Classical Guitar Lessons – The 4-step system for learning classical guitar: Chords, fingerstyle, arpeggios & scales.

Looking for classical guitar lessons? We’ve got you covered. This is a 4-step programme you can follow to start making music with your classical guitar today.

classical guitar lessons

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • A 4-step roadmap for learning classical guitar
  • How to learn chords at lightning speed
  • How to play fingerstyle/arpeggio classical guitar
  • The 2 most important scales every classical guitarist must know

The classical guitar is a beautiful instrument and in these 4 classical guitar lessons you’re going to discover high-value, super-practical tips that will move you forward as a classical guitarist. Let’s dive straight in.

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National Guitar Academy

Building a solid foundation

Learning classical guitar is a bit more technical than learning ‘standard’ acoustic guitar or electric guitar. (And we’ll cover those more technical elements later in this guide.)

But the best place to start for ALL guitarists is with basic chords.

Lesson 1: How to learn basic chord shapes at lightning speed

Regardless of what type of guitar you choose to learn first, you should always start by learning chords.

  • Of course it’s important to learn notes, but that will come in time.
  • When you start learning guitar, start with chords.

Understand the different types of chords: ‘open’ vs ‘barred’

The most important thing when learning guitar is momentum. We want you to enjoy playing and look forward to your practice time and the easiest way to accomplish both of these goals is to empower you to create music as quickly as possible.

For a beginner, the easiest way to make music is through chords. And that’s why this is our starting point.

There are two types of guitar chords:

  • Open chords
  • Barre chords

Open chords are the chord shapes that everybody starts with. They are easier to play and most of the shapes are on frets 1-3.

Barre chords are much more difficult to play, but once you conquer them the whole guitar neck becomes available to you.

So the plan is very simple. Start with open chords and, in time, graduate to playing barre chords.

classical guitar lessons

Open chords you should learn first

One of the most important classical guitar lessons you can get under your belt is to learn open chords in different difficulty ‘segments’.

Start with the easiest open chords first and progress on to the more difficult ones.

(If you were learning to swim, you would do it in the shallow end of the pool wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t start by jumping into the middle of the ocean. Do the same thing here please; start with the safe, easy stuff.)

  • The best open chords to learn first are: Am, C, D, Em, G
  • The next batch of open chords you should learn are: A, E, F, Bm
  • The final beginner batch of open chords you should learn are: B, Dm, Fm

I hope you find it useful to have a clear roadmap like this? I know that most of my students find this very helpful.

If you’re looking online for classical guitar lessons you will often find note-based lessons, but it’s much better to start with shape-based lessons that develop your chord knowledge.

classical guitar lessons

The secret to learning chords and making music at lightning speed

The best way to learn chords quickly is to follow my steppingstone approach.

This is a proven method for quickly developing your finger dexterity and control while also allowing you to have fun and make music.

Our company motto is ‘make things easy & fun’ and the stepping-stone chord system is a fundamental part of our philosophy.

The premise is very simple: there is an easy version of every chord

As a beginner guitarist you should learn the easy version before you learn the harder standard version.

Let’s look at some examples:

classical guitar lessons chords

As you can see the easier stepping-stone chord versions are simply different voicings of the original chords.

If you feel happy to tackle the standard versions then by all means begin with the standard versions, but most people find it much easier to use the stepping-stone version to get started having fun and making music. Then after a few weeks you can move on to the standard chord versions.

Of all the classical guitar lessons you can find, this is one of the most important.

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

 Say goodbye to frustration and twisted fingers. Say hello to MAKING MUSIC.

  Learn beginner-friendly versions of every chord.

  This is one of our most popular guides and will improve your chord ability quickly. Click here to download the guide.

You can learn a lot more about steppingstone chords in our easy chords area.

Classical Guitar Lessons 2) How to fingerpick & play arpeggio-style

One of the coolest things about learning classical guitar is developing a fingerpicking right-hand technique.

Very broadly, learning the standard acoustic guitar involves more all-out strumming, but learning classical guitar requires more fingerpicking and arpeggio style.

This means that your playing is more articulate and defined (and has more finesse), but it also means that it’s harder to learn and more difficult to sound good for a total beginner.

This is why you should learn a mixture of strumming and finger style. Our ultimate aim is for you to be a well-rounded guitarist and you need to do both.

We’re going to talk exclusively about finger style in a moment, but I want to flag this to you in big flashing lights: you need to learn to strum and use a pick too.

Ignore this advice at your peril! I’ve lost count of the amount of people that I know who tried to learn classical-style guitar and gave up because it was too hard.

Be warned: Learning classical guitar is awesome, but it’s difficult.

