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Learn Classical Guitar Blog

Classical Guitar Blog - Up-to-date news and information about Guitar. We will bring you product reviews, information and timely news about topics related to Classical including best technique practices, music, composers, instrument care and much, much more.


Tremolo
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Guitar Scales
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Using a Metronome
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Buying a Guitar
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Learning the Notes on a Guitar
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Guitar Chords
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Guitar Tuning
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Stringing a Guitar
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Guitar Humidification
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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Tremolo
'High Degree of Difficulty - Great Reward!'

Classical Guitar Blog Definition: 

"Tremolo - a tremulous or vibrating effect produced on certain instruments...as to express emotion..."

It must be said that this technique is probably one of the hardest things to master on guitar.

Having said that, there's no reason to avoid doing tremolo as it brings great reward when mastered.

Who amongst us hasn't at some time imagined themselves playing to an enraptured audience (even if it is only family!) the beautiful strains of Recuerdos del Alhambra by Tarrega?

Our well controlled tremolo punching out the famous melody to the sighs and admiration of everyone.

Well, to reach that lofty peak you've just "gotta do the work" as they say.

Really, there's no getting around this technique you must be prepared!

Heck, it's worth it!

I remember many years ago watching my teacher play Recuerdos in a concert he gave and being amazed at the control and beautiful sound he conjured up. I felt transported literally to another dimension such was the effect it had on my mind and emotions.

I must say, even though I must have heard it a thousand times since I never tire of its magical and majestic beauty.

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

O.K. 'Nuff said. Let's get on with the technique itself.

Just how do you master such a difficult technique?

I've stuck to the tried and true methods over the years, and that seems to have gotten me 'over the hump' so to speak. Those methods, as mentioned in the books of Fred Noad and Scott Tennant, are simple, straight forward and basically common sense.

The first thing you need to do is practice SLOWLY at first - I cannot stress this more strongly!

Your subconscious mind will basically do and accomplish anything you tell it to do, but you must give it the CORRECT instructions, or you're basically headed for problems.

I always tell my students that speed is always the last ingredient to their playing. The actual technique is first learnt, absorbed and mastered before they can move on to playing it in pieces.

With that said, you must make your thumb and fingers work as one 'unit'. This will make your technique sound smooth and continuous.

You are, in fact, trying to 'trick' the ears of your listeners as the guitar is not capable of sustaining notes for a very long period like a violin, cello or other bowed instruments.

Another good way to accomplish mastery of this technique is use staccato in your practice routine as it seems to help with the articulation of the notes when you return to free stroke and speed up the tempo.

You can also use a metronome to allow you to master this technique in an incremental way.

If you seem to have the technique under control, you can "up the ante" a little. You must remember that if you seem to lose control of your tremolo at the higher speed you must bring it back, down to a slower tempo again.

Practised this way, it will become secure and well-articulated, just as it should be.

It's also a good idea to see what others have to say on the subject, other than this classical guitar blog, as technical concepts on guitar are often multi-faceted.

Good luck!

Check out this great little video on YouTube of Sharon Isbin playing Tarrega's Recuerdos del Alhambra...



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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Guitar Chords
'Playing Chords Are Easy When You Know How!'

Classical Guitar Blog Definition: 

"Chords are nothing more than two (more often three) notes played together either simultaneously, or in an arpeggio fashion (one note struck one after another to give a rippling effect in sound)."

Guitar chords can be notoriously difficult if you don't approach them in a technically correct fashion. This implies that your fingers must be at the correct angle otherwise you get chords that sound like a muffled, muted mess!

I'm getting ahead of myself here in this classical guitar blog entry!

Let's start with how guitar chords look in music notation, guitar chord diagrams and guitar tablature...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

The ‘Guitar Chord Box’ and the Tab indicates that the C on the fifth string is played on the third fret, using the third finger.

The E note on the fourth string is on the 2nd fret and played with the 2nd finger. The G is an open string (3rd string). The next C is played on the 2nd string first fret with the first finger and the highest note E, is also an open note played on the 1st string.

When fingering this chord (or any chord for that matter) you need to bend your fingers at the first joint and touch the strings with the tips of your fingers rather than the 'pads' (underside of the tips of your fingers opposite the nail side).

This type of approach will ensure that each note is clearly sounded with no muffled, muted or 'dead' sound coming from the strings.

Guitar chords, when strummed, plucked or picked should sound clear and free of buzzing or muting.

This also allows the overtones or ‘harmonic series’ to be correctly sounded thus giving a chord its true, full sound.

All chords (including classical chords) are built on the notes of the scale. The name of the chord depends on the intervals (distance from the root note) within that chord.

These are the intervals that make up the chords with their scale degrees and the distance from the root note on a single guitar string.

For the purposes of this classical guitar blog I have used a single guitar string so that you can get some idea of the distance from the root an interval would be within chords...

Unison...1...No frets Minor 2nd...

