|We are going to start our studies on the classical guitar in the key of A minor natural.
It is our natural tones a, b c, d, e, f, and g, then we start all over again with a. It is the
relative minor of C major, which is our natural tones from c to c. This is the natural
form. There are two other forms harmonic and melodic. We will study those in the
next two lessons. Most methods start with C but we are starting with A minor
because it has easy chords and open string bass notes. It sounds good too. It will play
twice. To play it again use the player below. You may have to click on it once to
activate it. We teach you how to play it further down the page.
On these pages I've will give you some good technique tips for playing classical guitar and
two good exercises for learning the notes in first position. But no few pages can substitute for
a good method book. Below are a few available at Amazon.com.
The Right Hand
The picture shows the proper position of the
right hand for playing classical guitar. The
thumb is more or less parallel to the strings
and the fingers are more or less
perpendicular. Notice the letters that we use
to label the fingers. You might say I can see
"i" and "m" for index and middle but what's
this "p" and "a". Actually, these are
abbreviations for the Latin names for the
thumb and fingers, not the English names.
Right Hand Technique
We will begin by using the rest stroke with the fingers and the free stroke with the thumb. A
finger is slightly curved before it attacks the string. As it plays the string, try to relax the first
finger joint so that it will give and the finger will bend back at that first joint. Imagine the
finger from the first joint as the bristles of a brush that will bend back as you paint a surface.
As you pass through the string let the finger briefly come to rest on the next lower string. The
rest is very brief as the finger must immediately spring back to be ready for the next stroke.
We will start by alternating fingers "i" and "m" over and over. We will talk about using finger
"a" later. You get the best sound if you let the finger nails grow slightly so that you are getting
flesh and nail as you brush the string. The best way to shape the nail is with an emery nail
stick. The thumb uses the free stroke, not coming to rest on the next higher string. You can
do rest stroke with the thumb and/or free stroke with the fingers but we will discuss that later.
Guitar Music & Tab
The music for the "Open String Exercise" pictured below, shows a very popular way of
representing music for the guitar. We have the notes represented in both musical notation and
tab. Remember guitar music is written one octave higher than it sounds to put it all on the
treble clef staff. Even so the low open E string is four ledger spaces and the open A string is
three ledger lines below the staff. The open D string is the first ledger space below the staff,
the open G string is on the second staff line, the open B string is on the third staff line and the
high e string is in the fourth or top staff space. The filled in head on the note with a stem and
no flags is a quarter note. The 4/4 time signature tells us that there are four beats to a measure
and that the quarter note gets one beat. Ignore the sharp symbol. The key we are in tells us to
sharp the f note but none of the open strings are f's. The tablature or tab staff is underneath
music notation staff. On "The Classical Guitar" page we said that the orientation of the tab
staff would be the same as the orientation of the guitar pictures and graphics. I've repeated the
graphic showing all the natural notes on the guitar below, to refresh your memory.
Open String Etude
With this exercise, we will play all the open strings of the guitar. As you don't have to finger
any notes with the left hand, this exercise will allow to focus on right hand classical guitar
technique. This exercise could also be played with a guitar pick if you just want to use it to
learn the notes. It will also introduce you to guitar music and guitar tablature, if you are not
already familiar with it. Use the player below to hear the exercise. You may have to click on it
first to activate it. The music is below the player in music notation and tablature. Below that
we have a couple of paragraphs on tab and playing the exercise.
Tablature With Time
As we look at the tab staff, we see the stems showing that we have quarter notes and the
number zero on the open guitar strings that correspond to the notes in the music staff above.
As you will see, if these were fretted notes they would be replaced by numbers on the
appropriate string. For instances, if we wanted you to play low A on the 5th fret of the low E
string, we would put the number 5 on that string. You can see that the guitar fingerboard is
very graph like and not only lends itself to tab but almost demands it. Music notation alone
cannot tell you where on the fret board to play a note. Where tab fails is in representing the
timing. Quarter notes and shorter notes can be shown notes with stems and flags. But longer
notes and tied notes are difficult to impossible. Notice how for the whole note at the end of
our "Open String Exercise", we leave off the stem but we only know it's a whole note because
there is nothing else in the measure. Looking up at the music notation, we know it's a whole
note because we have the whole note symbol. So as you can see musical notation plus tab is a
good way to represent guitar music. Often when tab is used with music, timing is not
represented at all in the tab staff. In the music above, we could leave out the stems in the tab
staff and simply look at the music staff for our timing.
Playing The Exercise
Now scroll back up to the "Open String Exercise" and practice playing it. Remember free
stroke with the thumb and rest stroke with the fingers. We are only using p, i and m for this
exercise. I've included all the open string notes in this exercise. Using the guitar fretboard
pictured above the music as your guide, learn the names of the open strings and call them out
as you play them. Practice until you can sound like the sound sample for this exercise. Some
classical guitar exercises like this one can also be played with a guitar pick.. Some cannot be
because there are strings to be played simultaneously, with strings that are not to be played in
The Left Hand
The left hand fingers press the open string
against a fret to play the fretted guitar notes.
