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I'm an acoustic guitar player but have recently developed an interest in classical guitar.

I'm not quite at liberty to buy a classical guitar (with nylon strings and what not) and the stool thingy, and was wondering whether it was 'inadvisable' to play pieces intended for classic guitar, on an acoustic, steel-stringed guitar?

At the moment, I'm learning Las Abejas (Barrios) on my steel-stringed guitar, and I think I'm progressing well, but I'm worried that not using nylon strings will pose a limit to the speed at which I can play the piece.

At faster speeds, I notice my fingers tend to 'slide over' than 'pluck' the strings (sliding down the string, still producing a tone, but with it a somewhat annoying sliding noise), which I imagine a problem specific to steel strings.

So; is it unheard of to play classical guitar with steel strings? Is there a general methodology for plucking one should use? Are there any examples of classical guitarists using steel strings? Am I wasting my time?

Thanks!

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I switch interchangeably between my acoustic and classical guitars. Playing classical songs on an acoustic is certainly more tiring and requires more precision, but it's very doable. You might need to use nail polish to avoid breaking your nails, though, and of course there will be a difference in sound. –  Matthew Read Oct 8 '13 at 14:44
    
So I should grow out my nails? At the moment, they're nowhere near long enough to pluck the string. Perhaps I should just buy a classical guitar –  Anti Earth Oct 12 '13 at 2:06
    
If you are using your fingers on a steel string be prepared for some pain. Steel strings give a totally different sound than a nylon string. It will probably still sound good just not Spanish. –  Neil Meyer Oct 20 '13 at 11:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't think you are wasting your time, but as you mention it might be harder to pluck the strings with your right hand fingers since the tendency will be for the fingers to slip off the strings. One option is to use "silk and steel" strings. Several companies make this type of string specifically for finger-picking players. One of my guitar students has started using them and they sound really good. They have a bright sound but they are much easier on the hands (right as well as left).

Another option would be to experiment with growing out your right hand fingernails. If you play with standard steel strings you'll have a lot of wear and tear on your nails, but you won't have your right hand fingers fall off of the string as often. Combined with the silk and steel strings, you may be pleased with the results. If you do use your nails to play, keep the nails pretty short, so that at the most you have a few millimeters of nail extending past the flesh of the fingertip. The longer that I play, the shorter I keep my nails. Even if you use nails to help you pluck the strings, you want to make sure that you continue to place the fleshy part of the finger on the string when you pluck a note. If you only use the fingernail to make contact with the string, then you are going to get a thin, quiet sound and you will really destroy your nails fast.

For a piece like "The Bees" by Augustin Barrios, since you are playing so many notes I think it may help to plant the right hand fingers on the strings whenever possible. Planting the right hand fingers involves putting a group of fingers down on the strings all at the same time, and then peeling off the fingers one at a time. You can use this technique when you are going "forward" (towards the floor), but not really when going backward, or playing the strings towards the ceiling. You do want to make sure that you are always "handing off" when plucking the strings. What I mean by that is that the same instant you flick off of a string to play it, you immediately place the next right hand finger on the next string that you are going to play, even if the left hand is isn't ready and/or it's not time to play the next note. This is a good habit for all guitar players, but it should especially help you, to prevent the fingers from sliding off of the strings when you're playing.

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If you are playing classical or flamenco you really do not want your hand resting on the bridge, or indeed anywhere. This will severely limit your speed and accuracy, and also is contributing to what you describe as sliding.

Your hand should be over the strings, with your fingers curving down to touch the strings perpendicularly so you pluck or brush each string across it, with no lengthwise movement.

These pics from thisisclassicalguitar.com shows what I mean:

enter image description here

enter image description here

You will find that although you can play classical or flamenco style with steel strings, it may hurt a lot, and some energetic movements will cut your fingers (I'm thinking Rasgueado, specifically)

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Where should my arm sit? Around the back of the guitar (halfway between the inward part and the very bottom), or straight down across the inward bit (in terms of the body)? –  Anti Earth Oct 8 '13 at 10:34
    
Updated to show you body and arm position. –  Dr Mayhem Oct 8 '13 at 10:42

It's harder to play classical music on a steel-string mainly because the strings are stiffer and closer together on steel acoustics, nylons' are very soft and widely spaced. Also classical guitar strings do not bend notes easily, so the vibrato technique is more like a violin. Some fingerings (in classical arrangements) make it hard not to bend the strings slightly, but that's ok on a classical guitar because the pitch won't change much ; on an steel acoustics however, it would sound dissonant.

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Additionally some techniques involving nails will be not possible or you will destroy your nails. But I think that a specific technique to interpret classical on steel is perfectly possible, probably fitting better some works than others.

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