Flattened 2nd...1 fret

Major 2nd...2nd...2 frets

Minor 3rd... Flattened 3rd...3 frets

Major 3rd...3rd...4 frets

Perfect 4th...4th...5 frets

Augmented...Sharpened 4th...6 frets

Diminished 5th...Flattened 5th...7 frets

Perfect 5th...5th...8 frets

Minor 6th...Flattened 6th...9 frets

Major 6th...6th...10 frets

Minor 7th...Flattened 7th...11 frets

Major 7th...7th...12 frets

Perfect Octave...8th...13 frets

Augmented Octave...Sharpened 8th...14 frets

Minor 9th...Flattened 9th...15 frets

Major 9th...9th...16 frets

Perfect 11th...11th...17 frets

Augmented 11th...Sharpened 11th...18 frets

Minor 13th...Flattened 13th...19 frets

Major 13th...13th...20 frets

Here are the types of chords you're likely to use in everyday music (classical or otherwise) and their structure in terms of intervals...

Major... 1, 3, 5 (e.g. Tonic note + Major Third + Perfect 5th).

Minor... 1, b3, 5

Augmented... 1, 3, #5

Diminished... 1, b3, b5

Dominant 7th... 1, 3, 5, b7

Major 7th... 1, 3, 5, 7

Minor 7th... 1, b3, 5, b7

Dominant 7b5... 1, 3, b5, b7

Augmented Dominant 7th... 1, 3, #5, b7

Diminished 7th... 1, b3, b5, bb7

Suspended 4th... 1, 4, 5

Major 6th... 1, 3, 5, 6

Minor 6th... 1, b3, 5, 6

Six Add Nine... 1, 3, 5, 6, 9

Minor 6 Add 9... 1, b3, 5, 6, 9

Add Nine... 1, 3, 5, 9

Minor Add Nine... 1, b3, 5, 9

Major Ninth... 1, 3, 5, 7, 9

Minor Ninth... 1, b3, 5, b7, 9

Dominant Ninth... 1, 3, 5, b7, 9

Dominant Sharp Nine... 1, 3, 5, b7, #9

Dominant Flat Nine... 1, 3, 5, b7, b9

Minor Eleventh... 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11

Dominant Eleventh... 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11

Dominant Sharp Eleventh... 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, #11

Major 7 Sharp 11... 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, #11

Major Thirteenth... 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13

Minor Thirteenth... 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13

Dominant Thirteenth...1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13

When playing classical guitar music, you are playing chords all the time.

There is not usually any indication of this via a chord box or even a chord symbol, but the chords are there ...in bundles!

Indeed, the great jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, when interviewed for 'Guitar Player' magazine was asked... "Did you ever run into any of the classical guitar players, like Segovia?"

He answered... "No, and I don't want to because these cats will scare you. It doesn't make any difference that they're playing classic, but there's so much guitar!"

If you've ever had the pleasure of listening to Wes Montgomery soloing in chords, you can't help but be amazed.

You then get some idea of what the classical guitarist achieves in terms of chordal work if the great Wes Montgomery is impressed with them.

It is unfortunate that most classical guitarist's (myself included until a few years ago) don't really know enough about the theory and naming of most chords. Hence this classical guitar blog entry!

Do yourself a favor and apply yourself to the study of chords because it can only help your overall musicianship if you do.

Mostly, when playing chords, the classical guitarist will arpeggiate them. This is a great tool to use when done tastefully but can become a little "false" or pretentious when overdone.

However, every guitarist, classical or otherwise should know how this is achieved. If you look at the graphic below, it explains how to achieve it.

Just remember (if you can't read the notation) that each note is played evenly throughout the entire arpeggio...

Chords are also identified by a Roman numeral system or by its position in the scale. The system used is as follows...

Chord I = Tonic or root

Chord II = Supertonic

Chord III = Mediant

Chord IV = Sub-dominant

Chord V = Dominant

Chord VI = Sub-mediant or relative minor

Chord VI = Seventh

Chord I = Tonic (octave)

Another method of chord playing you should be familiar with is Barre chords. Other than this classical guitar blog entry I do have more comprehensive information about Barre chords on this page...

This is where you use your index finger basically to use your finger as a "bar" across the strings. To give you an example the E chord is used in the first position (first fret) on the guitar.

If you keep the same shape on the strings but use a barre chord across the whole six strings, you can transfer this chord all the way up the guitar fret board.

Only the fingers you use changes at the first move i.e. instead of using fingers 1, 2 and 3 to finger the E chord you use fingers 2, 3 and 4 and use the first finger almost like the "nut".

This makes an F chord. This can continue all the way up the fingerboard, and the chord will take its name from the note on the 6th string (lower E string).

Barre guitar chords are used in most classical guitar music and in different formations.

For instance, you can use a half-barre chord, which can cover both 3 and 4 strings. The beauty of the barre chord is that, in most instances, it makes guitar chords movable on the fret board.

I hope this little study of guitar chords in this classical guitar blog entry has made your understanding of what guitar chords are, and how they are made up, a little clearer.

Good luck with playing guitar chords in the future...

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Guitar Scales
'From Modes to Diatonic Major and Minor'

Classical Guitar Blog Definition: 

"A way of ordering the twelve sounds found in Western Music..."

When you're thinking scales on the guitar, you must delve into the mists of time right back to the ancient Greek empire, and the days of Pythagoras, to see that today's scales and guitar notes are derived from what the Greek's referred to as... "Modes".

