Date: 13 Dec 1997
From: Joshua Weage
Newsgroups: rec.music.classical.guitar, rec.answers, news.answers
rec.music.classical.guitar Frequently Asked Questions
RMCG-FAQ Edition 5 7th November 1994
Edited by Joshua Weage ([email protected]).
Major contributions and many thanks go to Chris Goodwin
who was the prior maintainer of this FAQ. Stuart LeBlanc
who has contributed much to the playing technique section
of the FAQ. Len Frazier who has in fact written about half
of this FAQ. Brian Egras compiled the list of music,
composers and personalities in the classical guitar world.
Other peoples contributions have come directly from the
news group letters.
To find the answer to a listed question, search forward with the
search parameter ‘A*.*’ where *.* refers to the number of the
A cross by a question number indicates that there is no answer for it.
If you feel you could write a good answer, please do and send it to me and
I’ll add it. If you would like to add a question, tell me about it. It
won’t appear if you don’t tell me about it.
Any spelling mistakes, errors, and out-right fallacies you notice should be
brought to my attention please! Anyone who would like to help compile
a more complete FAQ is welcome to, and if you have any comments
please tell me. The answers given are not written in granite, and if you
feel you can write a better answer, please do so and send it to me.
Section 1 — Beginners Corner
1.1 What distinguishes a classical guitar, and a classical guitarist?
1.2 I want to start playing and need a guitar. Which sort (Quick guide
to buying a guitar)?
1.3 How do I start to learn (teacher or book)?
1.4 How do I find a teacher?
1.5 What are the good books?
1.6 Should I learn tab or ‘proper’ music notation?
1.7 What is a good sample of classical guitar music that someone who doesn’t
know much about it should listen to?
1.8 Where can I get sheet music, strings and other accessories?
1.9x I’m new to classical guitar — what pieces can I play?
1.10 How do I tune my guitar?
1.11 Where can I find classical guitar music (TAB and notation) on the net?
1.12x What is the difference between an A-frame and a footstool?
1.13x Who is a good teacher in my area?
Section 2 — Strings and other problems
2.1 What are the best strings for me?
2.2 How do I take care of my nails?
2.3 How do I prevent my nails from breaking?
2.4 How do I repair my nails?
2.5 How can I quickly memorize a piece?
2.6 How much should I practice (Also: My fingers hurt!)?
2.7 How do I avoid RSI, carpel tunnel syndrome, etc?
2.8 You know that piece in the advert for … , what is it?
2.9 I’m taking my guitar on an aeroplane, to the antartic, then to the
Saraha desert, and then to the moon. How do I protect it?
2.10 Who are the composers and performers for the classical guitar?
2.11 What are the differences between classical guitar and flamenco guitar?
2.12 Can anyone recommend some flamenco music to listen to?
2.13 How do I learn to sight read?
A1.1 What distinguishes a classical guitar and a classical guitarist?
A classical guitar has some specific features in its anatomy.
It has six strings with the treble strings made of nylon and the
bass strings made from nylon wrapped in brass wire. The body is
symmetrical ie. no cut-outs at the higher frets and is made of wood.
There are no electronics involved, so no pickups — volume comes from simple
resonance in the guitar body.
A classical guitarist is more than someone who simply plays
a classical repetoire. The way the guitar is played is also important.
Essentially, a classical guitarist plays by plucking the strings
with his right hand fingers and thumb — strumming is a special effect, and
no pick is ever used. There are other strong recommendations on the general
posture of the entire body and guitar for classical guitarists that
distinguish them from other guitarists.
A1.2 I want to start playing the guitar and to buy one. Which guitar
should I buy? (A quick guide to buying a guitar)?
If you are a complete beginner then I don’t suggest you go out and
buy a guitar worth hundreds or thousands, but I guess you don’t
need telling. On the other hand, some cheap guitars are really
awful — so here is how to try and tell the difference between a
bargain and a bad banjo.
The price of a guitar is largely determined by the woods
used in its construction — cheap guitar bodies are made from plywood
or laminates. As the price increases woods such as rosewoods, cedar
and spruce will be encountered. These latter woods will also
age well, with the sound of the guitar improving with time, unlilke the
cheaper variety which are at their best when new. As a beginner,
there is little harm in buying a plywood guitar — as long as it
fits some other criterion…
In general, the guitar should be solid with no loose
bits inside — giving the guitar a small shake will determine this.
The guitar’s neck should be straight. This can be checked by sighting
along its length. Good fret work can also be checked at this
time by running your fingers along the edge of each side of the
neck. Each fret position will need checking to make sure that there
is no buzzing of strings on poor frets. Do this simply by playing
a note at every single fret position on the board, ensuring
you place a your finger close behind each fret when you do so.
The action of a guitar (the height of the strings above the
fret board) is down to personal choice, but it is recommended
that you pick a guitar with low action (strings near the
fingerboard) as this will make fretting easier.
Do not buy a steel string guitar and replace the strings
with nylon ones. There are two main reasons for this. Classical
guitars are less rigid than steel strung ones, allowing the
strings to vibrate the wood more, producing better sound
quality. Secondly, steel string guitars tend to have necks which
vary in width. A classical guitar should be 2-1/8″ across over its
entire length — you’ll need the width to correctly finger both
the left and right hands.
Japanese makes, such as Yamaha, Takamine and
Rodriguez are cheap and quite cheerful, usually being perfectly
adequate for beginners. It is only after some months/years practice
that you may want to spend the money on an instrument where
the tone is something very important to you.
One overall guideline is this: take someone who
is experienced in guitars with you. For example, a tutor (if
you have one) or a friend who has been playing classical guitar
for several years. Tutors may also be able to show
you the good shops, good bargains, or offer you guitars
from other students of theirs who are progressing onto
a finer instrument.
Cost: cheap and cheerful: 50-180 pounds sterling.
expensive: 350 — thousands pounds sterling.
A1.3 How do I start to learn (teacher or book)?
Undoubtedly it is better to have a teacher. A good teacher
will be able to guide you correctly through the technical
points of posture, hand position, etc. far better than photos
or illustrations in texts. It is possible to learn through books,
but it will take longer and you may develop poor habits that limit
your abilities and are hard to break after months of playing.
