If heavy metal represents the loudest, most aggressive sound that can be played on a guitar, then the sounds that emanate from a classical guitar are on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. A classical guitar is typically associated with soft, soothing sounds, and its history dates back for centuries. In this article we will take a look at how to play a classical guitar.
A modern classical guitar is most similar to an acoustic guitar, in that it is a hollow, non-electric, wooden instrument. But there are some significant differences between the two. The body of a classical guitar has a slightly different shape from a standard acoustic guitar, but the strings are the most notable difference.
Acoustic guitars generally use wound steel strings, while classical guitars use nylon strings. The difference is minimal on the lowest three strings, as the nylon strings on the classical guitar are wrapped in a thin metal. But the three high strings on the classical guitar are bare nylon, which produces a much softer sound than steel.
While acoustic guitars can be played with a pick, classical guitars are played using only the fingers. This could be the biggest adjustment for a guitar player moving toward a classical guitar, though the fingerpicking used in classical guitar can be found at times in any style of music.
Classical guitar is usually played in a seated position, with the curve of the guitar’s body resting on the left leg. The guitar is angled up slightly on the left side, making it easier and more comfortable for the left hand to reach the neck, and the right arm rests on the body of the guitar while playing.
The thumb and the first three fingers on the right hand do the plucking of the strings, while the left hand frets notes and chords — although the chords are not strummed, the notes of a chord can be played individually. This is called an arpeggio.
Depending on the guitarist’s preference, the plucking can be done by the fingertips or fingernails, the latter affording the possibility of louder, more forceful playing. The thumb of the right hand is used to strum the low strings, while the fingers pluck the higher strings. To get comfortable with this method, try plucking open notes in this order repeatedly: thumb, index finger, middle finger, and ring finger. Do that a few times, then reverse the order of the fingers: thumb, ring, middle, and index.
Try alternating the two patterns, then try new patterns (thumb, middle, index, ring, etc.), and try strumming with the thumb while simultaneously plucking with the ring finger as part of your pattern. As you become comfortable with the movements of the right hand, begin coupling them with chords and notes fretted by the left hand.
As in any type of guitar playing, classical guitar has its tricks to modify sounds. It makes extensive use of hammer-ons and pull-offs, in which a finger on the left hand frets one note, then hammers onto another or pulls off to another when the string is plucked. It also uses vibrato, a technique in which a single note is played while the fretting finger moves slightly and quickly up and down along the string, adding sustain to the note.