by the head of the shop, rather than farmed out to a chop shop overseas.
Other good affordable options are 60’s and 70’s handmade Japanese guitars, WAY WAY undervalued, and many many builders from Paracho, Mexico. They’ve been building for 500 years using the same time honored traditions from Spain, but without all the tariff and import duties tend also to be way way cheaper.
Last, but not least, classical guitars, especially spruce top guitars, often can take 1-2 years to truly open up. A fine instrument is built to last, and can take time to fully mature. So don’t be afraid of used instruments, even those with some cracks on the back. They have gone thru their changes and you can feel like you are getting a known quantity. A new guitar can be a gamble, especially with finer more expensive instruments, as they are likely to go thru lots of changes as they mature. In general, look for a stiffer brighter new guitar as it will open up and mellow out.
Classical Guitar Lesson -Prelude Opus 28 No. 4: Overview – Fareed Haque
This is a beautiful melody, originally for piano. In this section, we take a simple piano piece and arrange it for guitar, so we can discuss the subtle art of transcription a bit here. A transcription technically is an arrangement of a piece from one instrument, in this case piano, to another, in this case classical guitar. Theoretically, it keeps all of the original elements of the piano version, while an arrangement would involve changing essential elements of the piece. But it can get thorny fast. MANY MANY guitarists have published transcriptions that are literal copies of the piano music just meant to be played on the guitar. They usually are really hard and sound crappy. Usually just copying the notes is NOT copying the essential elements of a piece, it’s just making a literal copy. A good transcription takes musical elements and translates them from one instrument to another. So, for example, if a piece is written in Eb for piano, it might be incredibly awkward and out of tune on the guitar, so one might try to move it into a good guitar key like E.
When doing a transcription, ask a few basic questions:
What are the musical ideas here, and how can we best play them on the guitar.
What can the guitar do naturally, the that original instrument cannot?
A great example of this comes from the piano’s natural limitations. The piano is an amazing instrument, but unlike the guitar it has little to no TONAL variety. Right? All of the notes basically have the same timbre or tonal quality. SO, on a piano to change from bright to dark timbre usually involves moving a melody up an octave or down an octave. Very awkward on a guitar to play notes WAY high up, and then way way down low. Usually this can make a piece unplayable on the guitar. BUT, what can a guitar do naturally that a piano can’t? WE CAN CHANGE TONE!!! It’s one of the few things we got on them piano players, so let’s use it! Instead of playing that second part way up in the stratosphere, difficult and out of tune, often just playing it ponticello (Italian for by the bridge), using more nail to make a bright sound, will do it! Down an octave is often just playing tasto (Italian for by the neck) using more flesh to make a dark sound.
This is just one example. Good transcription is an art, the art bringing a piece to life on another instrument. Make sure the piece gains more than it loses in the process. A great example is the many Spanish pieces originally written for the piano, but meant to evoke the sound of the guitar. What better choice than to actually play it on the guitar!! Tarrega, Segovia, Llobet and many others thought it was a good idea, and guitar versions of Spanish piano pieces are now considered standard guitar repertoire, often the composers themselves preferred guitar transcriptions over the original piano versions.
Other good instruments to transcribe are the harpsichord, virginal, organ, lute, mandolin, violin, cello; even string quartets and trios can sound great on one guitar, or a few guitars. You can feel vetted when transcribing Baroque or Renaissance music – it was common for those composers to transcribe their own works and those of others as needed. There are VOLUMES and VOLUMES of amazing music sitting in music libraries around the world, and in your local university, that are rarely heard, if at all, just waiting for you to discover, transcribe and bring to life!! HURRY up!! HURRY UP!!! What are you waiting for???
Classical Guitar Lesson -Prelude Opus 28 No. 4: Performance
So the back story here is useful: Brad Wendkos, our fearless leader over here at TrueFire, mentioned how much he loved this piece, and asked if there was a way to include this one for the course. “It’s so easy too!” Well, not really. Generally speaking, things that sound easy on the piano using ten fingers are hard to play on the guitar using 4…But this challenge is part and parcel of this course, right? Making classical guitar music wherever you are and whenever you need it! So, I stayed up an extra hour or 6 that night and did this version. As with most of these pieces, I’m sight reading, but this one I’m reading even more than most.
