Do we need to play technical exercises and scales on classical guitar?

Technical exercises and scales
Technical exercises

Technical exercises, scales, and etudes for classical guitar are just tools. The guitar teachers, use them, to improve students’ abilities to play guitar. Most of the method books that we use are designed around those tools. In many cases, we compose or arrange exercises or pieces, according to the students’ needs. This is a normal practice in a “one to one” teaching format. Apart from that, we use real examples from classical guitar literature, illustrating the use of particular techniques. An experienced guitar teacher will try to compose or choose an etude or a piece following some criteria. Such as:

  • The student’s ability.
  • Possibilities for implementation of the learned technique or idiom.
  • is the piece musically attractive and interesting for the student?
  • Does it have opportunities for future development of the student.
  • Is it suitable for the student’s repertoire?
  • Can this piece motivate the student? and so on.

On a mechanical level, the goal is to improve students’ technique. 99% of the teacher’s job is not to teach the student how to play certain pieces, but to teach them how to play guitar and to teach you music. In this article, I will concentrate on the technical level of the matter.

Technical exercises and scales

are aimed at analyzing the situations occurring in both hands, improving your ability to engineer and use logical and anatomically reasonable fingerings. Which in fact is a general approach to any piece simply on a mechanical level.

If you have been playing guitar for some time, for sure you have noticed that there is some logic in the finger’s placement, movement, etc. That is what we are trying to improve.

Technical exercises for grade 7 TCL
Extract from a technical exercises for grade 7 TCL london

However, it is not black and white but in most of the cases, we will have pre-done models or matrixes for both hands that will work most of the time.

There are of course cases, which are many in fact, where the common models will not work. And there comes the experience, which will allow you to take the most economically correct decision.

Learning scales, etudes, and technical exercises

are a must on your way to acquiring the so-needed guitar skills. There are of course different opinions for example: To acquire techniques through playing popular pieces or songs. That is a good promise but, this approach is extremely difficult. Why? Because the goals in composing pieces and the goals in composing exercises are totally different. I’ll give you an example hoping to understand what I mean.

Imagine you are learning English but you don’t know anything about it, apart from the alphabet. Now, your innovative teacher will not be teaching you grammar, verbs, adjectives, how the sentence should be structured he will not demand from you a certain amount of words to be learned by heart, etc. he simply starts teaching you how to read newsletters, novels, poems, Shakespeare and so on. Maybe some students will learn something in this way, but the majority will give up simply because they won’t be able to keep up and simply will not learn anything.

To learn something we need a method, a system of presenting the subject in a way that most of us will be able to master it up to a satisfactory level, Most of us. Not only the talented. In fact, talking about talented students, people, etc. is in my opinion, irrelevant when we talk about education in general. Why? What is a talent, a talented person?

What is a talent?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a talented person is: “someone who has a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught:”

Notice, “Especially without being taught”

We don’t need to do scientific research to conclude that. When we talk about education, courses, etc. we do not have in mind the talented ones, simply because they do not need our services as educators. I may speculate, a talented student will get the best results even from the worst educational system.

So, back to our case of studying pieces in order to acquire technical skills, obviously, the only ones who will benefit from such an approach will be the talented, not the others.

However there are other factors to consider. We, the private guitar teachers and other private music teachers, for that matter, work in a non-academic environment, there is not any academic body that will control our teaching and learning process. We will have different students. For example, students who:

  • Come to learn and is ready to go through the matter step by step,
  • Take guitar lessons just for fun.
  • Use their gift voucher.
  • A student who is 5 y.o.
  • Another who is 65 y.o.
  • Student who wants to play a piece by Metallica on classical guitar. And so on, the list can go forever.

Using songs as exercises

On some occasions using a piece that the student likes regardless of does it matches their musical and technical difficulties, can be used to strike their motivation to learn. That is something else. I may say, this is a way, a trick, that the teacher can use to achieve other pedagogical goals, but it will not be a routine practice.

As teachers, we are looking for different, new ways of teaching. We try to make things easy, approachable, and understandable for the students. So hopefully, they can get good results as fast as possible. This process is going on “since forever”. However, those new ways are not magical. I always like to say to my students:

“As your guitar teacher, I want more than you, believe me, much more than you want, for you to become a good guitar player in no time. If I had a guitar injection, I would sell it to you right away, rather than torturing you with those boring guitar lessons…”


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