Method: Carcassi’s Etude No. 23 (Finding Inspiration from Modern Method Books)


Etude No. 23, by Matteo Carcassi (1796–1853), is a terrific idiomatic guitar study. This lesson will explore its slurs, left-hand equal strength, and right-hand thumb control, with inspiration from a select—but by no means exhaustive—set of superlative 20th century guitar methods. As most guitarists tend to accumulate these books, this article will highlight how to gain more mileage out of your method collection.


Today there is a plethora of excellent methods available to help learn guitar and its technique. This was not always the case. Carcassi, a younger contemporary of Fernando Sor, Mauro Giuliani, and Ferdinando Carulli, helped initiate this foundation in published guitar methods that we take for granted today. Sadly, there are still very few biographical accounts of Carcassi’s life, other than our knowledge of a handful of concert tours in England and Germany and the fact that he fought in the Napoleonic Wars. He is chiefly known to us today through his Op. 60 studies (Paris, 1836), which are considered standard repertoire for guitar students wishing to improve their technique.

Etude No. 23 is a fantastically fun study that focuses on idiomatic slurs, but also uses much of the basic material you need to make music: arpeggios, scale fragments (major and minor), and interesting harmony. It is in 12/8 time, which is the compound time signature for 4/4 (count four sets of triplets).


Micro Study 1 is based on Ex. 4 (p. 13) from Ricardo Iznaola’s The Path to Virtuosity. Even though this method begins with simple exercises, it was devised to help students acquire the upper echelons of advanced technique. This micro study will help with tackling the RH thumb control that is required in Etude No. 23. This simple micro study can be played with rest strokes by the thumb, or i m a. Alternatively, all fingers rest strokes or all free strokes. Once those are secure, add thumb dampening; the RH thumb returns and stops the string (after playing a bass note) and is notated by the asterisk. Using simple snippets like this, you can train your RH mechanism to perform effortlessly when required in more intricate music, such as Etude No. 23.


This piece is in ternary form, structured A B A. Micro Study 2 is inspired by Ex. 6 (p. 22) from one of the best-selling methods of the last century, Scott Tennant’s Pumping Nylon. This method is structured around a complete warm-up for the modern guitarist. The micro study facilitates LH finger independence and RH coordination you will need in Carcassi to nail those chord shapes (with slurs) along the fretboard. It is now known as the “spider” exercise and has many variations; see example. Go slow at first, in one position, until you are comfortable, and then move each bar one fret up with the guide fingers. Note: it should be played up and down eventually.


Micro Study 3 tackles a scale fragment from Etude No. 23, and is a template for similar passages. It uses rhythmic variations, which can be found in most method books, such as Tennant’s and in Carlos Bonell’s Technique Builder. Bonell’s method, based on a workbook format, covers invaluable practical exercises to help build a well-rounded guitar technique. Aim to gain fluency with each rhythm. Challenging the scale with differing rhythms will help strengthen your understanding of the music and improve fluency (speed). This micro study requires a metronome, so start slow and then push the tempo up until you fall apart. That is your wall, and it should become a goal to break through it each practice session.


Micro Study 4 is a slur exercise inspired by Examples 99 and 100 (p. 88) from the fairly comprehensive Solo Guitar Playing 1 by Frederick M. Noad. This method is aimed at beginners and has almost everything within it you would need to start learning guitar, from how to read music to basic technique, along with graduated pieces. This micro study works on hammer-ons and pull-offs at the same time. There are a variety of fingerings available for it, and one has been provided that works the slurs for Etude No. 23. You are encouraged to find your own, especially combinations that challenge you. And remember: pull-offs are actually pluck-downs, and hammer-ons require less force and more speed and accuracy. Both are initiated by the LH knuckles.


As always with 19th-century music, check the editorial interference in the edition you have. There are two fantastic sources worth considering: the Tecla edition, which presents Carcassi’s etudes as he intended them, sans editorial suggestions; and a brand-new De Oro Publications edition, which has been fully fingered by Tariq Harb and has a separate accompanying DVD for these marvelous, melodious, musical etudes.


This etude, which of course is very flashy once up and running, will actually highlight any technical deficiencies in the playing. So, it is worthwhile to practice it diligently. To achieve results, here is some advice taken from Charles Duncan’s Classical Guitar 2000, a practical companion method for advanced students. “The goal in performance is to play with legato fluency, rhythmic surge, and dynamic contrast—in other words, with the kind of creative freedom that is the reward of a high level of control.” Etude No. 23 is the perfect example of how you can use your method collection to invigorate and inspire your daily practice regimen.


Here’s a version of the full piece played at tempo by the fine guitarist Graham Anthony Devine—not necessarily using the same techniques outlined above! Something to aspire to…