CLOCKWISE: Segovia's notation, Abel Carlevaro's 20 Micro Studies, Martha Masters, John W. Duarte's Foundation Studies in Classic Guitar Technique, Emilio Pujol, 25 Etudes by Matteo Carcassi, Aguado, Simon Powis, Scott Tennant's Pumping Nylon
It goes without saying that there is no one way to learn the guitar, nor a single foolproof method that excels above all others. During my nearly five years here at CG, conducting numerous interviews and reading just about everything that comes my way on the subject of classical guitar, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of methods, etudes, and exercises that guitarists cite as having significantly influenced their study of and progress on the instrument. In my curious naiveté, I have often asked both guitarists and teachers whether there was some preferred road to excellence—some combination of repertoire milestones and technique exercises that assured a smooth evolution as a player. And to a person, the answer came back an emphatic “No.”
Every guitarist is different, every teacher is different. Yes, there is certainly much to be learned from the “classic” methods of Carcassi, Sor, Aguado, Carulli, and others; but also from modern figures such as Frederick Noad, Christopher Parkening, Abel Carlevaro, Scott Tennant, and so many more. People progress at different paces, and the “building blocks” that might make developmental sense to one person, could be hopelessly difficult for another and require a different ordering, or even a complete rethinking.
What I learned very quickly is that virtually every classical guitarist on the planet has relied on a combination of different methods over time—some literally from books old and new; others from techniques passed down by a teacher (or teachers) who themselves might have studied specific methods; and many from patching together bits of knowledge absorbed from everywhere, whether it’s a master class, books and/or magazines, or the thousands of YouTube videos and online courses that are available these days. It could be argued that it’s never been easier to become a well-rounded self-taught guitarist—assuming you have the self-discipline and knowledge of available learning tools to keep progressing without a formal teacher. But either way, you’re likely to encounter various methods during your journey to musical greatness!
In the spring of 2019, we conducted an online poll of CG readers to find out which methods, etudes, and exercises have been most valuable to them as they’ve developed as players. More than 600 people responded to the poll (thank you!), and as you might expect the answers were all over the map (and came from all over the map, as well).
First some demographic information about who responded.
We asked, “How long have you been playing guitar?” and offered four choices: 1–5 years (15%); 6–10 years (10%); 11–20 years (14%); more than 20 years (62%).
We also asked, “Are you: a) currently a guitar student (14%); b) an amateur guitarist who plays mostly for personal enjoyment (48%); c) a player who derives some income from playing guitar (8%); d) a professional guitarist whose primary income comes from teaching and/or performing (21%); e) other (8%)—and in this last category, the answer “retired” was large enough to make up 2% of the total, and included retired or former teachers and professionals.
By far, most respondents were from the USA (where we have the most subscribers); after that, almost every European and South American country was represented, and also numerous countries in Asia, Central America, and other English-speaking domains such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. What a diverse lot you are!
And then there’s the meat of the survey, in which we asked the open-ended query: “What methods (and etudes) have been most important to your development as a guitarist? (list up to five).” Nearly everyone listed five, so that’s more than 3,000 total responses!
Now, I should note that the question, for better or worse, was vague enough that we got an extremely broad range of answers that went from very general—“Carcassi,” “Shearer”—to much more specific—“Carcassi 25 etudes,” “Carcassi method Op. 59,” “Carcassi method, Fischer edition from 50 years ago,” “Carcassi Rey de la Torre edition”; or for Shearer, “early methods and supplements,” “Learning the Classic Guitar Parts 1,2, & 3,” and more. And for “Segovia,” there were, of course, mentions of the famous “Segovia Scales,” but also quite a few that listed Segovia’s book of 20 etudes by Fernando Sor (edited by Segovia), so those are perhaps more appropriately credited to Sor, not Segovia.
Indeed, Sor was the name mentioned most often by the poll respondents, garnering 11% of the total; more if some of those Segovia mentions simply didn’t credit Sor. No other method received more than 7% of the total, but the next nine, in order of popularity were (and again, most of these were just names, not specific methods or etudes): 2. Carcassi (7%); 3. Segovia (6%); 4. Frederick Noad (6%, mostly Solo Guitar Playing Vol. 1 & 2); 5. Heitor Villa-Lobos (5%, etudes and preludes); 6. Mauro Giuliani (4%, right-hand studies, arpeggios, etc.); 7. Aaron Shearer (4%, mostly Classic Guitar Technique); 8. Leo Brouwer (3%, mostly the etudes); 9. Emilio Pujol (3%; Guitar School); and, impressively, 10. Simon Powis’ online Classical Guitar Corner Academy (3%, multiple guitarists’ tips and techniques). Other online platforms receiving multiple mentions included Bradford Werner’s ThisIsClassicalGuitar.com, tonebase.co, and the general “YouTube.”