The main modes the Greek's used were named after the 'tribes' that were prominent in Greek life and culture at the time.

The main names are: Ionian; Dorian; Phrygian; Lydian; Mixolydian; Aeolian and Locrian. Two of these modes, namely the Ionian and the Aeolian, are the same as the modern guitar scales of C Major and A minor.

That is, they both have the same starting and finishing point e.g. C to C and A to A. This is what these modes look like in notation...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Over time through the "Dark Ages", the modes were 'acquired' by the Christians monks for their sacred music.

It is interesting to note that these modes or scales used to be arranged in a descending order, but the monks turned them around to be ascending (going upwards) in order.

No one quite knows why they did this though I have heard it suggested that the monks thought the music should be... "Uplifting towards heaven".

Possible I suppose, although that does seem a rather fanciful and sentimental reason.

However, the modes were used in various forms over the ensuing centuries. Then came a fateful turn for Western music.

Alan Isaacs and Elizabeth Martin writing in the "Dictionary of Music" (Chancellor Press 1982) recount...

"In the 16th century, the Swiss monk Henry of Glareanus set out modes and assigned Greek names to them, although many of his identifications with the Greek modes were incorrect.

Some of the modes were of little practical use, but with the development of harmony in music, two modes (the Ionian and the Aeolian) were found to be the best suited to harmony, and they became known, from the 17th century onwards, as the major and minor scales on which most music has since been based."

So, these two modes form the basis of all scales you use today.

The word scale is a derivative from the Latin word "scala" meaning 'ladder'. You can think of your scales as a sort of ladder in that you 'climb' the different rungs to achieve different notes at different pitches.

If you put all these different notes together, you have a scale!

Scales are vitally important, not only for the classical guitarist but any guitar player worth his 'salt'.

Scales help immensely with technical advancement and prowess.

Indeed, the famous Segovia once said... "The practice of guitar scales enables one to solve a greater number of technical problems in a shorter time than the study of any other exercise."

Guitar scales also help you to learn the fingerboard and makes your fingers more supple, flexible and quick. Scales are also important as they are the underlying "building blocks" of chords and indeed harmony.

One excellent scale exercise I use is the Chromatic exercise...

Here is a free classical guitar blog PDF copy including Tablature that matches the above video for you to use...

To save the files just right click on the PDF and save to folder or desktop

If you really want to know your fingerboard, then there is really no way around learning scales to have thorough fluency and understanding of what you're doing.

Even though I'm a classical guitar player I try to learn as much about all guitar styles as possible.

That includes scales and modes. If you're just beginning to learn scales and modes I suggest you consider the words of the famous electric guitarist Al Di Meola...

"I would suggest starting your scale education with the major and minor scales, and after that, diminished, augmented, and whole-tone.

Then depending on what kind of music you want to play; the modes should be learned.

My theory is that you should learn it all. Once learned you can play whatever you want, and your playing will be more advanced, and you'll have a better understanding of the instrument."

Wise words indeed!

Here are the main Major sharp scales used today in music notation.

Enjoy!

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Here are the main Major flat scales used today in music notation...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Next is the minor sharp guitar scales. Notice the double sharps in the last two scales. This is because these scales are what is known as harmonic minors where the 7th note of the scale is raised by a semi-tone (1 fret).

This scale, according to Ralph Denyer... "developed out of the principles of harmony applied to the construction of chords."

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Guitar Scales in PDF

To save the files just right click on the PDF and save to folder or desktop...

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Guitar Tuning
Can Anyone Tune A Guitar?

The happy answer to that question is a resounding...YES!

To qualify that answer, it's like anything else you'll learn in life. You'll need a little "sweat, perseverance and a little background knowledge!"

I'll provide the knowledge if you provide the sweat. :))

Honestly though guitar tuning is nothing more than practice. It's like guitar note learning and, like anything you practice, you get good at it. I've taught students in the past that told me that they were tone-deaf so couldn't tune a guitar to save their life.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said that to me because I probably wouldn't have to work again!

Though the incidence of tone-deafness in society is not really that high. You can read about it on, Wikipedia.

Christopher Frazier of Austin State University, writing on tone deafness in February 2002 said...

"Few people know the range of the different types of tone deafness. However, many people think they have it. Tone deafness does not refer to a problem with the ears, but to a lack of training.

Tone deafness is easy to fix by training the ears and the vocal muscles...

tone deafness is a term that tends to be applied indiscriminately to a constellation of music processing, perceptual, and production deficits".

But on with guitar tuning...

There are many and varied ways to achieve sound guitar tuning but let's start with the standard way. That is the open strings of the guitar are in their normal pitch of:

First string ...     E

Second string ...B

Third String ...   G

Fourth string ... D

Fifth string ...    A

Sixth string ...   E (2 octaves below 1st string E)

I'll start with the guitar tuning method you'll most likely use at some time in your guitar career.

Firstly, you're going to need to get your guitar into what is known as "concert pitch". Although you can tune a guitar to itself and be in tune, it may not be in tune with other instruments or indeed, other guitars.

