Introduction To Classic Guitar



RIGHT HAND PLACEMENTOne of the most frustrating things about learning a new right hand technique is finding the strings you're supposed to play without looking at them. At first that can be very challenging. Let's approach this challenge logically:

  1. If your guitar is positioned correctly in relation to your body, good right arm position is easily achieved.
  2. If your right arm is placed correctly on the body of the guitar, good hand position is easy to achieve.
  3. If your right hand is positioned correctly over the strings, your individual fingers can easily reach and execute good finger-strokes.
As in most things, doing it right from the beginning can save you time and great frustration. Just something I thought you'd like to keep in mind as we advance through this lesson. Trying to skip ahead will only cost you time in the long-run.

Below is a picture of one of the greatest classic guitarists of our time, Christopher Parkening. If you want to hear some of the greatest classic guitar recordings ever made, go to the official Christopher Parkening website and order anything there. It's all good.

  • First of all, go to your local music store and pick up a classic guitar footstool. There's one pictured below. You can also order them online. This is so you are able to elevate your left foot.
  • Notice in the picture below that the inner curve of the underneath part of the guitar rests on the left leg while the widest part of the guitar body rests against the inner thigh of the right leg.
  • The guitar neck points upward. This is very important. Angling the neck upward approximately 45% gives you the ability to access any part of the guitar neck easily with your left hand.
  • The left arm elbow and shoulder should remain loose and relaxed. Don't point your elbow out, but let it hang loosely.
  • Your right forearm should rest comfortably on the highest point of the curve of the guitar body and be positioned so that you can easily curve your wrist down and comfortably place it in playing position.
  • Take a look at the images to your right. First, notice the position of the hand. The wrist is slightly curved and relaxed.
  • The knuckle-line is somewhat parallel to the strings.
  • The thumb extends straight out beyond the the index finger. Be sure not to bend your thumb. As you'll see, when executing a thumbstroke, the side of the thumbnail is what actually plucks the strings.
a simple classic guitar footstool The proper classic position
If you have a tendancy to bite your finger-nails now's a good time to make an effort to stop. The classic technique requires you to use your nails to pluck the strings. As a matter of fact, it's really much easier to use your fingernails than it is to use the tips of your fingers. Every time I've demonstrated this to a beginner, they're always surprised to find that to be true. Their first inclination is to think that direct contact of the finger-tip would give them more control. The reason that is NOT true is because the tip of your finger has a larger surface area than that of your finger-nail, which makes it harder to achieve a good consistent stroke. Each time you pluck the string with the flesh of your fingertip, you may initially touch (or grab) the string a little more or less on the tip. I will admit that I have heard guitarists who have developed a very warm, consistent tone using the fingertips instead of the nail but these folks are far and few between.

Ok, I hear some of you guys out there saying, "Wait a minute, isn't that a little girly?" My answer to you is, if that's all it takes to challenge your masculinity, you need a little help. I love football, baseball, basketball and my wife but, I also love getting a good sound on the classic guitar. So, swallow your pride and file your nails. Smoothly filed nails mean the difference in a player with a good sound and a scratchy, unprofessional sounding player. Study the pics of the nails to the right.

Also, you should be sure to consume foods with adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin A, D, zinc and magnesium or supplement your diet with SAFE amounts of these nutrients. Don't go crazy with this and take so much that your hair falls out or something. Moderation is the key. Follow the recomendations on the bottles. ACTIVE JOINTS AND THE FREE-STROKEOnce your hand is in good playing position you can easily play any of the strings with almost no effort at all. The active joint for each stroke is illustrated in the animation below. You can also see and hear an demonstration of this in the HANDS video. There is one over-riding thought you should have as you practice this movement and that is RELAX! Don't allow your hand to become tense. That works against your effort in more ways than you can imagine.

Study the illustration and picture below. Your fingers have 3 joints and your thumb only has 2 joints. When you pluck a string using your finger or thumb, you should think of a specific joint as the "engine" of the stroke. In other words, the "active" joint. Notice that the active joint for finger-strokes is the middle joint and the active joint for the thumb stroke is the joint where your thumb connects to your hand.

That being said, one very important point should be made here regarding free-strokes with your fingers:

The initial movement should come from the knuckle where the finger meets the hand. There is a slight amount of pressure that initiates the stroke. The completion of the stroke comes from the active joint. By active joint, I mean the one that has the greatest "hinging" action. The finger actually moves in toward the hand slightly. You should resist the tempatation to initiate the stroke with anything other than the finger motions mentioned above, i.e., the wrist or the arm. Some beginners in this technique have the tendancy to hold their fingers in a claw position and pull outward with their hand. This is a very inneficient technique. Avoid this at all cost!

ALTERNATING STROKESIf you've looked at the Introduction to Fingerpicking lesson, you probably noticed that we assigned right-hand fingers to specific strings. We're going to depart from that idea here. Here we're going to get you started playing a melody alternating the index and middle fingers of your right hand. First let's introduce the letters used to represent the individual fingers and thumb of the right hand. We're using the beginning letters from the Spanish names of the right hand fingers. Why, you ask? Because that's the traditional way of notating right hand fingerings and you'll see it used in pretty much any classic notation you'll see out there. Refer to the image below:

  • p - comes from pulgar or thumb.
  • i - comes from indice or index.
  • m - comes from media or middle.
  • a - comes from anular or ring.

If you haven't already, you should refer to the HANDS video to see a demonstration of alternating strokes. Then move on to the exercise below.

Below is an exercise for you to practice the free stroke alternating your index and middle fingers. Practice this until you can play it smoothly and effortlessly. You should focus on synchronzing your right and left hand movements. You should have some left-hand experience with this from the previous beginner lessons. After that you should move on to the main tutorial to learn your first classic piece.


No audio files available for this lesson.