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Like many of you reading the tonebase blog, I have been playing the guitar for quite a few years now and have put many hours into developing my craft.

Over that time, I’ve had many opportunities for growth, but perhaps what has benefitted me the most has been playing classical guitar. In this post, I want to share just a few ways playing classical music can improve your overall playing to help you discover itsbenefitsand inspire you to make the leap into this style of music.

1. Develop Impeccable Technique

One of the most noticeable things that can improve in your playing — and that I think can help many guitarists in general — is your approach to playing the guitar more efficiently. Playing classical music at a high level means working on technique continuously. The work is never really done, which makes this process all the more fun.

When I started listening to recordings of greats such as Andres Segovia, Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream, John Williams and Judicael Perroy, I wanted the music that I played to sound as fluid, easy and grand as when they played.

CD cover of Andres Segovia playing classical guitar
And you thought classical guitarists weren’t cool 😉

With guidance from a great classical guitarist at UCSB, I began to work on my technique and realized that a well-rounded approach to the instrument is crucial to playing like the greats.

As a foundation for those just starting out, I recommend the daily practice of the following aspects of technique necessary to play at a high level: scales, arpeggios, slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs), and rest/free strokes.

2. Refine Your Tone

Electric and acoustic guitar players usually think a lot about tone when it comes to how amps, pedals, cables, strings, and picks can help them achieve a desired sound. For me, it wasn’t until I started playing classical music that I thought about tone as an aspect that is just as important as my technique. Tone is an aspect of your playing that can be your signature, in a way.

Funny meme about classical guitar tone
Courtesy of Classical Guitar memes for shredding teens 😂

It is a very personal factor when playing classical guitar, since quality tone is produced by your nails and fingers, and you can mold it very specifically. This is a mindset that you can apply when playing all styles of music and lead you on a quest to develop your own sound.

3. Play New Chords & Progressions

Sometimes, you may want to explore alternatives to the I-vi-IV-V progressions (or I-IV nowadays) in a lot of pop and rock music, and you can find new types of harmonic progressions in classical music.

Through discovering new progressions and chords, you might begin to appreciate and better understand how voice-leading works on the guitar, and, from my personal experience, I think it can help you find new chord voicings to use in other styles of music. The fact that you’re exposed to new progressions and voicings is probably the most practical way that playing classical music improves your musicality.

4. See The Guitar As Polyphonic

Polyphonic is defined as “having many tones or voices.” This is, I think, probably one of the coolest things about playing classical music on the guitar — you start to play and hear the guitar as an instrument that can produce lots of voices, like a piano.

When learning classical pieces, you’ll play through passages with cinematic-sounding, overlapping/sustained notes that sound over other notes, and you’ll see that you can get nice layers of voices that you probably didn’t know were possible on the guitar. Once I understood this, I saw the guitar differently, and even when I play music of different styles, I think of the guitar as instrument with many sonic possibilities.

To me, the music of J.S. Bach for lute — the Baroque equivalent of the guitar — is always a great example of how the guitar can be used as a polyphonic instrument. To end, I’ve included a video of the Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro (BWV 998), played by David Russell. Enjoy!

I hope this post helps motivate you to grow in your guitar playing, by digging into playing classical music. As you can see, I’ve found many ways playing classical music can improve your overall guitar playing, and although many hours of work are required, the benefits are just so worth it!

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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