Concert pitch is standardized around the world.

It means that the note "A" above middle "C" on a piano (which is the same as "A" on the 5th fret of the first string of a guitar) shall have a frequency of 440 hertz (Hz).

This is just a way of measuring the vibrations per second of that note.

I won't get technical here as I want to keep this guitar tuning lesson focused about achieving successful guitar tuning rather than any technical discussion of arcane physics!

With that understood, you'll need a method for obtaining that standard note, unless you have perfect pitch!

That's another story.

The most common methods of finding that standardized "A" note when guitar tuning is the use of a tuning fork or pitch pipes.

You can also use an electronic tuner...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Electronic Guitar Tuner

I'll discuss this further as we proceed.

You can buy tuning forks and pitch pipes at any good local music store and they are cheap and readily available.

When tuning a guitar by a tuning fork I usually have the guitar sitting on my lap in the normal classical position.

Then, with my right hand I strike the tuning fork on a solid object (usually my knee! Ouch!).

As it sets up a vibration, I place the pointed or "ball-end" of the tuning fork on the bridge of my guitar. This amplifies the sound of the "A 440 Hz" very clearly indeed.

Whilst the vibration is continuing I then place the first finger of my left hand (opposite for left-handed) on the "A" note on the first string and use my 3rd finger of the left hand to "snap down" or "pull-off" the note two frets up, namely "B".

This allows the "A" note to ring and you then match it up with the vibrating sound on the tuning fork.

This might take several attempts but shouldn't be an exhaustive process.


Classical Guitar Blog Sidebar - Did You Know?

If you're going to attempt to tune a guitar from a piano it is interesting to note that music for the guitar is played an octave lower than it is written.

This means, for instance that a "middle C" played on a guitar at the 3rd fret of the 5th string is actually an octave lower in sound than the "middle C" on the piano.


After you have achieved the standardized pitch of your first string you then tune the other, lower "E" string to the same note.

You must remember that although it is the same note, the lower 6th string "E" is 2 octaves below that of the 1st string "E". You should be able, however, to tell with practice whether these two strings are in tune with one another.

The next step is to tune the strings in a downward fashion, nearly all from the same fret.

That is, the "A" string, followed by the "D" string, followed by the "G" string and finally the "B" string. You do this by starting at the "A" note on the 6th string, 5th fret. This note is the same pitch as the open 5th string "A".

Once that is done you play the "D" note on the 5th string at the 5th fret and match it up with the open "D" 4th string.

Then you play the "G" note on the 4th string, then the 5th fret to match the open 3rd "G" string. The next step in this method of guitar tuning has a slight variation due to the nature of guitar construction.

On a six-string guitar, the strings next to each other are tuned an interval of a 4th apart except the 3rd and 2nd strings.

They are tuned a 3rd apart. (This accounts for why it is so often very hard to tune the open "G" string and a little more care should be taken when tuning this string).

To tune the open "B" or second string go to the "B" note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string and match them up.

After you have completed this process you can quickly go through the same steps starting from the 6th string "E" again just to "fine tune" the process. 

Here's what these notes and the guitar box positions look like to help you with your guitar tuning...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

The next method of guitar tuning I'll show you is the one I use personally (when there's no electronic device available).

You start in the same manner as the previous method to get the 1st "E" string in tune using a tuning fork or pitch pipes.

Then by playing the "B" note on the 7th fret of the first string, you can match it with the open 2nd string or open "B"...

The next step is to play the "A" on the 1st string 5th fret and match it with the "A" on the 3rd string 2nd fret. After that, you play "G" on the 1st string 3rd fret and match it with the "G" open 3rd string.

Then play open "E' first string and match it with the "E" on the fourth string second fret.

Next play "A" on the 3rd string second fret and match it with the "A" open 5th string. Lastly play the "E" on the fourth string 2nd fret and match it with the 6th open "E" string.

There you have it; you're a guitar tuning master now!

You may have noticed that I tune in octaves.

That is because when guitar tuning, I find it easier and more accurate than the previously mentioned guitar tuning technique of 4th's and 3rd's.

Of course, if you know your notes throughout the fingerboard you should crosscheck the notes to see if your guitar is in tune, in the upper reaches of the fingerboard.

A good crosscheck is also to play the open string note and its octave at the 12th fret. Talking about open string notes, you can always tune your open guitar strings to the piano - if the piano is in tune of course

Look at the little graphic below and it will show you which notes on the piano correspond to the open strings of the guitar using Middle C as your "bearings" (the guitar notes are in orange) ...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Having said all that, on most occasions these days I take the headache out of my  guitar tuning with an online tuner...

I have installed it on my computer. If I must play away from the computer I use my battery-operated tuner.

I tune the guitar using the above-mentioned technique every now and again to keep my ears "tuned" as well as it were. Here's a way to tune your guitar with a tuning fork...

Good luck with your tuning!

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Using A Metronome
'A device that measures beats per minute in music'

This mechanical or electronic device helps a musician to keep proper time when practising their music.

The first of these devices was apparently invented in the late 1600's by a man named Etienne Loulie but is quite impractical by today's standards as it stood almost seven feet tall!

