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classical guitar basics fundamentals

Fundamental Concepts of Classical Guitar Technique

In every craft there are a few primary “rules of thumb” that, when observed, help everything to progress much more smoothly.  Classical guitar is no different.

In this article, you’ll learn some of the fundamentals that create the groundwork for more rapid progress, more beautiful tone, and a more enjoyable experience.  You’ll also benefit by avoiding much of the pain, tension and frustration that can come with poor fundamental form.

 

To effectively play at high-speed and with grace and precision, we have to be the human equivalent of a well-crafted Italian sports car, or a Swiss watch.

The point is that we have to move consistently in a way that makes it so that we use the perfect amount of muscle directed in just the right place at just the right time to give us what we need. And we have to do all that without doing anything extra, that could slow us down or create wear and tear on our joints.

Complete Mastery of the Self

Of course this is a pretty tall order. What I am suggesting here is nothing less than complete mastery of our body and movements.

Ultimately, for myself, this is what I am after. Mastery and ease of motion are my overriding goals and long-term physical aspirations.  Musically, I just want to play beautifully.

At whatever level you’re playing, I hope that you can adopt this goal as well.

You may or may not believe that you will ever get there given the time and energy you have available for practice. Doesn’t matter. You can still work in a way that, given enough time and practice, will eventually get you there.

After all, if you’re going to be practicing guitar anyway…..

Creating Structure and Ground Rules

With any pursuit involving such intricacies and physical demands, it helps to have some “large structures” in place. These “structures” can be rules that govern everything else that we do.  A nice, tidy box to work in, if you will.

I started by teaching myself for many years.  Then got a teacher and rebuilt my technique from the ground up.  Then realized I still wasn’t on the right track and started over from the beginning again.  Later, I started studying the Alexander Technique, and once again went back to square one.  It’s been a long, irksome road at times, but adopting a few ground rules has allowed my playing to continually grow.

As with everything, it is a work in progress, and will probably always be.  But the more I spend time on fundamentals, the more convinced I am of their value.

“The rule is: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.”
– Charles Poliquin (world’s top strength coach)

The Basic Concepts

What I would like to propose here are some basic concepts which can inform your guitar playing. They are basic reference points which you can reference whenever questions arise about guitar technique or movement.  They are standards to hold yourself to.

Buying into these basic ideas can help you to:

  • Sidestep many potential problems, confusions, and bad habits.
  • Work in a way that ensures healthy joints and musculature.
  • Create consistency and reliability and your playing,
  • Learn and progress faster.
  • Develop more effective habit formation.
  • Create order in a disorderly world. (OK, I may be stretching a bit with this one…)

The Main Classical Guitar Fundamentals

The primary fundamentals are described in depth in the video above.

Here are the broad strokes:

  1. Correct Alignment – Each joint has a “mid-range”, from which it has the most number of option of motion.  Starting with this neutral position in the joints creates more comfort and ability.
  2. Basic Motion of the Right Hand – To play the strings with the right hand, simply close your hand, and let the strings be in the way.  In this way you’ll create the most natural movements and avoid the common pitfalls.  It also sounds better.  Tip: keep the tip joints passive.
  3. Focused Awareness – Your state affects your playing.  Learning and practicing guitar is as much about mastering your mind and physiology as it is about playing music.

Watch the video and comment

Please share in the comments below any part of your guitar journey that’s had a fundamental shift on your playing or experience.  We’d love to hear from you.

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30 Responses to Fundamental Concepts of Classical Guitar Technique

  1. Mike January 1, 2017 at 2:02 am #

    I am returning to guitar after a long delay, mostly caused by RSI. I was initially taught to play with my right hand knuckles parallel with the strings and my left hand seemed to bend far more than your guidelines. No wonder I got RSI

    • Allen January 1, 2017 at 7:27 am #

      Hi Mike,
      I hope it goes better for you this time around!
      All the best,
      Allen

  2. Lily July 15, 2016 at 3:27 am #

    I was glad to read about your experience in trying to self-teach, then working with a teacher and self-teaching and/or rebuilding again. I wanted to self-teach. It wasn’t much fun and when I read someplace that self-teaching amounted to learning from someone who did not know how to play the guitar, I felt completely authorized in seeking a teacher. I was amazed at how much correction and advice I got from my teacher about things I never would have known were issues while working on my own. That said, I also now see that not all teachers are alike, and not all teachers suit all students (and vice versa.) My takeaway from all of this is that there isn’t one right way to learn and lifelong learners can always benefit from trying new things.

