Creativity in Classical Guitar Practice

How do we use creativity in classical music? Is creativity only for the jazz guys? The lead guitarists in the band? The composers? The improvisors?

Below, we’ll explore creativity in classical guitar.

Classical Guitar is Different than Other Styles

Guitar is the most popular instrument in the world. More people play it than any other (unless we count the voice as an instrument!).

For this reason, we find guitar in nearly every style and genre of music. Many of these are accompanimental. This means the guitar strums or plucks chords. The main focus of the music are lyrics or another melody instrument.

Guitar is also used in ensembles (groups). This could be as accompaniment, or as the lead instrument. Often, “lead guitar” will improvise melodies. These players choose the notes in the moment. There may be a structure (chords) to the song. But the actual notes played are chosen anew each time they play the tune.

Classical guitar rarely improvises. We have the notes written in ink on a page in front of us. The rhythm is there as well. Many times, we’re also told which finger to use. And more, we’re told when to play loud or soft, warm or tinny-sounding. In short, we have detailed instructions on every little movement.

So where does creativity come to play in this? With everything decided beforehand, how do we nurture our creativity as classical guitarists?

We are creative on classical guitar in (at least) three main ways (below, we call them “zones”, just to be creative).

Classical Guitar Creative Zone #1: Solving Problems

Classical guitar can be extremely challenging. Even if we have the technical skill, many musical passages (lines) in pieces can be hard to play well.

Tricky spots, shifts, fast scales – all these can create problems. And we can use our creativity to solve these problems.

In fact, much of what we do is learning how to practice and solve problems. Different problems may call for different and original strategies. Working through these strategies takes creativity.

For instance, should we use slow practice? Changing the rhythm? Use accents? We have dozens of strategies available. And each little problem may take a unique combination of solutions.

Classical Guitar Creative Zone #2: Musical Expression

Even though the composer may tell us “loud” or “quiet”, we still need to make the music believable. Unless the music creates an emotional response, we may not be doing our job.

Just as actors have their lines and instructions, we have to breathe life into our music. They have characters and roles to animate. We have notes to animate. The job is the same – to make it believable.

To play expressively, we often have to get creative. If we’re told to “get louder here”, we have to decide how loud, and a what rate. Is it linear, with each note steadily louder than the previous one? Or is it exponential, getting much louder at the end?

These depend on the effect we’re aiming for. The more creative we become, the more we can experiment and exaggerate (more on this below). This helps us find more details and opportunities to bring our music to life.

Classical Guitar Creative Zone #3: Curation

We can also exercise our creativity through curation. We choose what music to play, and it what order. In this way, we create an experience.

Museums decide which paintings to hang on a wall, and it what order. Likewise, we choose our music. We create sets and programs.

And we can do this even if we only have a few pieces we’re comfortable playing. We choose the order. We choose what to include and what to leave out.

We may make these choices by finding creative similarities between tunes. We can contrast and compare styles or musical periods. We can compare and contrast composers, moods, or themes (love, conflict, transformation).

We’re limited only by our creativity.

The More Creativity the Better

Classical is more fun when we keep an engaged and experimental mindset. The more we try new things, the more we discover.

Classical guitar has a wealth of “creative constraints”. This means that many of the elements are already chosen for us. And because of this, we can put our full creativity into the remaining areas.

Action Tip: How to Get Started Being More Creative on Classical Guitar

We can bring loads more creativity and exploration to our daily practice. One great way is through exaggeration.

When we practice and play our music, we can wildly exaggerate the swells and fades (dynamics). This is not only fun, it also improves our technical and musical abilities.

Creative exaggeration can bring more enjoyment, satisfaction and beauty to everything we play.

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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