How to Learn Classical Guitar – A Free Course on Right Hand Technique
Congratulations: you have landed on the starting line of a rather large course on how to learn classical guitar arpeggios and right hand technique.
Arpeggios (fingerpicking patterns) are one of the main pillars of classical guitar playing, and are ideally in your practice routine daily.
If you have no idea what arpeggios are or what I am talking about, don’t worry: all will be explained.
In the beginning…
There are many views and perspectives on how to learn classical guitar technique, and I am not saying that this is right and others are wrong. However, I have been refining this method for years and it works really well for me and the many people I have shared it with in lessons.
This method is rooted in the many lessons I have taken with some great teachers, which in turn were influenced by their work with some of the legends of the guitar world (it’s a small world, but it still has it’s legends!).
How to use this course
There is a LOT of information on this page. If you think you can spend a couple of hours and breeze through it, then think you are all set in the arpeggio arena, know that good technique takes daily practice and long-term thinking.
This page you are reading represents years of study on your part. You won’t need to keep visiting the page for years, but you can continue to practice the material here for years.
Some of the sections below are one-offs. Videos that you watch once and move forward. Others are reference videos that you would benefit from visiting often at first. You may want to bookmark certain pages (like this one) in your browser so you can access them quickly.
Get All of the Arpeggio Course Materials Here (it’s 100% free):
1. Get into the right headspace
It’s important to be patient. This type of work takes time. Any attempts to hurry can undermine the integrity of your work, and ultimately make your learning take longer.
The number one rule of how to learn classical guitar? Be patient.
Each of the movements described below are like fundamental building blocks of the way you move on the classical guitar. Relish each moment of digging deeper and deeper into the minute details of how you move.
The more awareness and patience you can bring to the table, the more you will enjoy all this, and the better you will play. Playing at a very high level, your awareness is razor-sharp.
So, if you want play at a high level and be able to fully express everything you want to, start by getting into the habit of entering a state of heightened awareness (of the feelings of your fingers on the strings, your movements, the sound of every note, and anything else you can notice).
2. What exactly are arpeggios anyway?
Let’s start at the very beginning.
Arpeggios are “broken chords”. If you play any chord one note at a time, you have an arpeggio.
In folk circles, this is referred to as “fingerpicking” or “fingerstyle”. These fit naturally on the guitar because of how our right hand fingers can easily play multiple strings.
They are much harder on bowed strings, woodwinds, and other instruments. (Don’t get smug yet, though, because scales may be a bit easier on those instruments, so it’s a give and take.)
This video is a sort of “orientation” to introduce you to arpeggios and give you some things to remember going forward .
For more on why to practice arpeggio patterns, and a deeper dive into my philosophies on arpeggio practice (the why and what), read this article on the fundamentals of right hand work.
3. Fundamental movement on the classical guitar
Before getting to the meat and potatoes of playing arpeggios, it would be wise to brush up on your fundamentals of how you move and generally be on the classical guitar.
You can consider these your “ground rules”, and whenever any question or confusion comes up, you can go to these first.
Once you know that you are good to go on the ground rules, then you can see if the problem is still there. (Often it won’t be!)
And it’s always wonderful to review the basics.
4. Know what to avoid
It can be a great help to be aware of the common mistakes people make when practicing and playing.
If you know what the potential pitfalls are, you are more likely to successfully avoid them.
Even if you don’t do any of these, it can still be a valuable reminder to keep a watch out for any trace of these mistakes.
(Sometimes they sneak in at hard parts in music, making them even harder still. Stay alert!)
Here’s your link for the most common classical guitar technique mistakes.
5. Getting the movements right: the Meat and Potatoes
The core of this method of movement lays with six core “cells”, or “primary arpeggios”.
By combining these six arpeggio patterns (with each other and with I&M alternation), you can get just about any arpeggio pattern you are likely to come across. So you can think of these six arpeggios as the building blocks of your playing.
By practicing these with razor-sharp attention to every detail, you will create the abilities you need to play just about whatever you want, however you want.
Take one of these at a time, preferably in the order they are listed.
After you are comfortable with one or two, skip down to the section “Keeping arpeggio practice fun” and start working on some left hand patterns to spice up your practice.
- Here are the primary arpeggios:
- Arpeggio #1 PIM
- Arpeggio #2 PMI (Skip ahead to “Keeping arpeggio practice fun”, and add that to the mix!)
- Arpeggio #3 PMA
- Arpeggio #4 PAM
- Arpeggio #5 AMI
- Arpeggio #6 IMA
Other Common Patterns (that are combination of the above arpeggios)
- Arpeggio #7 AMIM
- Arpeggio #8 PIMA
- Arpeggio #9 PIMAMI
- Arpeggio #10 PAMI (the tremolo!)
- Arpeggio #11 IAMA
6. Keeping arpeggio practice fun
With anything requiring repetition, we need to be able to stay engaged, stay motivated, stay excited enough to practicing.
Without this, we end up moving arpeggio practice to the back burner. We “forget” to practice them, and pretty soon, we are right back where we started. No fun.
So the goal here is to make arpeggios as rewarding and gratifying as anything else.
How to do it? Learn an easy left hand pattern that allows your arpeggio practice to sound beautiful.
This Practice Progression turns your dry repetitions into a lovely etude. You can use this left hand pattern with all the different arpeggios patterns in your guitar practice.
Dive into this tutorial on adding a left hand practice progression.
7. The Real World: how these arpeggios appear in music
Of course, the only reason to practice anything technical at all is to enable us to rise to the challenges we find in our music.
So at some point, we have to take this abstract knowledge (how to properly execute the core arpeggio patterns) and actually use them to play real music, in real pieces.
Keep in mind that, like all of learning the classical guitar, this is a process. It’s best to take your time and really understand each little aspect of what you are learning.
With time, you will incorporate all of your technique work to a point where you just naturally move with good form.
But the only way to do that is to form the habit of constantly checking in and making sure that each detail is as it should be. And that, again, is all about razor-sharp awareness.
To discover how to approach music using these core arpeggio patterns, check out this tutorial on integrating the arpeggio patterns.
8. What next? Ramping it up
As you get comfortable with the primary arpeggio patterns and get some chord progressions that you enjoy practicing with, you may get antsy to move things forward. That’s natural.
There are many directions to go from here, but I highly recommend returning often to the basics.
Very few things you do in your practice will move you ahead more than deepening your understanding and facility with the fundamentals.
I’m not joking here. That’s why you often hear master players practicing slow scales, simple arpeggios, and basic fundamentals.
That said, for some ideas of new challenges, check out this video on arpeggio practice.
As you memorize and practice these, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are a few:
- Go slow and be patient. (Speed creates the illusion of perfection.)
- Master each movement of the arpeggio patterns and be able to fully stop between each movement.
- Maintain ease of movement in your body (shoulders, face, toes, everything.)
- Keep a good attitude and have fun with it. You’re in this for the long haul, so all this should be enjoyable. Make little challenges and rise to meet them. It’s a game.
Many thanks to Scott Kritzer, who introduced me to many of these concepts and methodologies.
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 other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, 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.
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