The title of this course refers to the fact that when you are learning a new skill, 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. The key then is to spend as much time on that 20%. With an art form like classical guitar there aren't any shortcuts, but the problem is that too many people take that to mean that you should struggle and not make progress for a long time. Something I see in lessons is that certain bad habits get reinforced, so that even with lots of practice time there isn't much improvement.
This course is laser-focused on the skills that are essential to being a good classical guitarist. These skills aren't flashy, in fact if you are executing them correctly your audience probably won't be aware of what's going on. And that's what you want, since you want people to focus on the music, that's what people mean when they make the distinction between someone who is a guitar player and someone who is a musician.
That sounds pretty good, but how do you do that? It's essential to spend the limited time and energy you have for guitar practicing in the best way. To that end, you'll focus on techniques and concepts that have 3 key characteristics:
That being said, this course isn't meant for absolute beginners. As long as you have some basic experience playing guitar and plucking the strings with your right-hand fingers, you are going to find a lot of good stuff to work on this course. There are over a dozen short study pieces written specifically for this course that will help you build your technique in 3 key areas: right hand technique, left hand technique, and transitions.
At the end of the course you'll be able to apply everything you've learned by playing the "Minuet in G" by J.S. Bach. As always you'll have lifetime access to the lesson videos as well as downloadable PDF files of the study pieces and the Minuet written in both standard notes and guitar tablature.
There's a great quote by Abraham Lincoln, "If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Your technique is your axe and this course will help you sharpen it so that you can make the most progress. The longer I teach classical guitar lessons, the more convinced that anyone can play the classical guitar well. If you are serious about becoming a good classical player, then you'll really enjoy working through the lessons, learning the study pieces, and becoming a better musician.
This is a video lesson-based course, with each lesson video lasting about 10 minutes and showing the hands from a variety of angles. The heart of the course is a set of 13 original classical guitar study pieces, as well as the Minuet in G by J.S.Bach. Each study includes a downloadable PDF file of the sheet music written in both standard notation and guitar tablature, and once you enroll you'll have lifetime access to the lesson videos.
In this video I'll just briefly lay out the order of the lectures and give you an idea of what we are working towards. There's not any actual instruction in this video, we'll jump into the right hand in the next lecture.
I have a lot of experience teaching private lessons, and while that experience is helpful in putting together a course, we still have to be mindful that this is a different experience than one-on-one private lessons. With that in mind, I try to focus on subjects that have 3 things in common: they are common among the best players, they are doable by just about everybody (meaning you don't have to have any special background or aptitude), and they are uncommonly taught.
What I mean by uncommonly taught is that these thing are overlooked, not so much because they are unimportant but because high-level players do these things so naturally that they forget there was ever a time when they didn't know how to do them.
The curse of knowledge is not being able to remember what it was like to not know something or know how to do something. This course not only will work on things that are commonly taken for granted but actually focus on them.
In this lecture you will learn how to change your right hand "touch" to go between what I fondly call “scale gear” and “arpeggio gear.” What I mean by the word "gear" is that depending on what type of musical texture you're playing, you are going to have a different “gear” that you are going to be using for your right hand. I think that this distinction is something that's missing from a lot of classical guitar method books and instructional videos.
What I'm trying to do with this course is bridge the gap between what the best classical guitarists/teachers actually do, and what they say in lessons. If you focus on the things that are both common among the best performers and are rarely taught, you can make progress in your playing pretty quickly.
I've noticed that the best classical guitarists subtly shift from one “gear” or “touch” when shifting from scales to arpeggios or vice versa. In this study piece, you will start with an arpeggio and then move to a scale. Later in the piece, the gear changes will happen quicker, forcing you to stay on your toes. (Not literally of course, although how knows?)
In this lecture you will play a study piece with the melody in the bass and a simple chord accompaniment in the treble voice. Since the right hand is the hand that actually brings the sound into being, you will want to focus on having the right hand be the hand to go first when you are playing this study.