Imagine carrying that around in your guitar case!

In the next century, Johann Maelzel was credited with inventing its modern form. Although there remains some controversy, you often see Maelzel's name on your music as M.M.

That stands for "Maelzel's Metronome" and NOT "Metronome Marking" as many people often think.

Is it still a useful instrument for the musician today?

Well, I must say that I wholeheartedly agree that it is most useful, especially for us classical guitarists.

I'm often surprised by the number of guitar players I meet that don't use, or even see the benefit of one. I often think we need to embrace new ideas in relation to making our lives easier when practising.

Even in mundane and routine jobs like replacing a guitar string a string winder device can make things easier. You just need to be open to it. 

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Guitar String Winder

Many of my students haven't even purchased one, even though I've strongly advised them to buy one and use it!

For instance, it helps you to understand and indeed ‘feel’ some of the basic building blocks or foundations of music - beat and rhythm. It is often said that beat and rhythm are the "underlying heartbeat of all music."

Why Use a Metronome?

If you've ever watched small children at about primary (elementary) school level clap to a beat or song you'll notice something the world over, regardless of culture or country and almost without fail.

They ALWAYS speed up over time until the clap or beats gets ridiculously out of hand. They enjoy doing this, but they do not notice at first that they are indeed doing it, it is a subconscious phenomenon.

It points out dramatically that people need to be trained to keep a beat and more complex rhythms. Using this device is a precise way of doing just that.

When you're practising a piece slowly you really need to use this device to keep time properly.

With a beginning student especially, it will help them develop an internal sense of beat and rhythm. Not to mention the practising of different "exotic" time signatures that have come into vogue in the 20th and 21st century that need more precision and understanding.

Remember, this is only in practice!

Although it can help you with these different subdivisions of time and is a great help when practising and improving your scales, it is only a means to an end.

After some time, playing with this aid should be replaced by your developed inner sense of timing. If you're playing any instrument you should have an innate sense of beat, rhythm and general timing.

The metronome should help you fine tune your abilities and help with music, or sections in the music, where the composer is stricter in their requirement of the player.

This would be more-so for a classical guitarist than a rock or possibly even a jazz player but is not always the case.

These devices come in all shapes and sizes and are obviously very portable. They are also very inexpensive, so there is no real excuse for any guitar player or musician for not possessing a metronome.

But if you haven't gotten one yet you can use this handy little website that has an online metronome...

Using a Metronome to Improve Your Playing Speed

Almost every guitarist, classical or otherwise, wants to improve their playing speed. On many occasions, speed is gained at the cost of accuracy.

There are many ways to improve speed without sacrificing accuracy so that your playing retains its fluency and "purity" of sound rather than becoming scratchy and inaccurate.

The main ingredient in retaining your accuracy whilst improving your speed is developing the independence of each finger on both hands.

The practice of arpeggios is probably the best method for right hand finger independence.

Scale playing is also an excellent method to improve your speed in both hands. In his excellent book Classical Guitar Pedagogy Anthony Glise gives a wonderful example of how this can be accomplished effectively...

"With a metronome, have the student play through a scale or exercise, and after each comfortable playing, move the setting up one notch.

Start slowly, and at some point, the student will hit a tempo that suddenly feels very insecure.

This is much the same as a break in the voice of an untrained singer. The break will vary from guitar player to another guitar player, but it is always there and until it is overcome, it is painfully obvious...

The solution to this "break speed" is to move the setting down (one notch below the break) and work with that speed. When it feels comfortable move one notch above the break. The trick is to work around the break..."

He goes on to give some excellent advice about "accuracy in fast passages" and it's no wonder he is a leading authority throughout the world of classical guitar teaching and playing.

And great for this classical guitar blog! :)

Common sense would dictate that when there are difficulties with certain passages you need to practice them separate from the piece until mastery is obtained.

When teaching my students, I often liken the practice of difficult passages to fixing an automobile.

The mechanic takes out the defective part and replaces it with the new one.

Similarly, the classical guitarist "takes out the old broken part" and replaces with the new by the slow methodical practice of the difficult passage then "puts in back in" when it has been "cleaned and polished" as it were.

I hope this classical guitar blog article on using a metronome has been of help.

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Stringing a Guitar
'Easy With a Little Practice'

Changing a guitar string is not really a hard maintenance job once you've learnt how, and had a little practice!

I like relating an ancient Chinese proverb to all my guitar activities including changing a guitar string.

You've probably heard it before, but it'll do no harm repeating...

"I hear I forget...I see I remember...I DO I UNDERSTAND!"

Like most things in life, we must "get our hands dirty a little" before we get good at something, so don't be afraid to make mistakes. Stringing a guitar is no different and it's one of those jobs like guitar tuning that you just can't avoid.

If you still have trouble with replacing a guitar string after you've read this page I recommend this cheap and handy little guide to help you.,

This chart is the definitive resource guide for putting strings on the guitar. Clear photos and detailed description show you step by step how to change strings on steel-string and nylon-string guitars.