There is a much higher failure rate on classical guitar than standard guitar and that’s why I advise all guitar beginners to learn on a standard acoustic guitar.

There are lots of reasons why classical guitar is harder to learn, but the main one is that classical guitars have a much thicker neck and this makes it significantly harder to play (mainly because chord shapes are so much more difficult to form).

Ok, with that important caveat in mind, let’s dive in and look at finger-picking.

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classical guitar lessons for beginners

What is ‘fingerstyle’?

This is one of the best classical guitar lessons you can learn. When we play the guitar we basically do two things:

  1. With our left-hand we press down on the strings.
  2. With our right-hand we strike the strings.

We can strike the strings with a guitar pick, or with our nails, or with our thumb or our fingers.

For fingerstyle classical guitar we use a mixture of our thumb and finger tips.

If we simply strum a C chord it sounds like this:

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If we play a C chord finger-style it sounds like this:

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Hear the difference? It almost sounds like a different chord! This is why learning to fingerpick is one of the most important classical guitar lessons of all.

Applying this to other chords

One of the coolest things about learning fingerpicking style is that once you learn a few picking patterns you can apply it to any chord. This is why this is one of the most practical classical guitar lessons you can pick up.

You can use it in ALL other areas of your guitar playing.

classical guitar lessons

How to fingerpick

The essence of fingerpicking is very simple:

  1. Hold a chord shape with your left hand.
  2. Pick out notes from that chord with your thumb and fingers on your right-hand. (There are no rules for what notes you should pick. Any note from within the chord will work. Some will sound better than others, but none will sound bad.)

That’s it, that’s how to fingerpick, and 99% of the time this is what a beginner-intermediate classical guitarist is doing.

Of all the classical guitar lessons you can learn, this is one that surprises most of my students. They often tell me that they thought it was more complicated than this!

It sounds much more intricate and sweeping than this, but at its heart fingerstyle guitar is actually very simple; we’re just picking notes out from within chord shapes.

Let’s look at this in example chord progression. Let’s use this very common chord pattern: G, Em, C, D

When we strum these chords it sounds like this:

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When we finger-pick these chords it sounds like this:

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classical guitar lessons

So how do we turn the strumming-based version into the picking-based version?

This is one of the most influential classical guitar lessons you can learn, so listen up! 🙂

How to turn chords into fingerpicking

Check this out, this is one of the most practical classical guitar lessons of all because it colours how you voice all chords:

The best way to think of this is to split the 6 guitar strings into 3 ‘segments’: low mid and high.

  • The thickest two strings are your low range. This is your bass section. (Play these strings with your thumb.)
  • The middle two strings are your middle section. (Play these strings with fingers 1 and 2.)
  • The thinnest two strings are your high section. This is your treble. (Play these strings with fingers 1-4 as needed.)

When we play finger style we ideally need to hear a sprinkling of all three ‘segments’. It’s not essential that we hear all 3, but usually we’ll need to hear notes from at least 2 of the segments for what we’re playing to sound like it has depth.

Generally we need to hear a bass note on the beat of the song. We play the bass notes with our thumb, remember. This is what keeps things moving forwards.

Some students find it helpful to imagine that the bass note is ‘keeping time’ for you as you play.

There is an almost infinite combination of ways that you can play finger style, but at its heart all you are ever doing (as a beginner or at least) is picking out notes from within chords.

A quick refresher on string numbers

classical guitar lessons

So the secret is to learn chords and then pick out notes from within the chords?

Yes. It’s very simple. You need to learn some chord shapes (as discussed in step one) and then practice picking out notes from within those chords with your fingers. Visualising the 6 string in 3 ‘segments’ is a huge help.

  • To begin with start with just your thumb, picking out the bass notes from the chords. (The thickest 2 strings.)
  • Then start alternating between your thumb and first finger. This is good fun and it starts to sound musical here but of course it’s quite limiting as you’re only using two fingers.
  • Where this technique really comes alive is when you add your middle finger. Now we have enough variety to sound really fantastic.

I advise all of my students that want to learn finger style to begin in this way, using their thumb and first two fingers only. (If you try to add your ring finger and little finger you will find this quickly overwhelming.) As with all these classical guitar lessons, you must take care not to bite off more than you can chew.

A quick refresher on finger numbers

classical guitar lessons

So with this 3-digit solution, your aim is clear:

Pluck a bass note with your thumb, ideally on the beat of the song (the beat is how you would tap your foot to the song or clap your hands if you were clapping along).

Then use your first and second finger to pluck some notes from within the chord. Some strings will sound better than others depending on what chord your playing, but as a general rule the two strings immediately above the bass string will sound okay.

