I've been playing steel-string acoustic for 25+ years, and I'm becoming more interested in classical guitar playing. While I'm fairly good at fingerstyle, I'm aware that making the leap to classical/flamenco playing is not going to be simple or quick. (For example, I was able to learn Mood for a Day well, but it was a long process for me.)

My question is: What basic skills would a good rock/folk guitarist need to learn in order to evaluate this situation? Is it all about posture and learning to play melodies on top of chords, or is there more to it than that? (I strongly suspect there is.)

My ultimate goal is not to become a classically-trained player (years of lessons just isn't an option at the moment) but, rather, to learn enough techniques that I can use them to supplement my existing skills and keep my playing from becoming stale.

  • I'm more in your boat than theirs, so I'll comment, not answer, but what I see is them doing active basslines with active treble lines, which is like travis picking but harder. The stuff amazes me. Mar 17, 2011 at 15:27
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    You may not want years and years of lessons, but how about a couple intro lessons with a classical teacher? He/she would be able to evaluate your form and current finger-style technique and help you adapt to basic classical. Mar 25, 2011 at 3:08

6 Answers 6


If you're not interested in learning to play "legit" classical guitar I dare say you are on the right track. Find some music that you like and start learning it. The first few pieces will feel like a lot of work, but it will get easier every time.

The process of learning the music will expose the areas in your technique that need work. When you hit a portion of the music that you have trouble with, make an exercise out of it.


Much of sounding good when playing classical music is in having the ability to make the correct voice stand out at the proper time. Classical guitar songs generally have at least 2 voices and frequently 3 and sometimes more. You can practice this by picking an easy song with 2 voices. The first time through make the high voice the dominant voice and play a second time through and make the low voice dominant. If you've been fingerpicking rock/folk then you'll probably need to learn the rest stroke in order to make the voices stand out.

Also, as Michael said, and I want to reiterate, fingernails are very important. If they aren't right then it becomes really hard to get the voicing and then the songs sound muttled. I struggle with that all the time because I don't like long fingernails, but it definately makes my playing go from a 2 to a 6 or 7 when my nails are longer and trimmed at the right angles.


One skill is fingernail management, and understanding its relationship to tone. No joke: classical players focus highly on the combination of nail/finger that plucks the string.

I learned this from a former teacher (I'm not an expert). From what I remember, there are no set "rules" in terms of how much nail to use, but the quest for "tone" was much the same as an electric player will critique amps, pedals, pickups, etc. Then, once the preference is established, there is a lot of work with files etc to maintain that amount of nail.


A lot of it comes back to basics - when starting to use p i m a and pinkie take it slow. Practice simple sequences first, with a slow metronome (for example strings from low to high and back pimamip) and follow with slightly more complex sequences (pmiampai) and onwards (eg pmipiapmapia) etc

Letting your fingers get used to working independently slowly and then building speed is key to being able to build in classical picking styles.

  • The pinky, when used, is denoted "e". Oct 19, 2011 at 11:19

You should follow some sort of technique manual. I really like the Celedonio Romero book. I've heard good things about Segovia (the way I heard it, he even tells you how to make your own strings out of animal intestines). And the Sor method is fascinating (but very dense).

A good technique book will give you

  • explanation and photographs of correct positions
  • a selection of nice pieces in varying difficulty
  • exercises to develop speed and accuracy
  • Downvoter, care to explain? You don't like books? Oct 19, 2011 at 21:07

There is some great repertoire out there for beginning and novice players. This will help you develop your technique while playing 'real' music. A lot of players started with the book 100 Graded Classical Guitar Studies, edited by Fredrick Noad. It's still in print, and can be had for about $20/ US new.

The pieces are sequenced by difficulty, and even the easiest pieces are by well-known composers and interesting to play. Even if you only tackle a few of the earliest pieces, you'll be developing the skills you would need to tackle more challenging repertoire, and you can then apply these skills to whatever music you like.

I would also suggest that, even if years of lessons aren't in the cards, that you consider taking a few lessons with a good teacher. You'll likely get more out of the process with a little expert guidance.

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