What do I mean by having the right hand going first? Since the right hand only has 6 strings to deal with (although that can often seem like plenty), the right hand should go ahead and set up on the string that it's going to play as soon as possible. The only thing you have to watch out for is make sure that the right hand doesn't go down too soon when a string is ringing and cut off the sound.
In this lecture you will learn how to “hand off” between the the right hand thumb (which will play the bass melody) and the right hand fingers (which will play the accompaniment). Pay special attention to having the 3 right hand fingers that we use in classical guitar playing (sorry pinky) go down immediately after the last thumb note so that the rhythm of the piece is nice and smooth.
It's pretty common for pieces of music to begin on a beat that isn't the first beat of the measure. The note or notes that come before the first beat 1 are referred to as the “pickup.” A common problem is that there is a disconnect between the pick-up note or notes and then the first beat 1, also known as the “downbeat.” This lecture will show you how to execute a pickup that seamlessly flows into the rest of the piece.
It's fairly common in classical guitar pieces for the pickup note (or notes) to be a single-note or single-note line, and then for the downbeat to have either a bass note or even a chord. That's why for this study piece, I've included a bass note on beat 1, so you will need to have your right hand thumb set up and ready to play the bass note.
The thumb note should be ready and waiting so it can pounce on the note without delay. Make sure that the upper note and the bass note sound exactly at the same time, so there isn't a staggered effect between the two notes.
I don't want to keep you in suspense, so I'll say right now that when your left hand is doing slurs, your right hand should be setting up and anticipating the next note/string that is coming up. This is especially true if a slur is followed by a note on different strings. That's why I've written this study with so many string changes, so you practice playing a slur and then immediately transitioning to another string.
Once you get the “balance” of this type of transition, it becomes easier and easier to do. The linear nature of courses and books makes it easy to miss the need for coordinating the hands, and as a result it can be possible to technically get the technique that is being taught, but still have your performance be plauged by pauses. Make sure you go slow as you play the study piece, if you can play it slowly and truly not pause, then it will be easy to speed it up later on.
If you make it through the study and you are feeling good your performance, try playing the entire study twice through without pausing. This will give you an added challenge as well as make the piece suitable for a public performance.
In this lecture you will learn how to use your left hand fingers to move up and down vertically over the fretboard while keeping your actual left hand still. The rock climbing analogy is meant to convey the idea that you ideally want to always have a left-hand finger down somewhere and then you will prepare the next note before letting go of the previous note.
This only applies to pieces where you don't need to shift, and for this study piece you are going to keep your left hand in first position. In keeping with the theme of focusing on the things that are both common among the best performers and rarely taught you'll focus on the precise movements of each finger.
This lecture will help you work on your shifting, and give you a framework for thinking about how you move around the fretboard. The main thing that I'd like you take away from this lecture (and the course, really) is the concept of handing off. Handing off means that there is a deliberate point where one finger stops putting pressure on the fretboard and another finger continues the pressure. Think of it as two runners passing the Olympic torch. It would be really embarassing if the torch was dropped because one runner let go before the second runner got a solid grip. The same principle applies to your left hand, you want to have a secure hand off as your playing.
Physically, you want to use your hand and wrist as a unit that carries your left hand finger to the destination note. It's important to avoid the temptation to reach out and extend the finger joints as you are shifting. And as if that wasn't enough to think about, you'll learn to have your pinky (fourth finger) set up for a pull-off on the high E string. A common mistake is to shift to the general area of the fretboard and then try and figure everything out. You'll make faster progress by thinking through the transition before you shift, as I say in one of the videos, there's a great quote that I keep in mind: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
As a classical guitarist, you will play a lot of arpeggio textures and it's important to make sure that you have the best approach so that you don't waste precious practice time. The skill of plucking one string and then another while changing left hand chord shapes at the same time is a little bit like learning to ride a bike, it takes a certain balance and once you have it down you don't forget it
The main problem that I see in lessons is that people don't put the left hand fingers down in sequence. It's necessary to put the left hand fingers down in the order to make sure that the flow of the music is uninterrupted and that your hands are working together properly.
