Can You Play Classical Guitar on an Acoustic Guitar?

Can we play classical guitar music and study classical guitar technique on a steel-string acoustic guitar?  Can we play classical or acoustic guitar for fingerstyle?

The short answer is “Yes”. It’s not entirely ideal. But it’s much better than waiting to get a new instrument or putting off exploring classical guitar music.

What’s the Difference Between Classical and Acoustic guitars?

Classical guitars and regular acoustic guitars are two types of guitars that are different in several ways. We can liken these differences to those between a car and a truck. We operate both in basically the same way. But the two are used differently and have different benefits.

Here are some characteristics of classical guitars:

  • A classical guitar typically has strings made of nylon or a similar composite. (3 strings look like fishing line.).
  • The guitar neck is wider, with the strings spaced further apart. This makes playing guitar with the right-hand fingers easier.
  • The classical guitar has a smaller body shape than regular acoustic guitars.
  • The body meets the neck at the 12th fret.
  • The sound is mostly soft and warm, comparatively.

Here are some characteristics of steel-string acoustic guitars:

  • Steel-string acoustic guitar strings are made of metal wire, some wound and some not.
  • The neck is thinner than most classical guitars. This width varies by the maker.
  • The body can be very large (jumbo) or small (parlor).
  • The body meets the neck at (oftentimes) the 14th fret. This varies by maker and model.
  • The sound is mostly bright and metallic, comparatively.

What is the Classical Guitar Style?

The style of playing we call “classical guitar” includes a few key elements. Among these are the way it is played, and the type of music generally played.

Play with Right-hand Fingers

First, classical guitar is played with the right-hand fingers. Regular acoustic guitars use a plectrum (pick) most of the time.

Playing with the fingers is not easy, so “classical guitar technique” can be an ongoing study.

This also allows players to play more than one musical line at a time, such as a melody and a bass line.

Play Solo Instrumental Music

We often find acoustic guitar strummed as accompaniment for singing. Classical guitarists most often play instrumental music. Just remember that we do not strictly play classical music on the classical guitar!

Classical guitar music is usually composed using musical notation. This music varies in complexity and difficulty.

Benefits of “Classical Guitars”

Individual tastes differ, and many players prefer regular acoustic guitars. But classical guitars do offer some benefits over the steel-string acoustic.

Tone Quality

The sound is more easily altered on nylon strings than steel strings. This allows for more variety and expressive options. Sounds can be very warm and wooly, or bright and metallic.

Using fingernails, the sound can be altered even more.

String Spacing

The width of the neck and the spacing of the strings can be beneficial to both right and left hands.

In the left hand, it can be easier to play one string without touching the next. On the right, it can be easier to play just one string without striking adjacent strings on accident.

Easier on the Fingers

Beginner guitar players and children have usually not built up callouses on their left-hand fingers. With fresh fingers, nylon strings are gentler. The nylon strings on classical guitars are fatter than those on steel-string acoustic guitars. This is especially true of the higher-pitched strings.

Also, the nylon strings need less tension on the string to be in tune. This means that it takes less muscle to press down a string with the left-hand fingers.

For kids and beginners, this comfort can make the difference between practicing and not.

Can you play classical guitar on an acoustic guitar?

So while this article is clearly pro-classical guitar, is it okay to play on a steel string guitar? Absolutely. Play any type of guitar you wish!

While some things might feel like they are different, enough is the same on both classical and acoustic guitar, that it’s worth diving into classical if the desire is there.

Classical guitar technique can help with any style or genre of guitar music. So studying classical guitar can only help. (And besides, it’s fun!)

Allen Mathews

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.
Click here for a sample formula.

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