The fingers are numbered 1 to 4 as shown. The
thumb is behind the neck of the guitar so that
with the thumb in back and the finger in front,
you have a clamping action to create the force
to hold the string down against the fret. Some
rock players have developed a style that uses
only three fingers but classical and jazz players
use all four fingers
Left Hand Technique
The open string is suspended between the nut and the bridge. When you press the string down
on a fret, then the string is suspended between that fret and the bridge. The shorter the string
the higher the note. In the picture above, I am pressing down with finger 1, on the first fret of
the low E or 6th string. The best place to press is just behind the fret. If you press on top of
the fret, you will dampen the vibrations and kill or dull the sound. Also the fingers 2,3 and 4
mustn't touch the string as that will stop the vibration and kill the sound. But if you are
pressing the string down on third fret with finger 3, you don't have to worry about fingers 1
and 2 as the string is suspended between the 3rd fret and the bridge. Nothing touching the
string between the third fret and the nut can have any effect. Only the highest fretted note
sounds. As a matter of fact, you can leave finger 1 in place until it is needed elsewhere. If you
were playing open string, 1st fret, 3rd fret, 1st fret, open string, you would leave finger 1 in
place until you have to play the final open. This gives a much better connection between the
notes. The principle is don't move a finger until you have to.
A Minor Natural Etude
As you know the natural notes in music are named by the letters a, b ,c ,d ,e ,f, and g. Then
we start all over again with a. If you don't know, then go back the classical guitar page and
review. The scale a to a with all natural notes is called A minor natural, It is the relative minor
of our familiar C major do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do scale, which we get by playing from c to c.
There are two other forms of the A minor scale, harmonic and melodic that we will study
next. Most method books would start with major scales first, but on classical guitar minor
keys sound so much more interesting that we will start there first. Also for the guitar the bass
notes for the chords in A minor are the low open strings. So you get to play advanced
sounding pieces with less effort. To hear the "A Minor Natural Classical Guitar Étude" use the
player below. You may have to activate it by clicking on it, then click on the play arrow. It
will not start automatically. First listen and then read the paragraph on playing it. This is an
example of an exercise that can only be played with classical or finger picking technique
because it has two parts. In between the two parts there are open strings that do not belong to
the music, so you can't strum across. You could practice each part separately with a pick.
Playing The Étude
The music for the "A Natural Minor Classical Guitar Étude" with music and tab is pictured
below. You will notice that unlike the "Open String Exercise", I have used the tablature
without rhythm. You use the tab only to see where to play your notes on the guitar. All your
timing comes from the music. We have our 4/4 time with four beats to a measure. A quarter
note, the one with the filled in head and stem, gets one beat. The half note, the one with the
hollow head and the stem, is held for two beats. The hollow note with no stem is a whole note
and is held for four beats. This music has two parts. The top part is played with the fingers at
the same time as the bottom part is played with the thumb. For good technique make sure you
alternate the index and middle finger throughout the piece. I have placed the i and m indicators
above the notes to help. If you have trouble playing the two parts at the same time, practice
each part separately first. This Étude teaches you the A minor natural scale, all the natural
notes for open position guitar and two part playing. I've made the two part playing easy by
having an open string note that you don't have to finger in one of the parts in every measure.
In measures one you play the open 5th string a with your thumb at the same time as you play
the 2nd fret a on the 3rd string with your index finger. The low a continues to ring out as you
hold the high a for two beats and then play b and c on beats 3 and 4. In the second measure,
you have four notes in the upper part at the same time as the open 4th string d rings out for
four beats.In the third measure both parts have whole notes but the low open 6th string e
rings out against the fingered 5th fret a on the 1st string. In the fourth measure, we switch
and the open string is in the high part and the fingered notes are in the low part. This
switching of the open note from part to part continues throughout the piece. Each finger plays
the fret of the same number except when the high a, 5th fret, 1st string comes into play. That
note is played with the 4th finger. In the run up to and down from a on the 1st string, many
players like to use the 2nd instead of the 3rd finger on the 3rd fret note g. Try to think of the
names of the notes as you play them and don't forget, free stroke with the thumb and rest
stroke with the fingers.
A Minor Natural
This lesson is not only about playing classical guitar but it introduces minor scales. Unlike the
major scale which has only one form, the minor scale has three forms. As we finish this
lesson and the next two, you will understand how to use the three forms and why they exist.
We are going to start with A minor. We know that the major scale is the familiar do, re, me,
fa, so, la, ti, do. For the key of C major it is all the natural tones c, d, e, f, g, a, b and then
starting all over with c. Every major key has a relative minor based on the 6th note of the key.
More complex songs in one key use parts of other keys. It is very common for a major key to
use it's relative minor in a song and for the relative minor to use the relative major. We will
study that in future lessons but first we will study the relative minor by itself. The purist form
of the relative minor is the natural form. For A minor that is the natural tones a, b, c, d, e, f, g,
and then starting all over with a. That is the form we are using in this lesson. In the next
lesson we will use A minor Harmonic and in the lesson after that A minor melodic. Since
harmonic involves harmony and chords, the next lesson will teach you the chords for A minor.
©2006 - 2009
Playing Classical Guitar