The study that I've written is not that difficult to play, but I've tried to make difficult to cheat on the placement of the left hand fingers. A good tip is to slow the notes down and play the piece an 8th note at a time, making sure that every note is exactly equal in terms of length and duration. If you find yourself getting frustrated, go even slower and make sure that you are honestly putting the left hand fingers down in correct order.
In this lecture you will learn how to realistically use your left hand as you move around the fretboard. I say realistically since I make such a big deal about having a left hand position that covers 4 frets yet a simple search on YouTube will yield many very good performances in which the featured guitarist's left hand often isn't spread out over 4 frets.
So in an attempt to make sense of this, I've written a study where you will start with your left hand in 5th position and play a figure that's straight out of the A minor pentatonic scale. As you navigate the different phrases, you will use your left hand position as a jumping off point to either expand or retract depending on what the music calls for.
It can be helpful to think of your left hand as a shock absorber on a mountain bike. When you are riding, there is stable and more or less fixed position that the shock absorber holds, but the whole point is that when you hit some rough terrain, the absorber gives a bit. It's the same with your left hand, not only is it unrealistic to hold the exact same position but it could actually be harmful. In this lecture you'll learn to explore the different approaches you can take so you can play well and avoid pain and fatigue, and it will help you solve technical problems before they even become problems.
This lecture is similar to the lecture on transitioning into a chord from a single-note line, but we're going to make things even more interesting by rolling the chord with the right hand thumb. A key thing to take away from this lecture is that the rhythm needs to remain crisp and even, and the top note needs to sound on the beat. This means that the chord needs to be started a bit before the beat so that you arrive at the top note on time.
It's also important to make sure that your right hand thumb is set up on the string ahead of time, with a little bit of weight on the string. This does not mean that you pull the string down towards the ground, but rather you push in towards the body of the guitar.
Finally you will want to be careful about how you transition from the rolled chord into the single-note melodic line. Many people ignore the transition and (understandably) focus on just playing the notes. In this lecture you'll learn how the transition is the technique, and how 90% of the work is done before the note is actually played.
In this lecture you will learn how to smoothly go from a single-note line into a chord without any pause. This is a huge issue for classical guitarists, and it's something that I spend a lot of time on in private lessons with people.
This kind of transition is only even possible to do on the piano and the guitar, and truth be told it's easier to do on the piano. Playing pieces of this difficulty level is generally easier on the piano, that is, executing this musical texture would be easier to do on the piano than on the guitar.
The good news is that you are going to learn how to do this transition by coordinating the two hands. It's actually not that hard, and once you get some experience transitioning into chords without pausing it will become a good habit. Something I say a lot in lessons is that it's ok to make mistakes, what you have to avoid is reinforcing bad habits. This lecture will help you avoid developing bad habits if you put in the work.
Natural harmonics are fun to play and look impressive, but in order to play them, you need a context. This means that you will need to play normal or “natural” notes, then harmonics, and then more natural notes. This all has to be done in rhythm so that the musical composition makes sense.
In this lecture, you'll learn how use your left hand to efficiently move from natural notes to harmonics and back again, with ever increasing distances between the shifts. You'll need to “go for it,” meaning you have to focus on keeping the rhythm going, as opposed to being tentative and pausing before playing a harmonic.
The good news is that the 12th fret natural harmonic is fairly forgiving and you can get a decent sound even if you are off by a little. Over time you can refine your accuracy and as you build muscle memory, you'll be more confident and will be able to keep time at even quicker tempos.
In this lecture you will take the concepts you learned in the previous lecture and take them further, by switching back and forth between an arpeggio texture of natural notes, as well a melodic line of artificial harmonics.
Artificial harmonics allow you to play any note on the fretboard as harmonic, unlike natural harmonics, which are available only at certain frets. To play artificial harmonics, you will need your right hand to function as two hands, the index finger will act as the left hand touching the fret, and the middle or ring finger will pluck the string. Your left hand acts as a kind of capo by holding down the note 12 frets below the note that you are touching with your right hand index finger.
