Can you play classical guitar on acoustic guitar?

Can we play classical guitar music and study classical guitar technique on a steel-string acoustic guitar?

The short answer is “Yes”. It’s not entirely ideal. But it’s much better than waiting to get a new instrument or putting off exploring classical guitar music.

What’s the Difference Between Classical and Acoustic guitars?

Classical guitars and regular acoustic guitars are different in several ways. We can liken these differences to those between a car and a truck. We operate both in basically the same way. But the two are used differently and have different benefits.

Here are some characteristics of classical guitars:

  • A classical guitar typically has strings made of nylon or a similar composite. (3 strings look like fishing line.).
  • The guitar neck is wider, with the strings spaced further apart. This makes playing with the right-hand fingers easier.
  • The body of the guitar is often smaller than regular acoustics.
  • The body meets the neck at the 12th fret.
  • The sound is mostly soft and warm, comparatively.

Here are some characteristics of steel-string acoustic guitars:

  • All strings are made of metal wire, some wound and some not.
  • The neck is thinner than most classical guitars. This width varies by maker.
  • The body can be very large (jumbo) or small (parlor).
  • The body meets the neck at (oftentimes) the 14th fret. This varies by maker and model.
  • The sound is mostly bright and metallic, comparatively.

What is the Classical Guitar Style?

The style of playing we call “classical guitar” includes a few key elements. Among these are the way it is played, and the type of music generally played.

Play with Right-hand Fingers

First, classical guitar is played with the right hand fingers. Regular acoustic guitar often uses a plectrum (pick).

Playing with the fingers is not easy, so “classical guitar technique” can be an ongoing study.

This also allows players to play more than one musical line at a time, such as a melody and a bass line.

Play Solo Instrumental Music

We often find acoustic guitar strummed as accompaniment for singing. Classical guitarists most often play instrumental music.

Classical guitar music is usually composed using musical notation. This music varies in complexity and difficulty.

Benefits of “Classical Guitars”

Individual tastes differ, and and many players prefer regular acoustic guitars. But classical guitars do offer some benefits over the steel-string acoustic.

Tone Quality

The sound is more easily altered on nylon strings than steel strings. This allows for more variety and expressive options. Sounds can be very warm and wooly, or bright and metallic.

Using fingernails, the sound can be altered even more.

String Spacing

The width of the neck and the spacing of the strings can be beneficial to both right and left hands.

In the left hand, it can be easier to play one string without touching the next. In the right, it can be easier to play just one string without striking adjacent strings on accident.

Easier on the Fingers

Beginners and children have usually not built up callouses on their left-hand fingers. With fresh fingers, nylon strings are gentler. The nylon strings on classical guitars are fatter those on steel-string acoustics. This is especially true of the higher-pitched strings.

Also, the nylon strings need less tension on the string to be in tune. This means that it takes less muscle to press down a string with the left-hand fingers.

For kids and beginners, this comfort can make the difference between practicing and not.

Can you play classical guitar on an acoustic guitar?

So while this article is clearly pro-classical guitar, is it okay to play on a steel-string? Absolutely.

While some things are a little different, enough is the same that it’s worth diving into classical if the desire is there.

Classical guitar technique can help with any style or genre of guitar music. So studying classical guitar can only help. (And besides, it’s fun!)

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.

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