Of course, the down point about a teacher is that they
cost about 17-20 pounds an hour ($15-$25 US)
A very useful approach is to find a teacher that offers
group classes with 4-6 students. The cost per lesson is
usually much lower, and you’ll learn both by direct instruction
and observing your classmates approach problems. You can later
schedule additional group or private classes as you desire.
In addition, your teacher will be invaluable in terms of
advice on beginner instruments, sources for music, strings,
and other beginners in your area with whom you might practice.
My advice is to get a teacher if you can, but if you can’t,
work closely with good, reliable texts.
A1.4 Where can I find a teacher?
Look in your local papers, and also ask at your local library
where they could well have a list of music tutors. In the UK, the
monthly magazine «Classical Guitar» maintains a list of teachers
who subscribe. Also, local music shops often have a list of teachers
who offer either group or private lessons.
A good source of information about teachers is your local guitar society,
or any college level institution with a music program. In the U.S., you
can also contact teachers through the Guitar Foundation of America. When
you contact a prospective teacher, do not hesitate to ask about:
o Qualifications. Is the teacher an active performer? Does he or she
have a degree? Does he or she have a great deal of teaching
experience, in years and numbers of students? Are his or her
students satisfied with their lessons? Is their work primarily in
classical guitar, or jazz/rock/whatever? Although these questions
do not necessarily indicate a good or bad teacher, this is important
information to use in your final decision.
o Approach to study. Does the teacher emphasize the importance of
information and the structured introduction and application of it?
The teacher should be able to clearly articulate what you will
learn from them. Students who really want to become better players
quickly identify teachers who seem to spend most of the lesson
providing vacuous entertainments, or who do nothing but point out
wrong notes and assign new repertoire, or who offer little advice
other than to «practice harder.» Be particularly wary of those
who do not take immediate and specific measures in response to
any painful condition which may arise.
In general, find a teacher whose competency you believe you can basically
trust, and give them your best effort. As your studies progress, judge
whether you are learning anything — you’re entitled to receive your
A1.5 What are the «good» books?
If you take classes from a teacher, you’ll want to follow his/her
recommendations for study guides, methods, etc.
If you decide to study on your own, either as an added aspect to
class instruction or for your primary learning, the following books
have received good reports:
«Solo Guitar Playing» two volumes, by Frederick Noad. Cost: 10 pounds
($16.95 US) per volume.
This book will teach you good posture, teach you to
sight read sheet music and includes about 30 pieces which
have study notes (which I’ve found very useful). It will take
you around two years to go through the first volume — it took me
2.5 years — making it extremely good value for money. It requires
patience to begin with — learning to read the music part and getting
acquainted with the basics takes time, but is necessary and
worth it. Once this is past however, the pieces
start coming thick and fast and many are extremely pleasant to play.
«The John Mills Classical Guitar Tutor», John Mills. Cost: 10 pounds
Mills’ takes a different tack on teaching, at once less technical than
the Noad method but also offering more in-depth discussion and guidance.
Where Noad teaches notes in sequential order and arranges exercises to
fit, Mills approaches the taks more by teaching key and offering music
in the key last learned. Mills maintains a more informal tone through
his book, and often discusses points of technique more fully.
For the beginner, Mills offers an excellent page of advice on selecting
a first instrument — the closest you’ll come to having a friend with
you in the shop.
Both the Noad and Mills method books offer cassette tapes of the pieces
included, as well as supplementary books of music, ie. Noad’s, «100 Graded
Classical Guitar Studies» and Mills’ «Music from the Student Repertoire.»
«Learning the Classic Guitar,» A. Shearer, three volumes: ($12.95-$18.95 US
This method is most effective under the guidance of a teacher, who
presumably has mastered the technical concepts contained in Volume 1;
in this situation you will only need Volume 2 and a notebook. For
self-study however, these books are still unsurpassed in their
presentation of a comprehensive, accurate and organized body of
information on all aspects of playing: technique, reading,
interpretation, memorization and performance development. Technical
concepts are introduced in a measured and coherent fashion, each one is
applied in exercises and compositions specifically created for each point
of progress. Additionally, the music is composed (by Alan Hirsh) in a
clear and attractive neoclassical/neoromantic style which is ideally
suited to developing the student’s basic interpretive skills. Properly
implemented, this method offers an integrated study of technique, music
reading and music interpretation, which students consistently find
fascinating from the first few lessons onward.
— Stuart LeBlanc ([email protected])
There are many other tutors available, from modern works (the Parkening method
books) to reprints of older works (Carcassi’s «Classical Guitar Method.»)
And, of course, you need not limit yourself to a single method. You will find
good advice in having both the Noad and Mills methods available, for example,
especially if you are attempting to teach yourself.
1.6 Should I learn tab or ‘proper’ music notation?
«Proper» music notation as we know it today is the result of several thousand
years’ attempts to place music on paper. «Tab» or tablature, while still used
in historic reprints of music for the lute, etc. does not offer the best
set of tools for conveying music. The great majority of music offered the
classical guitarist is provided in formal music notation, ie. notes on staves.
Any of the above mentioned tutors provides for learning the musical notes and
staff along with the placement of those notes on the neck of the instrument.
If your goal is to play anything beyond the simplest of folk songs, you will
need to learn «proper» musical notation.
In addition to the above tutors, there are several guitar note «spellers»
available, workbooks to assist you in learning to read music and each note’s
place on the guitar. (Note: Classical guitar music is written on only the
treble, or upper staff, and is pitched an octave off the written notation.)
A 1.7 What a good sample of classical guitar CD’s that someone who doesn’t
know much about them could listen to?
