Should I study classical guitar?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 by Matt Cosgrove | Studio

What is classical guitar?

Let's first discuss what classical guitar is not.  When someone uses words like jazz, classical, be-bop, rock, reggae, metal, blues, and  many other such words, they are referring to styles of music. Classical guitar is not a style. Classical guitar is not white powdered wigs and antiquated dusty sheet music. Try to forget the stylistic ideas you may associate with the word "classical". [caption id="attachment_2103" align="alignright" width="150"] Bach with guitar[/caption] The word "classical" is frequently used to refer to a style of music. Many people assume when you perform music composed between 1750-1800 on the guitar, you are playing classical guitar. However, this is not entirely true.  The reality is that a person who has mastered classical guitar has the physical and mental skills necessary to play all of the formerly listed styles and many more. Classical guitar is a way of playing that knocks down the mental and physical barriers that prevent the human spirit from finding its voice (style) in the guitar. These barriers are knocked down through technique and what I like to call impulse training.

What is Technique?

Technique is the body forms (shapes) and movements necessary to play guitar. All imperfections of technique limit the ability of the performer to express freely. The person who acquires more efficient and refined technique will be able to perform more complex music and express himself in a more detailed fashion. Early in my training, I had teachers who encouraged me to play the way that feels right. This advice sounds good. However, the thing that feels right on very simple things may not be very effective to perform more complex forms and movements. To give one example, consider the leg where the guitar is placed and the angle of the neck. Simple chords can be performed easily in either position. [gallery columns="2" link="none" ids="2098,2099"] However, when a more complex chord is introduced,  it becomes obvious which position will be more adequate for more advanced playing. [gallery columns="2" link="none" ids="2096,2097"] When a person begins his training with inadaqate positions or with unrefined movements, a re-learning has to take place when he wants to play more advanced movements and forms. To be clear, first the inadequate technique (bad habit) must be unlearned and then a sufficient form and movement must replace it. Thus the old adage can be modified,  'pay a good teacher now, or pay him twice later'.  Since it takes more time to correct bad habits than to only create new habits, more time and money will need to be invested in training when poor technique is learned from the start.

What is the mental aspect of playing?

The mental aspect of playing bridges the gap between the physical and  spiritual components of playing.  Distracting thoughts and poorly formed impulses are barriers to being fully expressive.  Lack of clarity and understanding of effective movements are barriers as well. The mind shapes the hands and forms the impulses that will later be completely controlled by the nervous system. Whether or not the mind has imprinted the impulses with heathy forms and movements, the impulses will be executed with precision to the advantage or disadvantage of the player.  Otto Ortmann stated it this way when speaking of the value of repeating thing in the correct way:

By repetition of voluntary movement, which must always begin under direct brain control, the brain is needed less and less until finally it is relieved of all participation and we have what is known as an acquired reflex, the work of the spinal centers . . . . The value of repetition and drill is to transfer the neural representation of a movement from the higher brain centers to the lower spinal reflex centers.

 This deeper knowledge of form, movement, and impulse training must be acquired from an outside source. Studying with a solid classical guitar instructor is the best way to insure your guitar path will lead you to the right place.  If a student only aspires to learn to play simple first position chords, he should still learn good forms. This will allow him to learn quickly if he ever decides to go further into more complex music. It will also give him greater ease on the things he is currently working on as well. In summary, classical guitar is a way of playing that allows a person to play whatever style he wishes to play. It is an approach to playing that puts emphasis on the physical and mental aspects of playing that will allow the player to express his spiritual self through his instrument--the guitar. A well trained classical guitar teacher will be able to guide you on the path to being your personal best! ~Matt