If you’re learning classical guitar, you may be finding it uphill work, especially if you’re a beginner. There’s a lot to think about, and not a lot to work with — just a set of twanging strings, a hollow case of wood and your fingertips. But these six tips will set your fingers flying, and the music flowing.
The correct posture for playing classical guitar, as opposed to folk, rock or other styles, is to have your right foot resting on a footstool. This arrangement will tilt the guitar downwards, between your knees, in easy reach of your right hand. For classical playing, your wrist needs to be bent and the knuckles curled away from you, leaving your thumb free for striking the bass strings. Use of a footstool will also raise the neck of the guitar to a handy position for your left hand.
Loose joints are important for guitar-playing. Fingers need to be flexible, palms stretchy, knuckles smoothly rolling and your whole arm relaxed from wrist to shoulder. If you notice your hands tensing, put the instrument down for a while and come back to it when calm and rested.
Exercise your fingers
You’ll find some of the standard stretches in the left hand tough-going at first, especially if your fingers are tense. The strings may leave painful dents in your fingertips at first, too, but both problems will fade with regular practice. Your hand span will increase, your fingers will develop muscle, and their sore tips will develop extra padding. Meanwhile, short, frequent practices will reduce discomfort.
It’s important to exercise your right hand, too. Practice the technique of plucking to familiarise yourself with those closely aligned strings, and to build strength and control in your fingers. A correct hand position will help. Look online, or in a beginner’s book, for some demonstration pictures to clarify this. Check your positioning in the mirror, too, until it becomes natural.
Grow right hand nails
Keep your left hand fingernails short, so that they won’t get in the way of the frets and obstruct fingertip pressure. By contrast, your right hand nails should be long for easy and effective plucking.
Don’t expect perfection
When learning tunes, be prepared to jump about in a hit-and-miss way while getting used to different positions and the distances between them. The sound may not be pleasing when your finger lands on the metal fret between two notes, but that doesn’t matter at this early stage. Fluidity of movement is much more important. Even a professional performer may produce the odd ugly sound at the practice stage of a challenging piece. But once you’re into the swing of a tune, your tone quality will follow.
Play in the dark
There’s nothing like playing in a darkened room, or with your eyes closed, for loosening up body and mind and getting your guitar to sing. Record your efforts and listen back later for proof of the wonderful sound you produced. Once you’ve witnessed your own musical magic, you’ll be fired up to practice, and practice makes for progress.
Some people teach themselves at home, but you need considerable self discipline for this, as well as a clear understanding of the technique you’re aiming for. Your best bet is probably to invest in some lessons. Group sessions will be cheaper than one-to-one tuition, and will bring you in touch with other learners, with whom you can swap notes and share tips. Before you know it, you’ll be meeting up between lessons for ensemble fun, and all those initial obstacles will be melting away.