Dispelling A Myth: If you can play classical, you can play
By: Chris Glyde
The skills that classical guitar won't teach you and the ones you'll need as a contemporary guitar player
This article is the second part of a series addressing the myth: “If you can play classical you can play anything”. If you missed the first section, you can google it. It’s titled “Dispelling a myth: If you can play classical, you can play anything pt. 1: Things you’re wasting your time on by learning classical guitar.” If you’re interested in taking a look at this article feel free to read this one first
This particular article is about a discussion on what classical guitar won’t teach you that you will need as a contemporary guitar player, whether your choice is pop, blues or rock music. In the first article we discussed some basic logic for the error of this myth so I won’t repeat that here. Instead we will go right to the point of this article.
Without further ado, here are the elements of contemporary music that classical music won’t teach you.
1. Classical guitar players don’t have any knowledge of guitar phrasing.
Why? Because classical guitar players and contemporary players differ greatly in the type of nuances, rhythms, sounds and the amount they use.
Here’s a classic example of a classic piece ( A Bach Piece, Allegretto)
Here’s a rock lick: ( AC/DC Back in Black)
Do you see the difference between the two? Phrasing for contemporary music tends to be more involved. Although in some cases, if the guitar player is no good, it isn’t..
Contemporary music and classical music use many different rhythm figures. If you compare allegretto to Back in Black you can see that Back in Black uses many more varied rhythmic figures. This is true in a lot of contemporary music, especially on guitar. Learning classical music will get you using rhythmic figures that are typically used in classical, but not in rock, blues or pop.
Another great example for nuances is the fact that classical guitar players don’t bend strings and, don’t use multiple slides in their phrases. The phrases tend to be more straight forward and just finger—picked. I have seen classical guitarists use slides and even legato before, but not in the same way or to the same degree as contemporary guitarists.
Most contemporary guitarists will stack many nuances on one note( If they are a good guitarist) A nuance for those of you who don’t know refers to any special ornament you can do on the guitar ( hammer ones, slides, bending, double stops, vibrato act). That’s basically when something extra is put on the note, besides letting it ring out plainly.
In many cases, contemporary guitarists will layer multiple nuances on one note. Meaning they might have a bend, legato, slide, interesting rhythmic figure and all on one note. You have to practice this skill. It will not come naturally and you will not get it naturally from learning classical guitar.
2. Contemporary music has theory that isn’t included in classical music theory. A lot of it operates on blues guitar which also has it’s own separate theory.
Theory operates differently in the context of blues, rock, pop etc. There is specific blues music theory that doesn’t apply to classical. Since rock and pop are also somewhat based off the blues you can guess that they too don’t have identical theory elements. That being said, aside from blues, there are also many things in regular rock music and pop music that are rarely or never done in classical music. I won’t go into too much detail on this part because you would need more background in music theory to understand what I’m talking about. It’s not the point of this article to get into a massive talk about music theory. The point is, if you only learn classical music theory you will be able to write classical pieces, not rock songs, not pop songs, not blues songs. The chord styles are different, resolutions are different. The way voice leading is used is different. Bottom line, the music is put together differently.
3. Classical guitarists don’t improvise and many don’t write music. They read notes off a piece paper.
Most classical guitarists can’t improvise that well. Why? Because they don’t need to, so most don’t waste the time to learn that skill ( so why are we learning classical skills again?)
Many classical guitarists also can’t write music, they never learned to write music because they didn’t need the skill. This is not to say no classical guitar players write music— some do, which I will address in the next point.
Most of the time a classical guitarist is just playing music off a sheet. The ones who do improvise still lack solid phrasing, so I would argue that their solos are boring. It’s definitely not close to rock soloing what so ever.
On that note, since rock guitarists need to improvise or actually write solos/songs more often, the visualization for rock guitar is a little more intense, than in classical guitar. Visualization for those who don’t know is master over the fretboard—being able to combine different types of scales, visualize notes, scale degrees and chords all along the fretboard.
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.