The Basics of Guitar Technique
In every craft there are a few primary “rules of thumb” that, when observed, help everything to progress much more smoothly. Classical guitar is no different.
In this article, you’ll learn some of the fundamentals that create the groundwork for more rapid progress, more beautiful tone, and a more enjoyable experience. You’ll also benefit by avoiding much of the pain, tension and frustration that can come with poor fundamental form.
To effectively play at high-speed and with grace and precision, we have to be the human equivalent of a well-crafted Italian sports car, or a Swiss watch.
The point is that we have to move consistently in a way that makes it so that we use the perfect amount of muscle directed in just the right place at just the right time to give us what we need. And we have to do all that without doing anything extra, that could slow us down or create wear and tear on our joints.
Complete Mastery of the Self
Of course this is a pretty tall order. What I am suggesting here is nothing less than complete mastery of our body and movements.
Ultimately, for myself, this is what I am after. Mastery and ease of motion are my overriding goals and long-term physical aspirations. Musically, I just want to play beautifully.
At whatever level you’re playing, I hope that you can adopt this goal as well.
You may or may not believe that you will ever get there given the time and energy you have available for practice. Doesn’t matter. You can still work in a way that, given enough time and practice, will eventually get you there.
After all, if you’re going to be practicing guitar anyway…..
Creating Structure and Ground Rules
With any pursuit involving such intricacies and physical demands, it helps to have some “large structures” in place. These “structures” can be rules that govern everything else that we do. A nice, tidy box to work in, if you will.
I started by teaching myself for many years. Then got a teacher and rebuilt my technique from the ground up. Then realized I still wasn’t on the right track and started over from the beginning again. Later, I started studying the Alexander Technique, and once again went back to square one. It’s been a long, irksome road at times, but adopting a few ground rules has allowed my playing to continually grow.
As with everything, it is a work in progress, and will probably always be. But the more I spend time on fundamentals, the more convinced I am of their value.
“The rule is: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.”– Charles Poliquin (world’s top strength coach)
The Basic Concepts
What I would like to propose here are some basic concepts which can inform your guitar playing. They are basic reference points which you can reference whenever questions arise about guitar technique or movement. They are standards to hold yourself to.
Buying into these basic ideas can help you to:
- Sidestep many potential problems, confusions, and bad habits.
- Work in a way that ensures healthy joints and musculature.
- Create consistency and reliability in your playing,
- Learn and progress faster.
- Develop more effective habit formation.
- Create order in a disorderly world. (OK, I may be stretching a bit with this one…)
The Main Classical Guitar Fundamentals
The primary fundamentals are described in depth in the video above.
Here are the broad strokes:
- Correct Alignment – Each joint has a “mid-range”, from which it has the most number of option of motion. Starting with this neutral position in the joints creates more comfort and ability.
- Basic Motion of the Right Hand – To play the strings with the right hand, simply close your hand, and let the strings be in the way. In this way you’ll create the most natural movements and avoid the common pitfalls. It also sounds better. Tip: keep the tip joints passive.
- Focused Awareness – Your state affects your playing. Learning and practicing guitar is as much about mastering your mind and physiology as it is about playing music.
Watch the video and comment
Please share in the comments below any part of your guitar journey that’s had a fundamental shift on your playing or experience. We’d love to hear from you.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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