    • Allen July 16, 2016 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Lily,
      I couldn’t agree more. There’s always something to learn.
      Thanks for the comment,
      Allen

  3. Kathleen Moore April 27, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    Allen, do you have any suggestions about we musicians that might be a little hampered by the size and shape of our hands? I have noticed that hands come in all shapes and sizes, my set seem to have been short changed in the pinky department. With certain chord shapes I have a lot of difficulty reaching fretted notes with my pinkie when my other fingers are at work on the other side of the fret board. Is this just a case of “do the best you can”? When I read about artists like Django Reinhardt, with his burned and useless fingers, I realize that nothing can really stop me from becoming an accomplished guitarist. I just wonder if you have some thoughts about working with the “tools” you were given.

    I have improved so much with all the resources that you so generously provide. Thanks!
    .

    • Allen April 27, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks Kathleen!
      My take is that it isn’t so much size or shape, but dexterity, flexibility and strength. That said, some hands seem to be made for it, and others not so much. Two of my favorite arrangers, Roland Dyens and Paulo Bellinati, both seem to have enormous hands and long fingers. So their arrangements can be very demanding. Then again, search youtube and you can find somewhat disturbing videos of small children (generally from outer space or North Korea) playing difficult repertoire on full size guitars.

      My suggestion is to make slur practice a daily event. Likewise, rasqueados off the guitar with both hands, and some stretching and independence exercises are very helpful. And of course scales.

      Also, keep in mind that as time goes on, you’ll build synapses and abilities that you don’t currently have. Trust that the process will lead you where you want to go.

      On a personal note, I’ve spent copious time over the last week working on my left hand pinky as well. There’s always something new we can find to work on. After your pinky is under control, you’ll find something else to work on. Promise!

      Good luck,
      Allen

  4. David January 5, 2016 at 10:52 pm #

    Hi Allen, could you please point me to your lesson on how to structure practice time. Great post, as always! David

  5. joe bueno September 3, 2015 at 12:45 am #

    Just finished the Basic Concepts video and really liked it! Am following the Getting Started Steps and I get dispersed easily so was wondering as far as the links at the bottom of this page and the 5 ingredients and 7 steps programs- so I was wondering do i do all those before I go back and complete the Steps of Getting Started or do I wait and come back to those after completing the other steps 1st?
    Thanks!
    Joe

    • Allen September 3, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Hi Joe,
      Great question!
      You can think of these in different categories:
      Technique: ones such as this one, and the most common mistakes, etc.

      Learning Pieces: the 7 step process

      Organizing your practice (what to work on): the 5 Ingredients series.

      You can bounce around as much as you like. There isn’t any real sequence that is absolutely required, because of the different topics they cover.

      I hope that helps!
      Cheers,
      Allen

      • joe bueno September 4, 2015 at 12:49 am #

        Thx Allen! Seeing that there’s 3 different categories helps. Technique, learning pieces and practice! Are those the 3 we focus on or are there others to be on the lookout for as well? And finally is there a master list that itemizes the content of each category we’ll be working with? In meantime I’m going to just go through each step of Getting Started and do whatever is on each page. I’m sure that will get me rolling!
        Joe

        • Allen September 4, 2015 at 10:23 am #

          Hi Joe,
          These are the broad strokes, though you can go in many directions within each of them. (“Practice” should probably be re-named “Everything else”, but practice skills are a big part).

          Going through the Getting Started should set you in the right direction.

          Let me know if you need anything.
          Cheers,
          Allen

    • Allen September 3, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Hi Joe,
      Great question!
      You can think of these in different categories:
      Technique: ones such as this one, and the most common mistakes, etc.

      Learning Pieces: the 7 step process

      Organizing your practice (what to work on): the 5 Ingredients series.

      You can bounce around as much as you like. There isn’t any real sequence that is absolutely required, because of the different topics they cover.