Some good selections are (in no particular order):
Manuel Barrueco plays Albeniz & Turina (EMI cdc 7 54382 2)
Albeniz: Suite Espanola, op.47
Turina: Fandanguillo, op.36
Sevilla (Fantasia), op.29
Homenaje a Tarrega, op.69
Manuel Barrueco plays ‘300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces
(Vox Box CD3X 3007)
(1) Bach: Suite No. 4 in E Major
Bach: Suite No. 2 in A Minor
Albeniz: First Suite Espanola, op. 47
(2) Scarlatti: Sonatas
Paganini: Sonata in A Major, op.3 no. 1
Giuliani: Variations sur les Folies d’Espagne, op. 45
Paganini: Sonata in E Minor, Op. 3 no. 6
Giuliani: Gran Sonata Eroica in A Major, Op. 150
Granados: Spanish Dances
(3) Granados: Spanish Dances (continued)
Villa-Lobos: Etudes for Guitar
Guarnieri: Estudo No. 1
Chavez: 3 pieces for Guitar
Villa-Lobos: Suite populaire bresilienne
Andres Segovia plays ‘The Segovia Collection Volume 7: Guitar Etudes’
Aguado: Eight Lessons for Guitar (1-8)
Sor: Studies for the Guitar (10, 15, 19, 6, 3, 17, 5, 4)
Giuliani: Studies for the Guitar
Tarrega: Study in the form of a Minuet
John Williams (Sony SBK 48 168)
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Rodrigo: Fantasia para un gentilhombre
Giuliani: Concerto in A major, op.30
Vivaldi: Concerto in D major, RV 93
John Williams «Spirit of the Guitar- music of the Americas»
(CBS MK 44898)
includes works by:
Augustin Barrios Mangore
Guitar Player presents Legends of the Guitar, Classical
[Rhino R2 70563]
1) Sonata, K.336- Domenico Scarlatti, David Tanenbaum (gtr.)
2) Allegro (from English Suite No.3)- J.S. Bach, Ida Presti &
Alexandre Lagoya (gtrs.)
3) Variations on the Russian Folk Song «Spinning Wheel»- Mikail
Visotsky, Alexander Ivanov-Kramskoy (gtr.)
4) Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart, op.9-
Fernando Sor, Nigel North (gtr.)
5) Cappriccio No.5- Nicolo Paganini, Eliot Fisk (gtr.)
6) Danzas Espanolas, op.37 no.2 «Oriental», Pepe & Celin Romero (gtrs.)
7) Homenaje a Debussy- Manuel de Falla, Jose Rey de la Torre (gtr.)
8) Sueno en la Floresta- Agustin Barrios Mangore, John Williams (gtr.)
9) Etude no.7- Heitor Villa-Lobos, Eduardo Fernandez (gtr.)
10) Fandanguillo- Joaquin Turina, Andres Segovia (gtr.)
11) Cochichando- Alfredo Vianna (Pixinguinha), Sharon Isbin (gtr.)
12) El Polifemo de Oro- Reginald Smith-Brindle, Julian Bream (gtr.)
13) Brazilliance- Laurindo Almeida, The Falla Trio (gtrs.)
14) Micro Piezas- Leo Brouwer, Sergio & Adair Assad (gtrs.)
15) Gigue- Anthony Newman, Benjamin Verdery (gtr.)
16) Chase- Michael Starobin, David Starobin (gtr.)
17) Sunburst- Andrew York, Andrew York (gtr.)
«Guitar and Flute Duets» by Peter Draper.
Some cool stuff. Bach, Mozart etc.
A 1.8 Where can I find music, strings, and other accessories for classical guitar?
To varying degrees, all music shops will be able to help a guitarist
in need of equipment or music. However, there are specialized
retailers, the major ones being Guitar Solo (California,USA),
Orphee (Ohio,USA), Spanish Guitar Centre (Nottingham, UK) and
Musician’s friend (OR,USA).
1411 Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.
Phone: Voice: 415/896-1144; FAX, 415/668-2816.
Offers a frequently updated catalogue of thousands of pieces of guitar
music (methods, study guides, books, solo, duet, ensemble, etc.) as well
as cassettes and CDs featuring guitar, and a wide selection of strings and
accessories. The current catalogue (15th edition, February 1994) is available
at $4.00 US, $12.00 all other countries (payable in US dollars only, so
credit cards may be easiest here).
Hint: While Guitar Solo obviously tries to keep a large stock, they are often
out of stock on titles or some supplies. If you elect to have them Back Order
out-of-stock items, you’ll pay shipping on each item as it is shipped. At
times you may pay more in shipping charges than the item’s actual cost. It
may be best to ask for No Back Orders and simply order the items again at a
Editions Orph’ee, Inc.
407 North Grant Ave., Suite 400
Columbus, OH, 43215-2157
Orph’ee provide a catalogue which is given out free on request,
although does not attempt to provide the entire guitar repetoire
like Guitar Solo. They also have a database of composers and
performers available. These two items can be obtained either
direct from Orph’ee or through other good retailers. They also stock
a good range of equipment and accessories.
Spanish Guitar Centre,
44 Nottingham Road, New Basford,
Nottingham, NG7 7AE
Tel.: 0115 9622709 (or from the US, 011-44-(0)115-9622709)
Fax.: 0115 9625368 ( » 011-44-(0)115-9625368)
The Spanish Guitar Centre has possibly the most comprehensive catalogue
of all. They will do mail order, even to the US at
competitive prices. That’s all I know…
Musician’s Friend, PO Box 4520, Medford, OR 97501, USA.
Phone: Voice: 503/772-5173.
Primarily dedicated to electronic musicians (electric guitars, keyboards,
amplifiers, effects), Musician’s Friend offers excellent prices and good
service on several items of interest to the classical guitarist. Their
price on strings is one of the lowest available (D’Addario Pro Arte at
$4.99 per set) and they have equally good pricing on tuners, music stands,
etc. Six month subscriptions to catalogues are free. International orders are
A 1.10 How do I tune my guitar?
6th (fattest string) = E, 5th=A, 4th=D, 3rd=G, 2nd=B, 1st=E.
(1st string is E above middle C.)
There are several ways of doing this but all can be put into two classes.
The first is to tune a single string and then tune all the other strings
relative to this one, or otherwise to tune each string to another
It is important to remember that guitar scoring is written an octave
higher than it actually sounds. Middle C is at 256Hz. The 1st fret on
the 2nd string also this frequency. This makes 5th fret 1st string (A)
440Hz, and the open 5th string 110Hz.
Many guitarists now rely upon widely available electronic tuners.
In my humble opinion I think it is important to learn to tune a guitar
without the aid of electronics — one day you be caught with your
battery flat. However, I started with such a tuner, but to my
delight found that I developed a sense of pitch that enabled me to
tune my guitar adequately and easily. But back to the electronics…
Many of these incorporate a small microphone for tuning acoustic instruments,
with excellent models available from Korg, Seiko, Sabine, Matrix, etc.
