April 09, 2015
Teaching Classical Guitar Technique
By Scott Schwertfeger, Guitar instructor in Burke, VA
The modern, nylon string “classical” guitar is an amazing instrument and vehicle for music expression. It comes from a long line of distant cousins, including the Lute, Vihuela, Renaissance Guitar, and Baroque Guitar. Since the first construct of the modern design in 1859 by Antonio de Torres Jurado(1817-1892), a rich history of repertoire and pedagogy has been handed down to us, providing a path for each unique person to find the best in their technique. Each person who begins the quest of the guitar may differ in their musical background and artistic desires, but taking time to explore the technique of the classical guitar will provide a strong foundation for playing any kind of guitar(electric guitar, electric bass guitar, banjo, etc.), and if guided properly, will weed out any flaws in their technique.
Consistency and Ergonomics
Whether a seasoned pro or just starting out on the journey, having a good setup and consistent workspace are keys to getting results quickly. Even if their desire is a style that exclusively uses electric guitar, I recommend they get this instrument for the purpose of forming a good foundation, and freeing the hands. Having access to a bench is better than using any kind of chair. A piano bench is most common, and available now also through Music & Arts, as well as the standard footstool for elevation of the left leg for good ergonomics. Being centered, and finding one’s center of gravity while sitting is fundamental to the overall process. Chairs that are designed for comfort, thus having sloped seats and arms on them work against the ergonomics. Lastly, I recommend having a music stand. Having materials placed on the couch or floor or table is going to work against the process. On the music stand, I would place a metronome, and a pencil for taking notes. These things provide consistency to one’s work and increase the quality of the results.
Being able to communicate well musically is a skill that combines many factors. I recommend to everyone that they learn to read standard staff notation. For classical guitar there are many methods, but I recommend Christopher Parkening’s “The Art and Technique of the Classical Guitar” volumes one and two. It does an excellent job of uniting the mind to the staff, and the hands to the strings.
Once a student has developed and forged their technique, and have developed some music they enjoy playing, I encourage them to share it in a live public performance. I never force this, but always encourage. It’s a deep and personal thing to perform, and I believe it’s up to everyone to come to the decision if they wish to share their music. Finding a venue is fairly easy, and creating an environment free of criticism and full of support. If it’s possible to have a consistent performance opportunity, I’ve seen that it really accelerates the overall growth of what students are doing. In addition, creating performing ensembles for your students is a wonderful way to break the ice on performing, and quickly builds confidence.
Scott Schwertfeger received his B.S. degree in Interdisciplinary Studies combining Music Performance and Music History from West Liberty State College, studying Classical Guitar technique with Dr. Nels Leonard, student and friend of Andres Segovia. After completing his undergraduate studies, Scott was awarded a teaching assistantship at the University of Akron, where he received his M.M. in Music Performance in 1994, working closely with renowned guitarist and pedagogue Stephen Aron, who chairs the Guitar Departments at The University of Akron and Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies, Scott has participated in Masterclasses with famed and renowned guitarists such as Sharon Isbin, John Holmquist, Ricardo Iznaola, and David Tannenbaum. Scott has participated in numerous projects and recordings since graduating, and has been featured in local and national radio and television broadcasts, in addition to serving on the faculties of the Cleveland Institute of Music and Bethany College as Lecturer and Teacher of Classical Guitar.