Self Teaching for the Classical Guitar
Sometimes it’s hard to find a teacher and sometimes it’s not financially possible to take a lesson every week. Many people choose the path of self instruction, relying on the various resources out there to help them progress. Here’s a few tips that might help.
Talk to Other Classical Guitarists
While lessons are the best bet for developing a sound technique and sense of musicality, just informally chatting with other classical guitarists can help. A lot. There’s many avenues available to do this. One of them is a guitar or classical guitar forum. Ask questions! Listen to and watch other people of your same level.
Repertoire Choice is King
One of the best things a teacher can do is give you repertoire that’s at your level of ability. If you’re self teaching, you have no guidance in repertoire choices. However, asking on a forum or asking a friend is a great way to get some advice on where to start. The Royal College Music guitar series books are another great way to have access to a bunch of carefully graded repertoire. Working from a method book (see below) is another great way to have graded repertoire. Many free sheet music sites (including the ones on the links page) have some grading system available. Start with the lowest level! While it’s tempting to jump in feet first, learning the guitar requires a lot of brain power be devoted to how the hands are moving. If a piece is too hard, chances are all your time will be spent simply trying to get the notes.
It’s exciting to play the guitar! but please, slow down. I tell my students this all the time. Play it perfectly slow rather than screw it up all the time.
Honest Self Evaluation
Teaching yourself requires some very honest self evaluation. Does the piece sound like you want it to? Why? How can you make it sound that way. Other than the musical aspects, there’s the technique. Keeping your wrist generally straight is the foundation of guitar technique. Other than that, LH on the fingertips–fingers 1 and 4 will be slightly on their outside edges, fingers 2 and 3 are more straight on–and RH is mostly about just keeping at the knuckles moving in the same direction. You can see a bit about RH technique on my youtube page. The thing that will take you furthest, however, is not any set of rules about either hand. It’s the ability to think critically about what your hands have to do. What does that LH do when I move to this chord? Is it working? Try different things! Choose the thing that works the best! And be sure to keep that observation for the next time a similar situation comes up.
With out a teacher guiding you on the musical aspects of a piece, it become increasingly important to do more listening. Specifically, try to listen to piece that you are playing. Mimic the performers, then decided if you like what they did. If yes, keep it. If no, throw it out.
Read a lot of stuff about classical guitar. Method books are a great place to start. Pumping Nylon is another good one. It’s also possible to work out of a method book for repertoire choices and technique advice. Below is an amazon store with some of the available methods. Also, this book has some great stuff in it.
Methods are strange creatures. Some move fast and some move slow. The Aaron Shearer method as been around a long time, and is full of very precise technical instructions in part one. The music is in part two. The Christopher Parkening method contains some good music, but at a certain point gets too hard for most beginners. Mel Bay’s Classical Guitar Method by Stanley Yates is the method I use with my students. Generally it moves pretty slow, but in such a way that is just about right for beginners. Note reading is not emphasized as much in the Yates’ method, so some supplementary materials may be needed. The Frederic Noad Solo Guitar Playing method is long and slow moving. A lot of people like this method! I have this method but don’t use it with students; I do think that it’s popular for a reason: it’s pretty good. Tons of music, and a lot of supplementary pieces at the end of the book. There are many more methods out there, but almost any will work at the beginning.
I found your blog earlier this week, and I’ve been really happy to read all of the useful information you have here and the great links you share. This post was particularly helpful to me. A few years ago I took classical guitar lessons at the local conservatory for a year and a half, but eventually I put it aside for other guitar-related pursuits. But I guess it didn’t leave me, because I started searching and found your site and now I find myself dusting off the guitar and opening my old books. However, I’m not likely to find the time and money right now for lessons, so I have to set my own goals and see where it leads.
Something that I have found with my electric guitar work is that if you have the means, record yourself. It forces you to listen critically to what sounds you are actually making with the guitar. That can be troubling, or it can be a revelation: “Hey, I’m not that bad!” 🙂
Thanks for the comments, Simon!
I think you’ll find those year and a half of lessons will come back really quick, and you’ll fall into your old technical habits, etc. You’re absolutely right about recording. All kinds of things pop out when a recording is made. For it’s connectedness of lines that comes out–things that don’t even occur to me while playing. The troubling and “hey I’m not that bad” have to stay in careful balance, though. Can’t feel depressed about your guitar playing all the time.
Hey Chris, nice advice. I’ve been playing electric guitar for nine years, and I want to learn classical guitar just to see if it makes me a better player. Any pieces you can recommend starting out on?
Thanks, Ben. x