This lesson is intended to provide a sort of quick-start guide for getting into classical guitar. I've compiled short bits of easy classical guitar tabs that are just enough to get your fingers moving on a few popular classical pieces. You can think of it as a starter kit for those who just want to dabble.
I’ve found that even if you don’t want to pursue full-fledged involvement in classical guitar, there are still a lot of great theoretical concepts and techniques that can be gleaned from the genre and applied to other guitar playing concepts.
Classical Song Tutorials
Want to tackle some full classical songs on the guitar?
There are several fantastic tutorials over at Guitar Tricks, which you can try free for 14 days. That's plenty of time to make it through some of the classical material.
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What exactly will we do in this lesson?
Aside from learning a few classical guitar tabs, we'll focus on some basic technique.
Namely, we’ll learn how to shift properly and avoid collapsing while covering some simple tabs and patterns that are heavily used in classical pieces.
Let’s start our lesson with Andrés Segovia.
Segovia, a classical guitar virtuoso, wrote a book in 1980, titled Diatonic Major and Minor Scales, which has since become a staple resource of classical guitar study.
A helpful excerpt:
“The student who wishes to acquire a firm technique on the guitar should not neglect the patient study of scales. If he practices them two hours a day, he will correct faulty hand position, gradually increase the strength of the fingers, and prepare the joints for later speed studies. Thanks to the independence and elasticity which the fingers develop through the study of scales, the student will soon acquire a quality which is very difficult to gain later: physical beauty of sound. I say physical, because sonority and its infinite shadings are not the result of stubborn willpower but spring from the innate excellence of the spirit.” - Andrés Segovia
If you want the scales but don’t want to buy the book (linked in my resources section above) refer to classtab.org’s segovia list.
The ClassTab list provides you a number of major and minor scales, most of which require you to shift your hand in order to complete the run. Each scale has a classical “tune” to it, which means you can use them as foundational building blocks for recognizing classical patterns in the future.
Simply put, they’re a good way to get your feet wet with classical guitar.
How to Build Smooth Shifting
Shifting is an important part of classical guitar and an important skill for all guitarists to develop.
It’s the act of moving your entire hand within a given scale or note sequence in order to continue that pattern seamlessly at a different fret. Any situation where you have to move to a different fret in order to continue a run would be considered shifting.
In that regard, we want to strive for as much smoothness as possible within every shift.
We can begin putting this into practice with two common scales that are both covered in Segovia’s book, C and G major.
The goal is to shift your hand when necessary, so as to avoid pauses or any kind of excess sound. You want the listener to be unaware that your hand moved or that there was any kind of break in the scale.
Run through those scales a few times until the shift is comfortable for you.
Practicing shifts with four notes
You can specifically practice shifting with a simple four-note pattern.
For this example, I’ve started on the third fret and added two major second intervals on either side of a minor second interval.
With whatever fingering is most comfortable for you, practice shifting between each major second interval going in both directions. In this case, you'll probably want to use your first (pointer) and third (ring) finger for both intervals, meaning your first finger will play the notes on the third and sixth frets.
Usually your shifts won’t be more than two or three frets at a time, so if you use other patterns to practice them, keep that in mind.
For example, trying to get good at shifting from the third to the 10th fret might not be entirely functional for classical guitar, since that note change will be more easily attained by simply moving to a note on another string that’s close to the prior note's fretboard position.
Thus, the majority of your shifts will occur within a two or three fret span.
How to Avoid “Collapsing”
Collapsing is when you bend your wrist and allow the palm of your hand to point up, away from the fretboard.
Proper form for classical guitar playing (and I would contend all guitar playing) is to keep your hand straight over the fretboard, thus avoiding the collapsed position.
If you notice yourself collapsing your grip on the fretboard, this is an ideal time to break that habit and straighten your hand. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time playing these scales, not to mention the classical patterns we have coming up.
Simple Classical Guitar Tabs: Excerpts from Popular Pieces
You’re now going to apply what you’ve learned.
For these pieces, you’ll want to keep the following technical issues in mind:
- Smooth playing
- Subtle shifting
- Avoid collapsing your grip
We’ll take excerpts from three pieces, breaking them down into simple classical guitar tabs for you to practice.
This is an easier way to start, as opposed to full tab sheets of classical songs, which can be overwhelming, even on a good day.
We will, however, link to the full tab for each piece for those of you feeling courageous.
Canon in D: Johann Pachelbel
We’re following the chord progression ( D - A - Bm - F♯m - G - D - G - A ) straight through and arpeggiating each one along the way.
It’s pretty straightforward, so check out the full version of Pachelbel’s Canon if you’re feeling ambitious.
The next two songs are easily recognized and employ a similar arpeggiated pattern, though with more complex bass lines.
Moonlight Sonata: Beethoven
Fur Elise: Beethoven
Plan for Further Classical Guitar Study
Looking for more direction to go deeper into the world of classical guitar?
Where should you focus?
We can use what we’ve covered so far to come up with a loosely defined and flexible classical guitar lesson plan that takes you through the process incrementally.
1. Start with the Segovia Scales
The book of Segovia scales are the best place for you to begin your venture into classical guitar, as they make up some of the most commonly occurring scales and patterns that are used in the genre.
There’s no Kindle version of this book, but you can buy the paperback on Amazon if you want the material in your hand.
If you don’t want to buy the book, ClassTab.org has all the scales listed (which we linked to earlier as well).
2. Develop your understanding of arpeggios
An arpeggio is simply a chord broken up and played one note at a time instead of all at once. This technique is critical for classical guitar as it’s often employed within the genre.
Most of the time it’s done using a fingerpicking technique.
Start with something simple, like a C major chord.
Your right hand technique should involve your thumb and your first three fingers, picking the strings from top to bottom and bottom to top.
Try the same thing with a full G major barre chord.
Here’s a more detailed description of right hand technique for arpeggios and classical guitar.
3. Tackle some pieces out of ClassTab.org’s library
The last step is to apply everything you’ve learned, the technique, posture and all it entails. The best way to do that is to start working through some classical pieces in full.
ClassTab.org’s library has a lot of music, though I will list a few easier pieces that I’d recommend starting on.
- Op 6 - Nuevo Metodo de Guitarra - Part 1, Lesson 8 in Am
- Escuela de Guitarra - Part 2, Section 1, Chapter 2, Lessons 35, 38 in C
- Anna Magdalena Anh 116 - Minuet in G
- Orchid (Fragrant Thoroughwort)
- Simple Gifts
There are plenty more to choose from, all in the same tabbed format.
My advice would be to start with these, since they’re all listed as EASY and then move out into more difficult pieces.