Models for guitar usually include auto note selection, so the guitarist only
strikes each string and either a meter or range of LEDs lights to show how
far from tune the string is, flat or sharp, etc. A reliable example is the
Korg GT-3, ($29.98 from Musician’s Friend. see: Sources). Chromatic tuners,
which offer all notes (guitar specific tuners provide for the six strings
only) are also available, handy for those who explore alternate tunings or
pieces that require a specific string be tuned down a step, etc.), such as
the Matrix Automatic Chromatic Tuner ($54.95, Guitar Solo).
Instead of electronics, you can use pitch pipes. These are cheap and provide
a reference for each string. Just blow into the right pipe and tune the
string until they are in tune (you know when your reaching the right pitch
because you’ll hear a kind of wavering, or beating, or the note. When you
fine tune the string so that the beating goes away — your exactly in tune!)
Instead of pipes, you can use another instrument, such as a piano or another
guitar. If you plan to play with someone else, this is often the
best way as long as the first instrument is known to be tuned correctly.
OR, the other class, is to get a single reference point and tune your
guitar from that. Ideal for this is an A=440Hz tuning fork. Tune
the 5th string to this by striking the fork on a hard object like
your knee and placing it on the sound board of your guitar to amplify it.
Once the 5th string is in tune by this method, or in fact any other, follow
Tune the 6th string by fretting it at the 5th fret and comparing
it with the open 5th string.
Tune the 4th string 7th fret with either the open 5th or 5th string
12th fret harmonic.
tune the 3rd string 2nd fret in the same way.
tune the 2nd string 10th fret in the same way.
tune the 1st string 5th fret in the same way.
What you shouldn’t do is tune the guitar by comparing the open string with
the adjacent and lower pitched string fretted at the 5th position all the way
through the strings (except of course for the 3rd and 2nd strings). This is
because any errors you make in the tuning will be compounded by this method.
The above described method elliminates this. Also, do not tune your
guitar by comparing the 5th and 7th fret
harmonics of adjacent strings. The reason for this is that your classical
guitar is designed and built as a tempered instrument ie. it follows the
tempered tuning, rather than the diatonic tuning. To use the 5th and 7th
harmonics to tune your guitar will mean, strictly speaking, that your
guitar will be out of tune.
A 1.11 Where can I find classical guitar music (TAB and notation) on the net?
FTP Sites: For all of these ftp sites use the user name ‘anonymous’ and your
e-mail address as the password.
insane.apana.org.au /user/pcc/PCMUSIC — contains music for PS printers
/user/pcc/MACMUSIC — postscript files for the MAC
«/GUITAR — concert studies and minuets
classical guitar home page: http://www.teleport.com/~jdimick/cg.html
classical guitar faqs http://www.me.mtu.edu/~jpweage/
— Personal Sites —
http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~fjorado/felipe.html (music instruction software)
— Stores —
BPM Music Express http://www.csn.org/~derick/
A 2.1 What are the best strings for me?
There are at least a dozen primary string companies producing product for
the classical guitar, and each company offers a selection of finish and
tension. Where does one start to sort out the lot?
While classical guitars were once fitted with gut (usually swine) strings,
the introduction by Augustine of nylon strings in the 1940s has allowed for
much more reliability in strings. All companies offer good quality control
at all ranges. Nylon strings do not, usually, have a long life once installed
on the guitar, so price will likely be a prime consideration. The beginner,
while learning, might change strings every few months, while professional
players might use a new set every day. Over time you’ll begin to hear when
strings go «dead» and need replacement.
Among the more popular brands at present are Augustine, D’Addario, GHS,
Chorus, Martin, Savarez, Hannabach and private label strings offered by Guitar
Solo and other music shops. Many brands offer several «levels» of quality and
type, as well as two or three tensions, ie. normal, hard, extra hard.
Prices can vary from $5.00 US to $25.00 US (3 pounds to 9 pounds UK)
for a full set of six strings.
Your selection of string will be greatly influenced by how each feels and
sounds on your guitar. A normal tension Augustine, for example, placed on
a guitar with low «action» (less distance between the string and frets) may
produce a lot of buzz and noise, while a normal tension GHS string (by GHS
measure) offers a higher tension that reduces the noise. (Alternately, you
may decide to use lower tension strings and have the nut and bridge of your
guitar altered to a higher action, or to use higher tension strings and have
the action lowered. Consult a good guitar technician/repair shop.)
A suggested start for quality strings for the beginner would include
D’Addario’s «Pro Arte» series offered in Normal, Hard, and Extra Hard
tensions, which have won wide acceptance among many classical guitarists.
Souces for strings include local shops, though discounts are often meager
for something you’ll replace so often. In the US, Musician’s Friend offers
D’Addario (Pro Arte Normal and Hard Tension, $4.99) and Augustine strings
at low prices. Guitar Solo offers a much wider range of strings, including
single strings, at attractive, though somewhat higher, prices. (See: Sources
for Music, Strings, etc. in this FAQ section).
A 2.2 How do I take care of my nails?
The length, shape and surface of your fingernails have a direct effect
on your playing: how you care for your nails will affect your music as
much as how you practice. A short, well-shaped, smooth-edged nail
will facilitate fingerstroke and produce a clear tone; a neglected
nail will interfere with right hand efficiency and will sound raspy.
Differences between individual nails will disrupt right hand technique
even further, particularly in alternation and arpeggios. For the
developing student, this can cause a great deal of wasted practice and
frustration. Finally, regular and proper care of your nails is the
single, foremost way to prevent them from breaking and requiring
Although everyone has differences in the curvature, thickness,
resiliency, texture and other qualities of their nails, observing the
following can significantly improve your playing. You’ll need a
diamond file and 500 grade sandpaper (preferably open coat, not
waterproof; a multigrade cosmetic nail buffer can also substitute for
filing: Hold the file pointing toward your face (looking down its
length), with the finer surface facing upward. Holding your
finger at a ninety degree angle (perpendicular) to the file,
place the nail on the surface. The vector of your finger
should be around forty-five degrees to the plane of the
file, so that the nail is being filed somewhat from beneath.
