Classical Guitar Rocks

Classical Guitar Rocks

To hear Daniel Boring describe it, classical guitar could be the ultimate gateway instrument: It’s affordable; it’s versatile; it’s relatively easy to learn; and learning its technique paves the way to picking up other plucked, fretted instruments.

An acoustic guitar with nylon strings, the classical guitar “has a much softer tone and more tonal possibilities” than a steel-string guitar, says Boring, who teaches classical guitar and lute and directs the chamber orchestra at Muhlenburg College. While the left hand is played similarly, the right hand plucks individual strings, playing multiple voices.

“The classical guitar is like the piano. It can be used in an ensemble, but it is a solo instrument that doesn’t require anyone else to play. It’s essentially a band at your fingertips,” Boring says.

The instrument is ideal for a child who wants to play an instrument but doesn’t want to play in the orchestra or band, though Boring says that in recent years, classical guitar has become more mainstream for middle and high school students to play in such ensembles. In fact, due in part to community outreach by regional classical guitar societies, and somewhat to guitar-proficient music teachers who want to share their passion with students, a growing number of public schools offer classical guitar classes.

“They teach finger styles, how to read music, and different techniques. From there, the students can go into an ensemble in which they’re given a part,” he explains.

While many beginning electric guitarists learn by ear, classical guitar “is something that’s tricky to learn on your own,” Boring says. “A lot of people play both styles—electric and classical. The good thing is if you learn classical guitar, it’s very simple to switch back and forth. The same chords are used in classical guitar. From Bach to rock. But some are wearing tuxedos, and some are wearing leather pants.”

Boring says that most of his younger students want to learn classical guitar so they can sit in a room and make music. “It’s very tactile and hands on, and it’s a great escape. It also introduces kids and everyone to different styles of music.”

“When you play classical guitar, it’s not just classical composers. You can play classical, jazz, pop, bossa nova, flamenco, country. If you learn this technique, you can play the kind of music that you want to play,” he says.

Thanks to Andrés Segovia, a Spanish classical guitarist who commissioned numerous original works for the instrument in the 20th century, as well as arrangements and transcriptions of other work, there is a wide repertoire for the classical guitar, Boring says, adding that many Baroque and Classical keyboard pieces works well for the instrument, as do many violin and cello works.

Lute music also works well for the classical guitar, says Boring, who came to that stringed instrument by way of the guitar. “It’s very similar to the lute,” he says. “If you have a good technique on classical guitar, you can pick up any of the plucked, fretted instruments. The fingering is pretty much the same on all of them. The tuning is different, but the technique spills over into all of the instruments.”

So, where can an aspiring young classical guitarist turn if school doesn’t offer guitar class? Check out music stores, and some area colleges offer non-credit lessons to the community. Regional classical guitar societies are another good source, Boring says, adding that while the Lehigh Valley does not have its own, the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society has members who teach in the region.

While in-person instruction is standard, especially for hands-on demonstration, in the  early stages of instruction, lessons can easily be done via Zoom, Skype or other apps, Boring says, adding that he has been teaching via Zoom since the pandemic began. Although the apps have some limitations that make them less than ideal for addressing subtle things for which the instructor needs to be in earshot, at the early stages, he says a person could take lessons online for quite a while.

Boring says the classical guitar is relatively easy to learn, and while few schools and music stores have them available for rent, a decent starter guitar can be had for around $100. “Don’t invest in a $2,000 instrument,” he advises. “Buy a guitar you can take anywhere and not worry about. If you’re going to stick with it, you’re going to know it and you’re going to want a good one quickly.”

Locating a Classical Guitar

Finding a starter classical guitar is relatively easy, according to Daniel Boring. Many music stores sell both new and used instruments. Online marketplaces can be a good source for used instruments. Boring says that many of the mass-produced lower end instruments, such as those made by Yamaha, are very playable. And many “used” instruments have actually seen little use. If they have been well cared for, without any cracks, they are worth checking out.

“Playability” is the key, he says, noting that most classical guitars look the same, so you should pick an instrument for its sound and touch, not for its cool, fancy colors. 

Muhlenberg College School of Music
2400 Chew St

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