The Classical Guitar Companion

Christopher Berg has completed volume one of his new work, The Classical Guitar Companion: Practice. (Volume Two, which deals with performance, is in preparation.) This new work, in excess of 200 pages, features over 200 examples, etudes, and pieces organized to help serious guitar students better navigate the shoals of becoming well-trained and expressive artists. Rather than try to shepherd each student down the same path, the book allows students to approach their training within a flexible and personal curriculum based upon their weaknesses and strengths.

The work is organized into eleven sections according the technique used, e.g., scales, arpeggios, slurs, with brief commentary, and essays on practice and study. The pieces in each section progress by degree of difficulty, insofar as that’s possible given the variety of backgrounds and abilities students have, but material within the sections can be studied concurrently according to one’s strengths and weakness, interests, and advice from a teacher. In this regard, it is the antithesis of a typical method book or graded repertoire series. In The Classical Guitar Companion students and their teachers are afforded flexibility and discretion, flexibility and discretion that should be informed by ongoing assessments of each student’s ability to solve technical, procedural (i.e., how to study), and artistic problems. Composers of etudes, of course, use more than one technique in a piece, and it makes sense, for example, to have gained some knowledge of harmony before attempting the more challenging arpeggio studies. The Classical Guitar Companion will provide students with a well-organized and comprehensive approach to their studies that is adaptable to the variety of backgrounds students have when they come to the serious study of music and the classical guitar.

The main sections of the work are:

  1. The Re-Imagination of Practice
  2. Learning the Fingerboard
  3. Scale Exercises and Studies
  4. Repeated Notes
  5. Slurs
  6. Harmony
  7. Arpeggios
  8. Melody and Accompaniment
  9. Counterpoint
  10. Florid/Virtuoso Etudes
  11. Mental Strategies to Improve Sight-Reading, Memorization, and Performance

What’s in it?

Most of the music is drawn from the 19th-century pedagogical literature and includes etudes and exercises by Aguado, Bathioli, Carcassi, Carulli, Giuliani, Horetsky, Mertz, Molino, Moretti, Pelzer, Sor, Tárrega, and Zani de Ferranti. Also included are transcriptions of Renaissance lute music to explore certain techniques in more detail than the 19th-century masters did, specifically, rapid scales and contrapuntal playing. These composers include Besard, da Crema, Dalza, da Milano, Dlugorai, LeRoy, Mertel, John Johnson, and Valderrabano. The 30,000 word text is heavily annotated and the work features a three-page bibliography.

But far from being another shopworn collection of studies, the exercises and etudes in The Classical Guitar Companion are presented in relationship to: other etudes or exercises that approach the same or similar techniques; relevant writings and examples by composers discussing or demonstrating how they thought their works should be approached; and known fingering and performance practices. In other words, each section comprises a curated collection of works that presents a path to mastery. The Classical Guitar Companion is suited for students just starting their serious study of the instrument as well as advanced students looking to sharpen their skills, deepen their knowledge of our pedagogical literature, or fill in gaps in their training.

Where can I get a copy?

The first printing has sold out and work is underway on a corrected and updated version. Visit Christopher Berg’s newly redesigned website and The Guitar Whisperer Blog for the latest news.

From the Preface:

Effective and comprehensive study skills are not vouchsafed to all. Even successful guitarists will have cobbled together, through random experience, something only resembling a solid background. But this approach often obtains gaps. A knowledge of historical style, technique, and interpretive possibility is often forced through the small portals of contemporary experience.

The first flowering of our heritage as guitarists, a little over 200 years old, can be seen in these examples, exercises, and etudes. Some may seem prosaic, especially compared to later music, but direct experience with these works will reveal useful concepts about left- and right-hand fingering, style, phrasing, and articulation—concepts that lose their immediacy and import if severed from their origin.

Unfortunately, the pedagogical literature from the 19th century has too often served as a
tabula rasa upon which later guitarists etched their own ideas. Two examples, among many, will suffice: compare Miguel Llobet’s edition of Matteo Carcassi’s 25 Estudios para Guitarra, Op. 60[1] with the Urtext edition published by Chanterelle[2] or the Minkoff facsimile of his 1836 Méthode Complete pour la Guitare,[3] Op. 59, which gives much information about how the etudes are to be performed; and compare Andrés Segovia’s left-hand fingering for Fernando Sor’s Op. 6, No. 6 (Segovia #12[4]) with Sor’s fingerings for his exercises for thirds and his Op. 35, No. 15.

Diligent students will make their own discoveries as they work through this material and I’ll not belabor in print what these might be. Depending on your level and experience, go through this book methodically or browse through it as the need arises. Keep it near your music stand for reference and practice, but return to it often as a touchstone for your progress.

[1] Matteo Carcassi,
25 Estudios para Guitarra, Op. 60. ed. Miguel Llobet, (Buenos Aires: Ricordi, no date).
[2] Matteo Carcassi:
25 Études Mélodiques et Progressives, Op. 60, (Heidelberg. Chanterelle, 1998).
[3] Matteo Carcassi,
Méthode Complete pour la Guitare, Op. 59. Facsimile of the Paris edition of 1836, (Geneva: Minkoff, 1988).
[4] Fernando Sor,
Twenty Studies for the Guitar, ed. by Andrés Segovia (New York: Edward B. Marks Music Corporation, 1945), 14–15.