File the nail by evenly drawing the file back and forth with
the left hand, exerting even pressure and guiding it in
place with the right thumb.
length: Hold your hand with the palm facing you, fingers extended
with the tips pointing upward. You should see the tips of
the nails just peeking past the fingertips (1 to 2 mm past
the fingertip is plenty). Excessive length causes the nail
to drag along the string, causing wasted effort and
disrupting the timing of alternation and arpeggios. Uneven
lengths are also disruptive; make sure no nail is
significantly longer or shorter than the others.
Note that excessive length is common among players with
little or no training; the extra length requires less
precise nail placement during fingerstroke and can thus make
playing seem easier. If you are significantly shortening
your nails, you may initially find your fingerstroke is less
accurate. If so, spend some time concentrating on placing
on the exact same spot of the nail for every fingerstroke.
shape: Hold your fingers pointing toward you, so you see only the
edge of each nail; each edge will form a more straight or a
more curved line. Now look at the entire nail, from above.
If filed perpendicularly and from beneath, the straight-
edged nails should have a more square shape, and the curve-
edged nails should have a more elliptical shape. If the
edge of the nail is straight but the shape is not very
distinctly square, you’ve probably been filing the nail from
its side and the nail will have to grow out a bit to develop
more body on the corner. If the corners of the square
shapes are sharply pointed, use the file to round them (but
don’t alter the basic shape).
surface: After the nail is filed, its edge must be finely polished.
Take a small portion of 500 grade open coat sandpaper and
rub, with a back and forth motion, the same spot of
sandpaper on the edge of the nail, particularly
concentrating on the left side of the nail. The surface of
the sandpaper will wear down as you rub, creating an
increasingly smoother polishing surface. Keep rubbing until
the edge is as smooth as a glass surface.
After you’re finished, visually inspect each nail for consistency in
length and shape. Use the thumbnail edge to feel each fingernail edge
for flaws in smoothness and shape. If your nails are properly shaped
with the edges finely polished, there should be a distinct increase in
ease of execution, and also in tone quality.
A 2.3 How can I prevent my nails from breaking?
One policy that may help is to rub skincream or nail cream
into the cuticles of the nail, twice a day. This will strengthen the
nails in a general way and make them more resistant to damage.
The following tips have also been successful for at least the author:
1. Avoid getting your nails wet. Use rubber gloves when you
have to wash dishes, the car, etc.
2. Get into the habit of using your left hand for things such
as opening doors/drawers, flicking switches, anything where
you might catch the nails on something.
3. Let your left thumbnail grow a little long so you can use it
for prying instead of the right one.
4. Keep the nail edge very smooth with a file and ultra fine
sand paper (around 600 grit). This will prevent little snags
which can catch on things and maybe rip off the nail tip.
5. Apply two or three layers of clear nail polish. Put polish
on the overhanging underside of the nail too.
6. Don’t let the nails get too long. They can hamper your playing
and they may break easier.
A 2.4 Can I repair a partially broken nail?
Yes, but it isn’t altogether a good idea or stunningly easy. Prevention
is better than cure (cf. A2.2). However, for some people, such as
performers, a damaged or split nail must be repaired.
Get some superglue and use this to put the nail back together
and in place. Do I need to say be careful? Why not. BE CAREFUL. Alternatively,
or in addition, buy a little pack which is designed for this purpose — I
believe they sell them in pharmacies. They consist of little bits of tissue
paper strengthened by fibers and a bottle of nail varnish. Follow
the instructions on the box, but basically its a case of pre-wet the
tissue with nail varnish, place it on the wounded nail and then apply
several more coats of nail varnish. Leave to dry.
A 2.5 How can I quickly memorize a piece?
There are many approaches to take, and it’s probably a good idea to use
as many of them as possible.
First, try to learn what the large scale structure of the piece is. Is it
binary? Ternary? Rondo? That way you are basically beginning by cutting
it up into more manageable chunks.
Second, look for phrasing and other types of musical structures.
Try to learn it by ear (can you sing the piece all the way through without
the music or the guitar?). This is easier for people who are more «aurally»
orientated (like me).
If you are more «visual» try to memorize the page to as great an extent as
you can. The harp prof here gave a lecture about memory & learning
techniques, and said that visual memory really was more stimulated by
looking up (and to the left, I think) so if you can, try placing your music
stand VERY high (for practice & learning) such that you are looking UP at
I knew many guitarists in Spain who memorized the solfege syllables — they
could sing their pieces from start to finish (mi re mi fa mi re mi…)
Try to memorize the piece starting at the back (This is a tip from David
Russell) — we always go from front to back, often bogging down, so usually,
the farther into a piece we go, the less familiar & comfortable it is. If
you learn the LAST measure, then the next to last measure, etc. you are
setting up a situation where the farther you go, the MORE familiar and
comfortable things are.
This also brings up the issue of learning single measures (apart from
whatever musical context they might have). Jose Tomas used this technique
as a way for his students to learn 30 minutes of *new* repertoire in
1 month: at the beginning, make a learning plan, in which you assing
yourself X measures to learn each day, making sure that every day you
learn some of every piece (instead of working on piece A, then later
starting on piece B, etc.). Learning very short chunks helps you program
your physical movements much better.
This brings up the even more excruciating techniques suggested by Manuel
Barrueco. Make sure you know your right and left hand fingerings so
thoroughly that you can do either separately.
For example, play the piece with the right hand only (i.e. all open
strings, but using the *EXACT* right hand fingerings).
Then, try playing the left hand alone. This is a bit harder, because it
doesn’t really necessarily function as well without the precision of the
right hand. Barrueco’s solution is to mis-tune the guitar to some random
tuning (i.e. 6th to F, 5th to Ab, 3rd to G#, 1st to D#)…then play your
piece, concentrating on plainingg the fingering perfectly.
This is an excruciatingly difficult thing to do if you are primarily
an «aural» type (I am) — but it’s good, the totally «wrong-sounding»
nature of this forces you to fight to not be distracted and concentrate
on playing the fingering right.
Do this *very* slowly to practice the fingering without relying on your
A 2.6 How much should I practice (Also: My fingers hurt!)?