So if you were picking a bass note on the 5th string, then you could use your first and second finger on strings 4 and 3. 

I hope this has given you a much better understanding and a clear overview of finger style. This is a huge and complicated subject, thousands of books have been written on this subject, but I just want to give you a helicopter view of how it works! As far as introductory classical guitar lessons go, this is plenty for you to begin with.

If you’re interested in learning more about finger-style techniques subscribe to our email list.

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Classical guitar lessons 3) The Natural minor scale

Okay, so far we’ve looked at chords and fingerpicking and now I’d like us to look at some melodic single-note techniques.

This is one of the best classical guitar lessons of all. I love this scale!  The natural minor scale might be the coolest classical guitar scale of all, it just sounds so lovely. I could play this scale all day…..

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In its full form the natural minor scale looks like this:

classical guitar lessons minor scale

If you don’t understand this diagram read this article.

Like most guitar scales, this is a moveable pattern.

This means that you can play this scale pattern anywhere on the neck and it will always be the natural minor scale.

What dictates the tonality of the scale is where you begin playing it.

  • If you begin playing the scale on the 5th fret you will be playing the A natural minor scale.
  • If you begin playing the scale on the 7th fret you will be playing the B natural minor scale.
  • And so on…

To learn a lot more about the notes of the fret board and the musical alphabet read this article Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

When you learn this scale it’s best to learn it in two halves. Learn the notes on strings 6, 5 and 4 first. Then when you have that pattern memorised you can learn the notes on strings 3, 2 and 1.

This is one of the essential classical guitar lessons, you really must know this scale.

How to learn this scale

As with all scales it’s best to learn slowly and correctly to embed solid muscle memory that gives you a great foundation for the future.

Don’t fall into the trap that most beginners do of playing the scale as quickly as possible. This leads to lots of mistakes and flaky muscle memory.

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classical guitar lessons

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Classical Guitar Lessons 4) The Major Scale

This is the foundation for all music theory and is another one of those classical guitar lessons that you can file under ‘essential knowledge’. To be honest, this is a must-know for any guitarist, but for a classical guitarist it’s even more important.

In its full form the major scale looks like this:

classical guitar lessons Major Scale

This is a bright and happy-sounding scale that has an optimism about it which I love and never grow tired of.

The A Major Scale sounds like this:

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It’s important to understand that this is a two octave pattern. Octave one is the first half. (Learn this first.)

Let’s look at this with the G Major Scale:

classical guitar lessons major scale octave 1

Octave two is the second half. Note that it begins on the SAME NOTE that octave 1 ended on:

classical guitar lessons major scale octave 2

Again this is a movable scale pattern which means this is one those classical guitar lessons you can apply again and again in almost any situation.

  • If you start playing this scale pattern on the 3rd fret you will be playing the G major scale.
  • If you start playing this scale pattern on the 5th fret you will be playing the A major scale.
  • And on the 7th fret you will be playing the B major scale and so on.

How to use these to scales

There are literally thousands of ways you can integrate these scales into your guitar playing.

But perhaps the most practical thing to consider is how you can blend these with chords and how you could use the scales to accompany other musicians.

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National Guitar Academy

How to jam with the scales

Let’s say you are playing with another guitarist and they are playing a simple chord progression like C to Am.

If you wanted to play along with them you could play the same chords, that would sound okay, but a little bland because you’d both be playing the exact same thing!

It would be far more interesting and nuanced and musical and expressive if you played some melodic lead lines to complement the chords that your friend was playing.

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classical guitar lessons

But of course the question is how do I know what notes will work?

  • It’s very simple! If your friend is playing a C chord then you can play any note from the C major scale and it will sound great. (Some notes will sound better than others but none will sound ‘bad’.)
  • If your friend is playing Am then you can play any note from the A natural minor scale and it will sound great.

And of course these rules apply for all chords.

Blending chords and melodic single-note lines

As you improve as a guitarist you will be able to blend chords and melodic lines together yourself, on-the-fly.

So for example you may be changing chords from C to G and during the transition you might spice things up with a few notes from the C major scale. ‘Switching’ between chords/strumming and melodic single notes is a fabulous way to make your guitar playing sound more intelligent and textured.

But of course it will take time to get comfortable with all this!

Start off learning some simple chord shapes and then go from there. I hope you’ve enjoyed these four steps and that they’ve given you a useful roadmap that you can follow as you move forward and become a better classical guitarist. It’s an exciting journey and I’m so thrilled for you. You’re in for a treat!

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

Join over 30,000 other guitar learners and subscribe to our guitar-tips-by-email service. (It's free.)

We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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