As the first word in this lecture title suggests, the important (and often overlooked) aspect is transitioning in and out of the artificial harmonics, so that's exactly what you'll learn in this lecture.
I titled this lecture the way that I did because it can be hard to get people (myself included) to really understand that things like timbre, dynamics, articulation, etc. are not decorative things that we add to the music, but it is part of the fabric of the music itself. In other words, what you do with the timbre is not the icing on top of the cupcake, it's part of the actual cupcake mix.
Timbre simply means tone color. Tone color is what tells our ear that we are listening to a guitar and not a flute or a saxophone. The guitar is unique in that it is the only instrument that is both poly-timbral and poly-phonic. That's a fancy of saying that the guitar can produce more than one kind of of tone colors as well as play multiple notes at the same time (in other words, chords).
In my opinion, the ability to change timbres is under-used by guitarists, and I sort of wish there were more lectures in this course dealing directly with timbre, but if you play this study in the way described in the lecture, you will very quickly sound more interesting and more musical.
This lecture contains a reference video of the Minuet in G by J.S. Bach. Since there are many versions/editions of this piece out there, it will be helpful to have an example in the course of how you are going to be playing the piece and what your goal is.
Since we are now into a commonly played repertoire piece, take care to go as slow as you need to make sure that you are executing everything well. I say it a lot, but the truth is if you can go slow and truly not stop, then you'll have very little trouble getting things faster. The tempo in this video is meant to be very typical, what I mean is that I'm not playing the piece noticeably faster or slower than usual
Refer back to this video as often as you need to, there isn't any instruction in this video, go ahead to the next video to start working on the piece.
In this lecture you will start playing the notes to the Minuet in G by Bach. Something I often say is that if you can play the first phrase or the first line of a piece well, then you will probably be in great shape for the rest of the piece. You should be able to play the notes quickly enough that you can get a sense of the ¾ meter, but it is totally fine to go nice and slow and play under tempo at first.
Keep in mind that in this piece, all of the phrases actually end on beat 1, so you need to land on the first beat of the next measure without any pause. You'll need to be aware of what both your right and left hands are doing, and you'll need to make sure that your hands are working together.
The goal is to have the top melodic line sound exactly as if you were playing just the top line by yourself. In private lessons I like to split up the music and play the bass part while the student plays the treble and vice versa. If you would like to play each part individually, that would be a great to learn the piece and study the music in-depth.
This is the final lecture of instruction in the course and the good news is that you have made it this far in the Minuet in G then you are almost done. There's nothing really more challenging in the rest of the piece, as I said in the previous lecture, if you can play the first phrase well, then you will be very well set up for the rest of the piece.
You'll want to have a strong drive to the end of the piece, so make sure you don't slow down in the last line when the bass part becomes a bit more involved. As always, it's much better to go at a slow tempo and not pause than to try and rush but then have lots of stops and pauses.
Congratulations on completing the course. I always say this, but this course is a point of departure, not arrival. You have learned how to use your right hand in a more nuanced and advanced way, and you've learned how to use your left hand in an efficient and accurate way. By working through the videos in the transitions section, you've already developed a more advanced approach to playing than a lot of experienced players.
Feel free to reference back to these videos as you keep studying the classical guitar. There have been many moments when I was practicing and out of the blue something "clicked." With an art form like classical guitar, sometimes you need to be patient.
That really gets to the heart of what I was trying to do with this course. Becoming a master of the classical guitar is absolutely a lifelong pursuit, but that doesn't mean you can't make a lot of good progress and build good habits quickly. Thanks for working through the lessons and best of luck with your guitar playing.
My name is Brian Riggs and I am a classical guitarist and guitar teacher from Chicago, IL. I have a degree in classical guitar performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts, and I've played in master classes with some amazing guitarists, most notably Christopher Parkening at his class at Montana State University.
I want to share what I've learned from those experiences with as many people as possible; Some of my most satisfying musical experiences have been seeing students make progress and become musicians in their own right. I've taught thousands of lessons in person and I've had the great experience of helping people fulfill their musical goals and realizing their potential as guitarists.