Some Thoughts on the Classical Guitar, Classicism, and Classicists, Part One: The Bright Side

Sometimes The Old Way Is the Best Way.

If I hadn’t been well-instructed in the old ways, I may never have found any new ways. As Newton said, “If I have seen far it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.” I was very fortunate to have several adept classical guitarists give me pointers on my technique. Here are some things I learned from the many members of CGSUNY (Classical Guitar Society of Upstate New York) which ended up being equally applicable to the electric.

  1. Tension is the enemy. Relax.
  2. Keep the guitar stationary. Anchor it. Hug it. It should hug you back. In the words of classical guitarist Harry Pellegrin, “The classical guitar is the most intimate instrument because it is the only one we hug.” Well, Harry, you can hug an electric too. Shocking, I know.
  3. Don’t be embarrassed to use an array of accessories, affixments, add-ons, alterations, and accouterments such as foot stools, arm socks, cushions, and even suction cups to achieve the perfect angle of the dangle, or to be technical, the dangulature.
  4. Don’t strangle the guitar.
  5. Generally, when playing single notes, fret them with your finger coming straight down so you only touch the one string you actually meant to (though there are exceptions).
  6. Hold the guitar more vertically.
  7. Muscle memory and mental memory are very different things.
  8. If you do something really slowly at first and it requires a lot of concentration, but you do it over and over, you’ll eventually be able to do it fast and with very little concentration.
  9. Keep your work close to your eyes. In other words, hold the guitar higher so you can see what you are doing!

I like to stand when I play, but I really like the solidity that can be obtained by using one leg to bear and stabilize a large portion of the guitar’s weight. When playing standing up, having only two points of contact, the guitar has a lot of wiggle room. Thanks to the classicists I knew when I went electric that I was not supposed to be using my left hand for holding the guitar in the right spot AND playing it. The left hand is so much freer when it only has one job, and so much less strangling is required when the action is so low and the guitar so secure that you don’t really even need your thumb for a bar chord.

So, to make it so that sucker wouldn’t wiggle, really I just had to add a third point of contact, thereby making a tripod, which is of course a much more stable structure.

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I see tripods with various applications for sale all over, but note that one never sees a bipod. I’ve been calling my makeshift third point of contact a “bump”. I stole the idea from a classical guitarist who had one for his left leg to keep his guitar more vertical without him having to use a foot stool. I’m not selling these, just highly recommending that you consider making one. Mine is just a piece of styrofoam (light and soft and cheap) shaped like a wedge of cheese and wrapped in electrical tape. I have velcro craft-glued onto that and to the back of my guitar. A little sloppy, but it is light, comfortable, adjustable, quite durable, and it works like a charm.

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People with large enough bellies may not need to do this.

There are three axes of rotation to consider when searching for that elusive position in 3D reality that will make playing so much easier and more ergonomic. See the video below for details.

 

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