Through my years of teaching and learning guitar there is one myth I’ve never been able to escape. “If you can play classical guitar, you can play anything.” So I’ve decided to create a small series of articles to put this myth to rest.
Let’s ask a couple common sense questions first. If you wanted to become a dancer, would you learn salsa if you want to tango? No, because it makes no sense. They are both dances, but each operate differently from each other.
When you set out to learn a skill, there tends to be different styles that go along with that skill, be it fencing, dance or guitar. Each of these styles has different skill sets that vary. Your focus needs to be on the skill sets that are required for the style you want to learn.
As I mentioned before, this little article series will be split into two parts. The first one, which you are reading, discusses things you’re wasting your time on by learning classical guitar. The second will focus on skills that classical guitar won’t teach you to become a contemporary guitar player.
Skills you are wasting your time on in classic guitar
1. Learning To Sight Read Music. Unless you plan on going to music school or being a session musician, chances are you will never see sheet music.
Now understand that I can sight read. It is fun and I enjoy it. But for the vast amount of contemporary guitarists, this is a waste of time. Could it benefit them later? Sure. But there are more important elements of playing that need to be developed first. Sight reading could be put on the back burner with no problem.
All that being said, there is a type of notation that you need to know. Each student should be able to read rhythmic notation ( or note duration). This means you should be able to incorporate knowledge of quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes and so forth into your playing. Not doing so is detrimental to your rhythm playing. You will most likely default into 4 different strumming patterns and take all creativity out of your music, not to mention getting intimidated by every odd time signature you see.
The point is the rhythmic figures you see in contemporary music differ greatly from their classical counterparts.
2. Finger Picking. Classical guitar teaches you to finger pick. In classical guitar everything is finger picked. Although the technique on the left hand is appropriate, (sometimes, but that would be for a different article); you are wasting your time learning to finger pick like a classical guitar player does.
Some of you will say, “but there is fingering picking in rock, blues, pop and metal.” Okay, there is some, but is it predominantly used?
So why are you spending all your time learning something that is used, maybe 10 percent of the time, (and that’s being generous) in the genre of your choice? And at the same time, completely ignoring the technique of using a flat pick (which is used most of the time?).
A flat pick is more widely used, and yes, there are techniques you must learn when playing guitar with a flat pick. You cannot get these from classical. A flat pick is not just pick up and go.
3. Songwriting – Classical guitar music is different than rock music.
When you write for rock music, the parts can be simpler, but they are layered more with other instruments. When you write music for a classical guitar, in most cases you’re putting the whole piece on one guitar.
If you write music for classical guitar and try to switch it over to electric, you won’t sound like U2, GNR and any other rock band you like listening to. You will instead sound like a neoclassical guitar player, someone playing a Bach piece on guitar.
So if you write music for classical guitar, that does not mean you have the skills to write a solid contemporary tune, be it pop, blues or rock.
Now this article is not about dumping on classical guitar and trying to deter you from playing it. I’m not saying that these elements are useless to all guitarists. What I’m trying to get across is that if you want to learn rock guitar, you need to find a teacher who teaches rock. If you want to learn classical guitar than find a teacher who teaches classical guitar.
Chris Glyde is a guitarist, vocalist, music instructor based out of Rochester New York. If you enjoyed this article and would like to take Guitar Lessons In Rochester feel free to check out Rochester’s School Of Guitar.