Notice that I take my time. A few moments, it’s more time than I wish, but hey, you gotta stay humble. ONLY play what you can, and you’ll build confidence and good character. There is no “GO for IT” in classical guitar, or in most music really. The musician who blindly runs onto the pool without looking first usually cracks her or his head open.
For those interested, check out the original piano score, and compare it to my leetle version.
Generally speaking, there are a few golden principles applied here:
-BIG chords on the piano sound bad on guitar. Fewer notes sound bigger on the guitar. Simply put, the more notes you play on your guitar the less tone per note. So, choose the important ones and chords will sound fat. Play too many and they will sound out of tune and thin and icky. ICK.
– Use open strings and harmonics (and other guitar techniques) to add character and vibe to your version, and to just to make it easier!
– Try to use timbre to change vibe rather than jumping up or down octaves, where the guitar is hard to play and sounds more or less crappy.
– Be creative, but know the style. If you have questions about the style, listen to the masters, and choose what you like. Oh! And if you are so inclined, read books on the music. It’s a really cool technique this “reading books” thing. Lots of amazing info out there that even Mr. Google doesn’t know.
Classical Guitar Lesson – Melody Over Block Chords: Technique: Demo
This is tricky, and there is no simple formula. Generally playing a rest stroke on the melody using the “a” finger is typical, but it can become hard to play the chords at the same time without rolling or arpeggiating them too much. Some folks opt to not use rest strokes on the melody and this creates a more pianistic, even sound, but the melody stands out less. Your choice. Both are valid approaches. Either way, it’s important to be able to do a rest stroke on melody with chords underneath, so practice it until you can do it, then decide which approach you like.
For the chords, try and make sure your fingers are going in towards the guitar, and thumb out and away from guitar as discussed previously. Then, try to add in the Rest Stroke on the “a” finger. Usually straightening out the finger and barely rolling the chord will get you going. Make sure you are playing on the LEFT side of the fingers as this is essential for any of this to work. You can even tilt your hand towards the guitar top like Segovia does to bring out the melody and make the rest stroke a bit easier and fatter. Check out that Vladimir Bobri book, The Segovia Technique or any video of Maestro Segovia to get the idea.
Some guitarists use the right side of the nail to make the “a” finger rest stroke work, and this also is a very good sound. Check out Ida Presti for the classic example of this sound. Glossy and crystal sounding. Careful! Too much right side of the nail can cause bending of the wrist and lead to tendonitis, so while I love, love, love this sound, I’d say use it sparingly, only when needed.
Classical Guitar Lesson -Guide Fingers Galore: Application Tip
Notice that when I work on a tricky move I will usually go thru and say OUT LOUD, “Prepare, Play, Release” to make sure I am isolating each move correctly and completely. 99% of guitarists fail in PATIENT practice. Calm the heck down. It’s gonna be ok. Your goal is NOT to play better than the guitar player next door. Your goal is just to make nice music. So relax, and enjoy the process.
Classical Guitar Lesson – Drume Negrita: Overview
This is a famous Cuban lullaby, “Drume Negrita”, composed by Ernesto Grenet Sánchez. Basically, ‘Sleep, Little One”, set here by the great Cuban composer Leo Brouwer.
Classical Guitar Lesson – Drume Negrita: Performance
Play this one gently and slowly, It’s a lullaby, after all. What’s nice about this one, and most of the pieces included here, is you can feel free to repeat and repeat…and repeat. Add a few simple variations and you’ll be good to go for awhile.
Classical Guitar Lesson – Pizzicato: Technique: Demo
Try to keep in mind the sound of a plucked low string section…cellos and basses. The note has to have the right amount of “bloom”, and the right amount of muting to really create the feeling of a low string section playing pizzicato. So not too much pressure, not too little and right up against the bone saddle, but not over it. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, It has to be just right!
Classical Guitar Lesson – Fingering for Phrasing: Application Tip
In general, try to set up your fingerings to shift between phrases, not in the middle of phrases. Most young players make this mistake and end up making the music stiff, breaking up the melody, and adding awkward, and unmusical shifts that make the piece MUCH more difficult. Think of it like spoken phrases. If you shift in between phrases, just like the end of a sentence, you can take time and use that time to shift cleanly, or even to add expression to your performance. As we all know, the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and “Let’s eat Grandma!” is just where we pause, where we punctuate. So if you don’t want to snack on Grammy’s knobbly toes…know the melody!
Digging these free classical guitar lessons? Check out Fareed Haque’s full course, Classical Guitar Playbook.