Practice as much as you can, but make sure that when you practice you
practice properly, and don’t just play around. Playing around is fun,
but you will make much faster progress and have more fun in the end if
you learn to distinguish it from serious practice (which is not really
A couple of other quick points: Don’t over do the practise so that when
you say to yourself ‘Right, time to go and practise’ you don’t give an
inner-groan and the prospect of more dull playing time. Don’t do so much you
get bored with it. You practise so you can play and have fun and enjoy it.
Also, if either of your hands or fingers do begin to hurt — rest. Little to no
benefit is gained by playing whilst in pain. You can build stamina by
playing after resting!
A 2.7 How do I avoid RSI, carpel tunnel syndrome, etc?
This is a letter that was put to the group once. NOTE: We are
I have a pretty trashed right hand. I broke
my wrist twice, and I have a classic boxing
fracture (little finger meta-tarsle) that points
my little finger knuckle down by ten degrees.
When I got into Etude #1 by Villa Lobos, I started
getting a burn in the tendon for my _a_ finger, on
the back of my hand. By trial and error, I found
a few things out.
I was squeezing my guitar too hard with my right
fore-arm. That was constricting the tendons in
there. I had to adjust my posture to let the guitar
stay in my lap without clenching it so hars. This
was especially tough for barre chords, but I am
learning to relax more every day.
I like to use the tip of my thumb, rather than the
side of it, to pluck. This causes me to elevate my
wrist, and consequently bend it. I have always tried
to keep the line of fore-arm to wrist straight on
one axis (i.e. I avoid the «Segovia» bend that puts
the fingers at right angles to the strings), but this
is on another axis. I found that straightening the
wrist on all axes really helps me. I do this by
using the side of my thumb. I don’t get it COMPLETELY
flat, but it is very close. An added benefit is that
the base knuckles for my i m a fingers are raised, so I
can get more of my stroke from the base for those fingers.
I understand this is preferred.
All this, and the burning in the back of my hand has
diminished significantly. No doctors, no steroids, and
no knife. Mind you, I am more of a hobby player, averaging
14 hours a week (two hours a day) or less.
I hope this helps…
If Chris Despopoulos minds this letter being in, please write to me.
A 2.8 You know that piece in the the advert for … , what is it?
Lexus ad — Asturias (aka Leyenda), from the Suite Espanola by Isaac Albeniz,
performed by Manuel Barrueco. The CD is listed in section A1.7.
A 2.9 I’m taking my guitar on an aeroplane, to the antartic, then to
the Saraha desert, and then to the moon. How do I protect it?
Basically, get a hard case. A soft case will not adequately protect
your guitar. Hard cases cost as much as a cheap guitar, but when the
guitar is worth hundreds or maybe even thousands, its well worth it.
Insurance may get you your money back, but some musical instruments
On airways, and perhaps in general, guitars are safe in the hold inside
their hardcases if they have ‘fragile’ stickers clearly placed on them.
According to many posts lately, most guitars can be carried on and put
in the overhead compartments.
If your going to a hot and humid place then it is a good idea to put a
home-made dehumidifier in the case along with your guitar. This is made
by getting a sponge and placing it in a plastic bag which has holes
cut into it. Apparently, it works in Sunny South Africa 🙂
A 2.10 Who are the composers and performers for the classical guitar?
Here is a list of classical guitar performers and significant
composers. I don’t think the list is bad, but is not complete. It can’t
be. However, Orphee supply a data-base available from Orphee, Guitar
Solo, Nottingham Spanish Guitar Centre, or any reputable music
shop, which include 5,100 composers and 2,500 recording artists.
Listed here, hopefully, are some of the most prominent and popular.
The performer list includes only those performers who have recordings
readily available. No sense was seen in including such outstanding performers
as Tarrega of Giulliani.
The composer list includes some who did not write specifically for the
guitar but are none-the-less crucial to the guitar repertoire (e.g. Albeniz)
Please make a note that the periods have no exact beginnings or endings. There
is definite overlap. The composers are listed more by style rather than
strictly by period. I’m sure people will disagree. That’s fine.
CLASSICAL GUITAR PERFORMERS:
Jose Rey de la Torre
Manuel Lopez Ramos
Andriaccio & Castellani
The Amsterdam Guitar Trio
The Buffalo Quartet
The Falla Trio
Hill & Wiltchinsky
The L.A. Guitar Quartet
The Omega Quartet
Pearl & Gray
il Trio Italiano
REN = Renaisance
BAR = Baroque
CLA = Classical
ROM = Romantic
MOD = Modern
CON = Contemperary
Dioniso Aguado [CLA/ROM]
Isaac Albeniz (never wrote for guitar but is heavily transcribed & played)[ROM]
J.S. Bach (wrote Lute Suites transcribed for guitar;many other
Jan Bobrowicz [ROM]
Reginald Smith Brindle [MOD]
Leo Brouwer [MOD]
Mateo Carcassi [CLA/ROM]
Ferdinando Carulli [CLA/ROM]
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco [MOD]
Napolean Coste [ROM]
Anton Diabelli [CLA/ROM]
John Dowland (wrote for the Lute) [REN]
John Duarte [MOD]
Manuel de Falla (wrote one work for guitar. Many other transcribed &
Jose Ferrer [ROM]
Mauro Giuliani [CLA/ROM]
Enrique Granados (never wrote for guitar but is heavily transcribed &
Antonio Lauro [ROM]
Luigi Legnani [CLA/ROM]
Agustin Barrios Mangore [ROM]
Johann Kasper Mertz [ROM]
Luis Milan (wrote for the vihuela) [?]
Alonso Mudarra (wrote for the vihuela) [?]
Luis de Navarez (wrote for the vihuela) [?]
Niccolo Paganini [CLA/ROM]
E. Pujol [ROM]
Manuel Ponce [MOD]
Guilio Regondi [ROM]
Joaquin Rodrigo [ROM]
Gaspar Sanz [?]
