Sunday 15 August 2021

5 Things Rock Guitarists Can Learn from Classical Guitarists

Guest post by Alex Bruce

Image by _Alicja_ from Pixabay

As a Guitar teacher, one hour I’m teaching Hendrix songs, and the next hour I’m helping someone prepare their Classical Guitar grade 4 exam pieces. The next day it might be Jazz and Blues, the following I’m teaching songwriters - From Punk band leaders to Folk ballad weavers.  This kind of overview of aspiring Guitarists and Musical styles got me thinking about the Guitar playing discipline as a whole. What divides these styles? What unites them? And what can they learn from each other?  

What’s fascinating is to compare two styles that strike you as opposites. For example, Rock Guitar with its crowd surfing, soloing and distortion, and Classical Guitar - with its nylon strings, bow ties and sight reading.

So, here’s a list of 5 things that Rock Guitarists can (and should) learn from Classical Guitarists:

1 - Learn To Read!

OK, you don’t have to be taking sheet music on music stands up on stage at your band’s gigs, but you need to be able to write out a lead sheet for a band member or even more importantly, understand one that’s being presented to you. Whether you’re a hobbyist, performer, songwriter, teacher, jamming with friends, it doesn’t matter. It’s important to be able to read the basics of pitch and rhythm, and it’ll make you a more secure performer, and a faster learner. Go and do it!

2 - Posture Not Posing! 

Again, this doesn’t mean you should start playing your electric in a Classical Guitarist’s pose. It means you should look after your body and hands. Not bending your back right over, not developing wrist pains, but playing in a comfortable, sustainable position! Standing or sitting, you should have a straight back, and your feet on the floor. Position your elbow in such a way that your wrist isn’t having to bend dramatically to hold the Guitar’s neck. Your Guitar heroes might not always hold perfect posture for the hour they’re on stage, but if they’re putting in serious practice time (which they definitely are!) then they’re either in a good posture, or in regular physiotherapy!

3 - Cut The Noodles!

OK this is a tricky one, because from Steve Vai’s 10 hour practice routine, to the great many of you who spend every spare minute on all things Guitar, plenty of Rock Guitarists are very dedicated to playing and improving. The point here is that the Classical Guitar’s approach brings with it certain associations, one of which is a generally higher opinion of dedicated practice! Plenty of us Rock Guitarists will happily noodle out Pentatonic licks in front of the TV for 3 hours at a time, but lack the discipline to spend just 10 minutes a day with the metronome and a new chord pattern. You should separate “Practice” (learning/working on new/difficult things) and “Playing” (Existing repertoire, noodling, jamming).

4 - Finish What You Started!

In Classical Guitar, playing one section of a piece quite well, then blundering through the next section, then just stopping playing all together, short of the final section is unthinkable. In Rock Guitar, at all ability levels, we do the equivalent all the time. Whether you’re preparing for gigs, exams, personal enjoyment, jamming or anything else, learning a few songs from beginning to end is an extremely important, validating, much-overlooked skill to possess. It’s a Psychological barrier broken, a performance piece in the bank, and exactly what you’d need to do in any amateur or professional gig setup. 

5 - Play Clean Not Cool!

Rock Guitar’s cool, often aggressively played, energetic approach can be mistranslated and result in sloppy articulation or loose rhythm.  What we perceive as a laid back approach to technique and accuracy from our Guitar heroes, is in fact such mastery of technique and accuracy that the performer has been able to also switch some focus to presence, persona and energy. There has to be steel in the walls! In Classical Guitar,- clean fretting, consistent picking, and economic finger usage all come first, not thrashing the strings or jumping around! (In fact, in Classical Guitar, they never seem to jump around at all! Maybe that’s something Classical Guitarists can learn from Rock Guitarists…but that’s a different list!) Get your playing clean and correct before you speed up/jump around/pick with your teeth/play behind your head (delete as appropriate). 

Alex Bruce writes for which offers guitar lessons for beginners

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