5 Basics for Learning Classical Guitars

Classical guitar may seem intimidating, but it can be a great entry point for beginners just starting to play as well as a way for experienced guitarists to widen their repertoire. The study of this venerable instrument and style holds endless discoveries for both beginners and experienced musicians.

1. Start at Square One

Experienced acoustic or electric guitar players may have some advantage when starting to play classical guitar, but not as much as you would think. When working with a teacher some veteran players find it hard to give up old ideas and habits. Classical guitar technique is very different from either steel string acoustic or electric guitar. Their necks have a very different feel from other guitars. Letting go of what you know is essential.

2. The Right Guitar

Of course, you’re going to need a classical guitar, which means you may need a new instrument. The wood, construction techniques, and string tension all impact the sound your guitar produces. A steel-string acoustic won’t give you the right sounds for playing classical guitar. The playing response and tone of nylon strings make them indispensable. Here are a trio of our top-rated classical guitars

Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar

The Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar is a full-sized classical acoustic with a spruce top that rings up for a great introductory price.

Cordoba C12 SP Classical Guitar

The Cordoba C12 SP Classical Guitar faithfully recreates the vintage beauty of a classic 1920s design—from the solid spruce top to the hand-inlaid rosette.

The Cordoba C12 SP Classical Guitar faithfully recreates the vintage beauty of a classic 1920s design—from the solid spruce top to the hand-inlaid rosette.

Epiphone PRO-1 Classical Acoustic Guitar

The budget-friendly Epiphone PRO-1 Classical Acoustic Guitar has a solid cedar top for rich tone and is designed for easier playability.

The Epiphone PRO-1 series includes steel string acoustics as well as the Classical model. As detailed in this clip, they’re all designed to give the new player an easier learning experience.

For a good quality classical guitar, look for one with a solid top (not laminated). You can save money by choosing a guitar with laminated sides and back, but don’t compromise on the solid top if possible.

The most popular tonewoods for classical acoustic guitars are spruce and cedar. Cedar tends to produce a warmer sound and response that is more forgiving of players’ error. Spruce produces a more articulate, clear sound and many players appreciate its greater projection. The type of tonewood used for your classical guitar’s top will have a strong influence on its sound. But other factors such as strings and playing technique contribute to the guitar’s sound.

3. Tuning

An in-tune guitar is essential for everyone, but even more so for beginners who are learning to recognize correct notes by ear. Becoming accustomed to out-of-tune notes will sabotage your ear raining. Make sure you have an accurate guitar tuner and use it every time you play. If you’ll be playing in darkened environments, look for a model with a bright, legible display.

Snark Mini Clip-On Tuner

The Snark Mini Guitar & Bass Clip-On Tuner is a small, highly-accurate tuner with a very bright display.

 

4. Find Your Favorite Position

Dee Dee Ramone’s standing super-slouch would never fly in the world of classical guitar. This instrument requires a very specific upright, yet seated, position. First, choose a firm chair that is high enough so that your shin and thigh make a 90 degree angle. Your back should be straight but relaxed. Your left hand should be able to reach the fretboard while still keeping your shoulders straight. To accomplish this, you need to raise the guitar using a footstool for your left leg.

5. Rename Your Fingers

You might think you know the names of your fingers, but unless you already speak Spanish, you won’t know your pulgar from your chiquito. In classical guitar scores, the five fingers of your right hand are designated by their nombres en Español:

  • p = thumb (pulgar)
  • i = index finger (index)
  • m = middle finger (mayor)
  • a = ring finger (annular)
  • c, e or x = little finger or pinky (chiquito)

Classical guitar requires a lot of finger strength and dexterity, so you may experience soreness at first. Technique and endurance take time to develop. Once you have your fingers sorted out, you may need to consider your manicure. The nail as well as the tip of the finger, is often used to pluck the strings when playing classical guitar. Longer nails on the right (or strumming) hand will help you produce the right sounds.

If you want to give your strength training a jump start, check out the Planet Waves Varigip Hand Exerciser. Set the resistance for each finger and the Varigrip will help you tone your entire hand, wrist and forearm.