Domenico Scarlatti (never wrote for guitar but is heavily transcribed &
Fernando Sor [ROM]
T. Takemitsu [MOD]
Alexandre Tansman [MOD]
Francisco Tarrega [ROM]
Federico Moreno Torroba [ROM]
Joaquin Turina [ROM/MOD]
Heitor Villa-Lobos [ROM]
Robert de Visee (wrote for the baroque guitar) [BAR]
Antonio Vivaldi (lute & mandolin works, among others, transcribed for
William Walton [MOD]
Leopold Silvus Weiss (wrote for lute, transcribed for guitar) [BAR]
Yukihiro Yoko [MOD]
Andrew York [CON]
A 2.11 What is the difference between flamenco guitar and classical guitar?
(See the Flamenco FAQ)
Flamenco has various techniques that are not used either at all, or not
as much in classical guitar. Some say that the techniques of rasgeo
and tremolo make up 90% of a flamencoists playing time.
he basic rasgeo is eami (e=little finger). To keep it continuous most
flamencos do a eamiiami type pattern where the two i’s indicate an up down
sweep of the i finger. This produces a wonderful strumming sound in
some ways similar to the sound of a 12-string guitar.
Tremolo is as described in the Playing Guide 1.5, except that instead of
the order pami, the sequence piami is generally used.
There is another technique which produces a similar effect, called
picado. Here, just i-m are used to produce a very fast run of notes
with speeds at sometimes shattering speeds of [email protected], 16 notes a beat.
Picado can be played on either a single note, string or on a series
of notes to make a fast scale.
Capos are used by flamencoists to. Partially for the sake
of an accompanying singer or other instrument, it is also used
to bring the strings closer to the fret board. However, it does
have the disadvantage of reducing the size of the fret board.
The book by Juan Martin on flamenco guitaring is highly recommended
for further information.
A 2.12 Can anyone recommend some flamenco music to listen to?
(See the Flamenco FAQ 1.5)
Here is a list of flamenco music available. It came initially from a
letter to the group by one Michael P. Burns. Thanks Michael!
Most of the popular «flamenco» guitarists are not really playing
flamenco but rather «flamenco inspired» music. The Gypsy Kings
are real Gypsies but all their recordings focus only on one form,
the Rhumba, one of the least important flamenco forms. I have
posted a short list of flamenco recordings and am reposting it now
for those of you who are interested:
Here’s a revised version of the Flamenco recordings list with
some additional notes and comments.
TITLE ARTIST(S) LABEL & No.
Azahara Paco Pen~a Nimbus NI5116
Guitar solos and duets (with Tito Losada) by one of the three
Music of R Montoya Paco Pen~a Nimbus NI5093
& N Ricardo
Guitar solos of transcriptions of music by Ramon Montoya and
Nin~o Ricardo, two of the most influential guitarists of the
middle third of the 20th century. (Ramon was Carlos Montoya’s
uncle and teacher)
Cante Gitano Various artists Nimbus NI5168
Recorded live at private Flamenco juerga in Moron de la Frontera
Singers: Maria Solea, Maria la Burra, Jose de la Tomasa
Guitars: Paco del Gastor, Juan del Gastor
Paco del Gastor is the third of the three virtuoso Pacos
(i.e, Paco Pen~a, Paco de Lucia and Paco del Gastor).
Cante Flamenco Various artists Nimbus NI5251
Recorded live at private Flamenco juerga in Moron dela Frontera
Singers: Gaspar de Utrera, Chano Lobato, Manuel de Paola,Miguel
Funi, El Cabrero
Guitars: Paco del Gastor, Juan del Gastor
Flamenco Paco Pen~a Phillips 826 904-2
Guitar solos, very good introduction to the main Flamenco styles
Cante Gitana OCORA C558642
Recorded live in concert in Paris and in studio. 2 CDs
Singers: Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera
Guitar: Paco del Gastor
Fernanda and Bernarda are sisters of Gaspar (see above)
Los Malaguen~os Harmonia Mundi HMA 190965
Singers: Conchita and Nena Cano
Guitars: El Malaguen~o, Marino Cano
Several guitar solos and duets, three cuts with singers. Includes
a great rumba Flamenca and features some innovative harmonies
This would be a good sampler of Flamenco for a beginning
Music of R Montoya Manuel Cano Hispavox (no. ?)
Guitar solos. Most of the same pieces as on Paco Pen~a’s CD with
a more restrained performance.
Guitarra Gitana Melchor de Marchena Hispavox 7304032584
Another of the greats of the previous generation in a rare solo
performance. Melchor was of the school that believed that the
role of the Flamenco guitar was an accompanist to the singer
and he did it better than anybody.
Flamenco Highlights from Spain Laserlight 79036
Contains some good examples of Sevillianas interspersed with
guitar solos by Sabicas, one of the greatest Flamenco
Zyryab Paco de Lucia Verve World 314 510 805-2
Sirocco Paco de Lucia Mercury (no. ?)
The two recordings by Paco de Lucia are a good taste of the
most avant garde Flamenco. Paco de Lucia is arguably the
greatest living virtuoso of Flamenco guitar. In these
recordings, especially «Zyryab», he admittedly goes beyond
the bounds of Flamenco into jazz, «world music» or call it
what you will. Anyway it’s great music.
Le Chant du Monde: Grandes Figures du Flamenco Series
distributed by Harmonia Mundi
The «Grandes Figures du Flamenco» series is a treasure
trove of Flamenco tradition. These are re-masters of old
recordings on which the engineers have worked their magic to
increase the fidelity and remove hiss, pops, etc. I have nos.
6, 9 and 10 and the quality is very good, both technically and
1) Pepe de la Matrona LDX 274 829
2) El Nin~o de Almaden LDX 274 830
3) La Nin~a de los Peines LDX 274 859
4) Terremoto de Jerez LDX 274 860
5) Ramon Montoya LDX 274 879
6) Carmen Amaya LDX 274 880
Flamenco song and dance, some selections feature Sabicas
as accompanist. Fantastic!
7) Manolo Caracol LDX 274 899
8) Manuel el Agujeta LDX 274 900
9) Antonio Mairena LDX 274 911
with Melchor de Marchena accompanying. It doesn’t get any
better than this.
10) Pepe Marchena LDX 274 912
A singer in a style that was popular in the 1920’s,
softer and more subtle. Paquito Simon and Ramon Montoya
Michael P. Burns
A 2.13 How can I learn to sight read? (by John Rice, [email protected])
I got these techniques from Randy Tucker, my current teacher. I studied with
two other teachers for a total of 3 years and made zero progress on sight
reading. After applying these techniques, my sight reading is much improved,
and continues to improve. You can develop an understanding of the fretboard
in couple of months. More importantly, this understanding is self-nuturing.