The chart also contains information regarding when to change strings and what strings to use. It's the Guitar Stringing Chart...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Guitar Stringing Chart

When replacing a guitar string you should really change one at a time, not all of them at once. It is not good for the neck of the guitar to have such a release of tension and then to have it applied so forcefully later.

It easily could lead to distortion of the neck and permanent damage.

Another tip when changing a string is never tune the strings more than a tone above its normal pitch. If you do it could lead to breakage.

Sometimes if, you tune a little sharp, say 1 semitone above normal concert pitch, it can make your guitar sound just that little bit 'brighter' in performance, and this can be a good thing.

To go beyond this is risking breakage, so take it easy.

Also, NEVER put steel strings on your classical guitar because it is not constructed to take such exertion and can be very easily damaged.

I remember a student of mine several years ago did just this and the neck broke away from the body of the guitar at the heel and completely ruined it! ‘Nuff said?

When I'm changing a string, whether it's a student's or my own, I always start with the 1st "E" treble one.

I use my tuning fork to get the "A" note (440 Hz) on the 5th fret and am then able to tune the others as I go. If you've got an electronic tuner, then I suppose it doesn't matter which one you start with.

First of all, unwind the old string until the tension is completely released and it's quite "floppy". Then un-thread the string from the Capstan in the Head-stock. Next, untie it from the bridge and discard it.

Who said changing a guitar string couldn't work up a sweat? Phew! :))

Classical Guitar Blog Sidebar - Did You Know?

Did you know that in Fernando Sor's time that guitar strings were called catgut?

They were not actually made of cat gut as such but were made mainly from the intestines of sheep! Using sheep intestines for a string? No way!!!

Take the new string (making sure it is the right one!) and thread it through the "eye" or hole in the bridge.

Then you need to tie it so that it won't come loose or slip when under tension. There are several ways to accomplish this when changing a string including the following two ways.

Here is a graphic of what it shall look like when completed...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

After threading the string through the eye you extend it about 10 to 12 cm beyond the bridge.

This will allow you to wind it around itself 3 times before you pull up the slack. I feel it is more secure because, as you can see from the picture, it is wound around itself 3 times.

Be careful you don't have too much overhang as it tends to rattle and vibrate annoyingly against the body of the guitar top.

The next step is to thread the string through the hole in the Capstan in the Head-stock.

I like winding the it once around closest to the outside of the head-stock and on the next "turn" cross it over to the inside of the Head-stock.

Then I keep winding the slack on this side until it's wound to its proper tension. Make sure you "feed" the string through the little slot in the Nut, so it is in the proper position when you tighten it up.

Here is what it looks like when complete...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

The second method of changing a guitar string (above on the right-hand side of the graphic) is a little safer as you tie the string in a little knot then wind the rest of the slack around until tuned.

When you become experienced at stringing a guitar you'll notice that it becomes much easier, and less time consuming to do.

There is no rush!

Take your time and do it slowly at first because it is well worth learning properly.

You'll have much less slippage and breakage or even tuning problems if you learn to put your guitar strings on properly in the first place.

Be advised that they'll take some time to "settle in" as the strings continue to stretch as you use and tune it. It all depends on how much you tune and play your guitar as to how long it takes for the them to stay in tune.

As a rough guide, it usually takes my new ones between 2 to 5 days to settle down.

A good tip if you're regularly replacing a guitar string is to stretch the strings yourself. This is achieved by pulling them outwards from your guitar along the length of the string from Nut to Bridge.

I then play all the semi-tones (fret by fret) along the string length then re-tune them. This technique should stretch them more quickly and so make it settle down and stay in tune.

I hope I have helped you to master changing a guitar string or at least made it more approachable.

Good luck!!!

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Buying A Guitar
'
When buying a guitar - Take ALL necessary precaution...'

There are many things to consider when you buy your guitar.

For instance, whether or not you are a beginner, or a seasoned professional will determine just what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend.

If you're a beginner to intermediate player, there are many excellent online dealers that carry a good range of brands at reasonable prices. 

These online stores live and die by their reputation and so can't afford to have mediocre instruments or service. As we all know, news travels very fast on the web, and they'd soon be out of business if they tried to pull a swift one on anyone.

You can pretty much trust that their instruments will be good, and you can view pictures of them online so don't be afraid of buying guitars online if you're looking for that sort of convenience.

If your heart is set on going to a 'bricks and mortar' store when buying a guitar, getting it in your hands to get the feel, then there are a few things you should know before you go.

The most important thing is of course the sound of the instrument. Is it a sound that you are happy with and feel comfortable?

The different types of wood that classical guitars are made from will give each instrument its own peculiar sound, but in general, guitars with cedar tops produce a ‘warmer’ tone, whereas spruce tops are likely to be more "focused" or 'concentrated".

I've been asked, in the past, to accompany parents of some of my students to help to buy a guitar. If the instrument is new then these things aren't so important, but I still check them anyway.