      I hope that helps!
      Cheers,
      Allen

  6. Lawrence August 6, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Allen
    Great reminder video on posture on how we sit properly, hand or body alignment and Rigth hand fingers movements in order to play and hold the guitar properly.

    It is only experience teacher can assist the students to do that. from my learning of the guitar , none of my teachers really put much emphasis on the posture and correct methods to hold the guitars and movement of the right hand fingers.

    Every beginners should expose this this type of learning of body alignment with the guitar so that students can hold and move their body parts easily without tension on the muscles which may cause more harm and injuries if we do a lot practise sessions.

    A good thought in the beginning of learning the guitar had been documented in a book by Abel Carvarol of Argentinean.

  7. Linda Shepherd July 13, 2015 at 11:14 pm #

    This is a video worth viewing over and over again. There is so much of value here that I can identify with as my skills develop. In another video you talk about deep breathing to help relax and focus before starting to work. I think this is another fundamental tool to add to the eye-softening comments. I fully endorse all that the others have said Allen. Great stuff. Thankyou.

    • allen July 14, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      Thanks Linda,
      I agree, it’s always a great idea to return again and again to the basic fundamentals. We never outgrow them!
      Cheers,
      Allen

  8. JOSHI AMBERPETA July 7, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    Your a Great teacher ! Thank you for all your lesson.

  9. Noel Smith June 21, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    Hello Allen,

    As a beginner, I am greatfulf that you took time to elaborate on the fundamentals for playing classical guitar.I went back and look at some of my resources and confirmed the fact that your lesson is more detailed and learned a lot on basics.I have been practicing on the hand clapping and have to say it was not easy for me.I’m older so my joints are rather stiff and it does not help that my job requires a lot of physical exertion.On top of that, I enjoy working on the yard after work so, I found out that my prep time takes longer.I can tell you that softening of the eyes works. It may seem strange but actually, their has been several studies that substantiate the neuropsychhysiological connection of such practice. Thank You again for this lesson.

    • Allen June 22, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      Thanks for the note, Noel!
      It can be a chore to get the hand to learn new tricks, but it’s great to hear your are working at it.
      Thanks for the feedback!
      Cheers,
      Allen

    • Bertha May 22, 2016 at 1:33 am #

      I can already tell that’s gonna be super heplufl.

      • Allen May 22, 2016 at 7:09 am #

        I hope so, Bertha. Good luck!

  10. Diana May 31, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    Thank you so much, some very useful info that I shall certainly be using.

    • Allen May 31, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

      You’re welcome, Diana! Let me know how it goes!

  11. Brian Hunker February 20, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    Hi Allen,

    I just watched this video detailing your fundamental concepts and I’m a few videos into your lesson on structuring practice time. I just wanted to say thanks for these fresh and unique insights into guitar playing. Like you I’m on my 4th or 5th round of building my guitar technique from the ground up. I’m really excited to try the softening of the eyes tip. I think that is just brilliant. Especially since I’m the type that tends to try too hard. Also the right hand clapping exercise and practical advice about when and how to relax tip joints totally makes sense.

    Thanks SO MUCH. I’m going to apply these to my practice time and I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    Best to you on your playing, performing & teaching.

    Brian Hunker
    Coral Gables, FL

    • Allen February 21, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Hey Brian, Thanks for the comment. Please definitely let us know how it goes!
      Thanks much for the encouragement,
      Allen

  12. Mark A. Maheux Sr. January 24, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    I have played guitar in the past and for many reasons, I had to give it up to work and support others! I’m going to be 63 in May and have promised myself to be able to play better than ever by the time I retire. Probably around 100! I am currently doing the your metronome practice – one hour per day! ( I still work for a living) I am also getting ready to practice the way I should have from the beginning. Tossing out my bad habits and starting over! Thank you for the inspiration and for making me realize that perfection is only gained thru lots of practice and knowledge! Looking forward to the appergios!
    Thanks again for helping individuals like myself get better thru music!

    • Allen February 21, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks Mark! All the best in changing things up!
      Cheers, Allen
      PS Thanks YOU for the inspiration!

  13. Jim November 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    Great ideas. I had not thought about alignment and how the hand closes. I am going to try this today! Thank you!

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