Meaning, it makes it easier to learn more music, which reinforces your
understanding of the instrument, which makes it easier to learn more
I was convinced to begin studies with my current teacher when he gave me
the following quiz over the phone: He asked me my phone number. Of course,
I knew it instantly. Then he asked me the names of the notes of the
open strings. I knew those, but not as quickly. The he asked me the
names of the notes at the 2nd fret. I was basically stumped, I couldn’t
do it without a bunch of mental gyrations. The obvious implication was how
could you expect to play the instrument without such understanding. He said I
needed to know all the notes on the guitar like I knew my phone number.
By the way, Randy is the best sight reader I’ve seen. These are some
of the techniques he used to help himself.
The best way to learn the fretboard away from the guitar. Learning the
fretboard away from the guitar opens up tons of other opportunities to
practice (like in the shower….) and helps you visualize the guitar.
The basic strategy behind all these ideas is the break the problem down
into small, managable chunks.
Learn your fretboard vertically and horizontally.
1. Take some 3×5 index cards and make some flash cards. You will need
12 cards, one for each fret. Put a fret number on 1 side of the
card and names of the notes at the fret on the other side. When
you’re through you should have the following:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
bottom (string 6)
F F# G G# A B~ B C C# D D# E~ E
B~ B C C# D E~ E F F# G G# A~ A
E~ E F F# G A~ A B~ B C C# D~ D
A~ A B~ B C D~ D E~ E F F# G~ G
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B~ B
F F# G G# A B~ B C C# D D# E~ E
top (string 1)
Learn the notes on the frets in this order.
1. Frets 12, 5, 10 (frets with no sharps or flats)
2. When you have those memorized add frets 7, 3 (1 sharp, 1 flat)
3. When you have that memorized add frets 8, 2 (2 sharps, 2 flats)
4. When you have that memorized add frets 9, 1 (3 sharps, 3 flats)
5. When you have that memorized add frets 4, 6 (4 sharps, 4 flats)
6. When you have that memorized add fret 11 (5 sharps, 5 flats)
Take your time in doing this (you’ll spend a lifetime learning
the guitar). Add the next set of frets when you have the others down
cold. If it takes two weeks or more, that’s fine. You’ll find
many opportunities throughout the day to practice this. As you
do this exercise, you may find that the first frets you tackled
will be much stronger than the frets you add later. You can
prevent this problem by reciting the notes in the reverse order you them.
That is, name the notes on the newest frets first, the oldest frets
When you’re able to recite all 12 frets in 30 seconds, starting
at fret 1 and working to 12 AND starting at fret 12 and working
to 1, then move on to the next exercise.
2. Make another set of 12 flash cards. Number each card 1 through
12 as above. On the other side put one of the notes C, C#, D,
D#(E~), E, F, F#, G, G#, A, B~, B. There is no correlation between
the number on one side and the note on the other. They are used
for two different exercises.
Do this exercise at least once a day.Shuffle the cards and flip them
number side up. Name the notes at the fret indicated for each card.
3. Start learning the notes horizontally. Meaning, where the notes
are on each string. Learn the notes in this order:
C G D A E B F# C# G# D#(E~) B~ F. For example, you can
find C at frets 8,3,10,5,1, and 8. Learn them a note at a time,
only adding a new note when you’ve got the last one cold. Remember,
this is an additive process, recite positions for C, then G and C,
then D,G, and C…. Here’s a tip: Given the starting position,
the next position can be found by subtracting 5 for all strings
other than 3. If the position is on string 3 subtract 4. If the
position is less than 5, then the next position will be the current
position +7, unless you’re on string 3 then it’s +8. For example
string: 6 5 4 3 2 1
C = 8 (-5) 3 (+7) 10 (-5) 5 (-4) 1 (+7) 8
4. Reading: do this in parallel with your other exercises.
Read all the material you can. Read simple stuff. Start with
the simplest material you can find. Tunes like Mary Had A Little
Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle are not too simple. You want to practice
sight reading on material that is well below your ability to play.
Play them at different fret positions eg. 3,5,7,9, dont’ stick to the first
position. In fact, if you are already familiar with the first position,
try and avoid using it to some extent to avoid memorizing the tunes.
Method books for other instruments (clarinet, flute…) are good sources,
song books of folk music from the library are good sources too.
When you read, do not stop when you make a mistake. Keep going and
try to keep the rythm. Play as slowly as necessary to play and keep
a steady rythm. When you finish a tune, go on to the next. Go through
all the tunes you have, until you run out time or until you utterly fail,
then start over. The importance of keeping going when you make a mistake
can’t be overemphasized. You don’t want to memorize the piece. Also,
keeping the beat is critical. Drop the odd note if you have to ,
but keep going in time with the rythm. The ear will quickly forget a flubbed
note if you’re able to keep the beat.
5. Rythm Studies: do this in parallel with your other exercises.
Many people (me especially…) have trouble site reading not because
they don’t recognize the notes, but because they don’t recognize
Using your simple songs, clap the rythms. Meaning, put your guitar
down, and instead of plucking the notes, clap the notes. An execellent
book to do this with is Leavit’s «Melodic Rythms For Guitar». It
systematically breaks rythms down and presents exercises. Don’t
play the exercises, clap the notes. You can read the exercises
later when your sight reading skills become stronger.
6. For this excersize you will need someones help. Prepare to play whilst
reading some music. Then get someone with a piece of card to cover up the
note(s) you are about to play by moving the card along the score. As you
get better, they should be able to cover up notes further and further ahead
of the ones you are playing. If you can read more than two bars ahead of what
you are playing, I reckon you’re pretty much there! But this excercise is not
easy, either for you or the person with the card. The person with the card
must be able to read music to some extent, so it may well end up being your
7. Tip: Don’t burn yourself out on studying reading. Do some everday,
by structuring your practice to include sight reading. This is
something you’ll always do in different ways and with different
material as you advance, so don’t wear yourself out on it. Do a litle
every day, and the benefits will accumulate over time.