  • So, one of the first things I always do is check along the neck of the instrument by looking down from the nut to the end of the instrument. That is, I physically pick up the guitar and hold it out from my body so that the head stock is pointing towards me. 
  • Next, check the length of the guitar neck. See if the fret board is straight. There should be NO bowing of the neck at all.
  • I also look behind the bridge on the guitar to see if the top is buckled or bowed. I strongly advise anyone NOT to buy an instrument that was showing any signs of these defects. It's just not worth it in the end.
  • The third thing I do when purchasing a guitar is to hold down the strings from the second fret to the twelfth fret and see if the string length touches all the intervening frets. There will be a problem with craftsmanship if you have any significant variation here.
  • I then check the sound of the instrument to see if it has the qualities that I'm after. They are: projection; quality of tone and; comfort i.e. is it the right size for me or whoever we're buying the guitar for? Children, especially younger ones, will obviously need a smaller guitar than adults, and it depends on the size of the student. Classical guitars usually come in half, three-quarter, five-eighth and full size.

If you've covered all these areas when buying a guitar, you'll usually come away with a decent guitar that will last you many years of happy playing. If you're a more advanced player or have the money and inclination to buy something a little better, you know, that DREAM guitar, then you'll have to invest a little more time, money and testing to achieve it.

Sharon Isbin, writing in the Classical Guitar Answer Book, suggests these areas when purchasing a "dream guitar": Beauty of Tone; Dynamic & Timbral Contrasts; Clarity & Speed of Response; Sustain; Balance; Resonance; Intonation; Projection; Condition. She goes on to elaborate on all these points in the book.

Phew!

Talk about attention to detail! I bet you didn't think guitar buying took so much effort. If you're buying a guitar of quality and it's worth the money, then it's worth the time and effort to research.

I hope this has been of help in buying a guitar.

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Guitar Humidification
'
Humidification - The artificial regulation of humidity...'

To humidify your guitar is important as problems with humidity can lead to heartbreak for the classical (or other) guitarist.

All guitar makers agree that excessive humidity or dryness can ruin an instrument probably quicker than you think. You must always be aware of what conditions you are leaving your instrument, whether inside a guitar case or within a room or in the open.

They NEVER should be left in the sun for any length of time!

When guitars are built, they are usually in an environment where the relative humidity of the room is kept constant, roughly around 50%.

To be safe you ideally should keep your instrument around this mark though they are generally regarded as safe between 40%-70% as the upper and lower margins.

Below or above this can be drastic for your instrument!

An interesting example of anecdotal evidence of problems with humidity I've heard is with Ramirez guitars.

Because they're made in Spain where the humidity is often above the 50% mark and are shipped to areas where the humidity is much lower with dry winter conditions, they can easily develop cracks and slits throughout the guitar.

Having made an investment for such a beautiful guitar, you'd be mad not to invest in a relatively cheap system for keeping the humidity of your guitar constant. Like a guitar humidifier case, for example...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Or for something more inexpensive try the Guitar Humidifier and Hygrometer...

The damage caused by too much humidity or of drying out your instrument can range from cracks, splits and shrinkage to warping and even snapping of the wood.

There are many things you can do to prevent humidity problems from the start. You know the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", especially when it comes to humidifying a guitar.

I would recommend keeping your house, or wherever you keep your instrument, at a constant temperature and humidity all year round.

Next, I would get a humidifier for my guitar case.

Whether it's one sold commercially, or a home-made one. The moisture in commercial humidifiers are slowly released. They are attached to the inside of your case.

Another thing to invest in is a "hygrometer", which is an instrument that will keep track of humidity, or lack of it in your guitar case. As mentioned above, some guitar cases are made with these things as standard.

If you follow these few simple rules and keep an eye out for changes in temperature and humidity, it shouldn't be hard to keep your instrument in good order.

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Classical Guitar Blog Topic: Guitar Note Learning
'
Just How Do You Learn the Notes on A Guitar Neck?'

To learn every note on every fret and across all six strings seems quite a difficult task for most students to overcome.

Certainly, harder than reading guitar tablature I think you'll agree.

Because the guitar neck, when compared to a piano for instance, is difficult but there are ways and means of reducing this difficulty quite markedly.

Indeed, in the conclusion to his chapter on learning the guitar neck in his excellent book Solo Guitar Playing, Frederick M. Noad says

"...it is obvious that knowledge of where each guitar note is on an instrument is absolutely basic to any serious study of it. The piano student knows where all the notes are on his instrument in a matter of hours or days, yet guitar students persistently extend this into months and years. Consequently, guitarists tend to lag in musicianship behind other instrumentalists..."

The methods suggested by Mr Noad in the chapter on learning each separate guitar note are sound methods, BUT he generally suggests practising this away from the guitar i.e. in your mind or imagination.

I'm not saying that it's bad advice: however, it's very good advice. There are many more topics covered in the book, and I highly recommend it.

I feel that it doesn't go far enough when you consider the different ways in which people learn a new task.

I am going to give you some materials to enhance the learning of the fret notes. It is better learning something new using as many of your senses as possible.

That could mean in our case using the visual, auditory and tactile senses. In other words: seeing; hearing; touching.

When you add this to your imaginative processes you have a powerful way to commit the learning of each guitar note on the guitar neck, whether a classical guitar or any other type of guitar, to memory.

I'll leave out tasting and smelling unless your relationship with your guitar runs much deeper, in which case I think it's beyond the scope of this article!

I'll add one more unusual method for learning the guitar neck at the end of this article which adds a dimension of fun and even frivolity to the learning of each fret.

It's much more fun than just rote learning via a boring note graphic like this...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

Here's a color graphic if you're more comfortable with a visual learning style...

Classical Guitar Blog Picture...

It's more fun than the above black and white graphic and you can download the P.D.F. file below by right clicking on it and saving it to your desktop...

The first method to learn each guitar note is via each vertical fret position and using memory cards.

That is, I've provided a PDF file (see below this article) for you to download where you can paste each side together and use them in a memory game against yourself or against one of your guitar buddies if you wish.

Just download the PDF and print out the cards.

Glue back and front together and you're ready to play. It'll help your memorization if you say these out loud.

For example, you see a card that says "Fret 3" before you get to 'keep' the card you have to recite each guitar note in that fret starting at the 6th string or the 1st string depending on how you want to play the game.

Your answer for Fret 3, therefore, could be... "G, C, F, A#, D, G".

The second method of learning guitar notes is a little more involved, that is you will use small individual guitar note cards.

For example, one side might say... "4th Fret 4th String." and before you turned it over to 'keep' you would have to say... "F sharp" and so on for each guitar note on the whole fingerboard board of the guitar from the open strings to the 12th fret.

I say to the 12th fret because from that point on the notes are the same except for being an octave higher.

The actual guitar note names are the same, so if you've learnt the notes up to the 12th fret you've really learnt them from the 13th to the 19th, 22nd or even the 24th as some guitars extend.

This game is fairly advanced, so I'd suggest playing the previous game a whole lot before embarking on this one, but it's really good if you want to consolidate your learning.

Don't forget to follow the advice of Fred Noad as his "mental" methods of "Learning By equivalent Notes", "Learning by Fret" and "Transfer of Position" are a great starting point to memorize each guitar note up and down the guitar neck or frets.

NOTE: When you print out these P.D.F. sheets for this game, make sure you are careful when aligning them when pasting.

If you are not accurate, then the little cards become hard to cut up without snipping off some of the text.

I've decided to include another little sheet in the P.D.F. that you can fill in laterally (across each length of string) so that you have another way of consolidating your knowledge.

You might want to print out several sheets and either time yourself, your guitar buddy or even your students if you're a teacher of guitar.

This is a good way to measure your improvement in terms of speed or facility as well as drill practising that knowledge.

As I mentioned above, there is another method I've employed in the past that utilizes the natural way your mind works with a few fun twists.

It is this:

To learn the open notes of the guitar (and fret 12 and 24) in a matter of minutes you say and imagine this little story...

An Emu was chasing an Ape with a Drill but tripped over a Garbage can...out popped a Baby eating an Earthworm.

Notice the notes of the open strings are capitalized and in orange. If you learn this little story and 'see it' in your imagination it becomes easy to remember each guitar note because of the pictures, the bizarreness and the action or movement.

Yeah, I know it's crazy, but that's the point. Let me explain.

We see pictures in our minds NOT words. Example?

If I said to you think of an elephant I'm guessing you're seeing the elephant or part of it but not the word written down. 

Of course, you could see the word written down if you so desire, but it probably wasn't your brain's first natural instinct to do so and it could be even argued that what you're seeing is a graphic representation of the word anyway.

In other words, it's a picture of the word itself.

Another way to prove my point is to ask you whether your brain dreams in words or pictures at night.

Of course, it’s pictures.

This principle is nothing new, and I'm not claiming to have made it up.

In fact, it's how many of those so-called memory experts remember hundreds of names quickly in say a room full of people. It's just that they're good at using pictures to associate certain facts or names and "pinning" them to people for easy recall.

You'll notice that the above story certainly had a 'craziness' to it, and that's because it makes your mind sit up and take notice which again enhances the chance of your retaining the information.

The third part of the "equation" is that there was a lot of action involved in the story. It wasn't a passive, boring retelling.

It has movement, and a dynamic quality to help you retain the information in your brain by exciting it and visualizing it in your mind's eye.

Don't underestimate the power of this method to help you learn each guitar note on the guitar neck or fret board.

I once came up with some of these "stories" with a student for each of the notes on the neck of the guitar up to the 12th fret

In less than two weeks, he’d memorized the whole fret board and could name each note when quizzed on it. The above 'story' was the one we used for the open and 12th frets of his classical guitar.

If you want to use this method, I suggest coming up with your own stories because there's nothing better for retaining the information with what your own brain has created.

It really is easy if you treat it as a bit of fun and let yourself be creative and "crazy".

Now for the P.D.F. file. Just right click on the link below and use the Save Target As function and save to your desktop or folder of your choice. Click the link to open browser in a new window to print your guitar note booklet.

Ready...set... Download Guitar Note help...

To save the files just right click on the PDF icon above and then "Save Target As" (or open into a new window for Google Chrome) to the desired folder for your free guitar lesson on your computer if you're using a Windows operating system.

For Mac owners use "Control - Save"

I hope this article and materials are of use to you and that I have inspired you to learn and 'unlock' each guitar note on the fret board and to have fun at the same time.

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