Classical Guitar Technique: A Selected Bibliograpy | Peter Kun Frary

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This bibliography focuses on information about classical guitar technique appearing in books and periodicals in the English language. I have limited selection to works containing an expository presentation of technique. Thus, interviews of performers, philosophical discussions of technique, exercise and scale books, and method books consisting of a graded sequence of pieces are excluded. You will have to visit a major university library to find most of these sources.

Annotations cite the topics covered, approach, reviews if available and critical observations when necessary. Not all the items listed were available for annotation. When possible, I've included descriptive comments from secondary sources for entries without annotations.

Justification and Findings

The recent advent of the guitar as a serious instrument of study has prompted a need to elevate the instrument to a status equivalent to strings, winds and piano in terms of repertoire, literature, pedagogy, technique and performance standards. The quest of a viable repertoire has over shadowed the attention needed to clear up pedagogical deficiencies. Thus, a primary concern for guitarists is the lack of methodology in technique and pedagogy. The guitar's instructional literature is rarely as sophisticated as that for other instruments: most method books are a mere gradation of pieces and exercises filled with vague, scantily written instructions shrouded in unfounded tradition.

The methodology of the guitar's technique and pedagogy has mainly existed as an haphazard oral tradition. The need for accessible instructional literature can not be stressed enough: the books and articles cited here only begin to fill this need. There is an inevitable unevenness of quality inherent in an amalgamate such as this: some authors are content to recite mindlessly the traditions of their teachers; while others painstakingly attempt to establish a rational basis for technique, which may or may not coincide with the traditions of the old schools.

Recently, a number of books on the subject of technique have appeared. An outstanding work, written in the form of a treatise, is Charles Duncan's The Art of Classical Guitar Playing. Duncan sets a precedent in the methodology of technique by systematically presenting the various techniques in light of the musical, physical and anatomical properties that demand and govern them. The many articles by the same author display similar high scholarship and clear thinking. Another noteworthy book is Ronald J. Sherrof's Discover the Art of Guitar Fingerings. His methodology is not as refined as that of Duncan. However, the work is valuable as a much needed reference source for notation and terminology associated with technique.

One of the most difficult and controversial areas of technique lies in the use of the right-hand. The importance of the role of the right-hand is reflected in the literature: 45% of the items listed deal specifically with right-hand technique. Within the context of right-hand technique, 57% of the literature addresses problems of tone and articulation, mostly in the Segovia tradition. In contrast, literature for the left-hand represents only 12% of the works cited.

Interpretation is the highest level of technical consciousness. Interpretation demands the knowing of musical, anatomical and physical properties to determine the very best way to present a piece of music. Most authors advocate the use of musical analysis in determining which techniques will have the most meaningful effect on the music.

The technique of practicing is another area receiving excellent contributions. Effective practicing involves a conscious and organized approach to all aspects of performing. These authors discuss in varying degrees the development of an awareness of the components of playing: musical, technical, mechanical, etc. The nearest thing to a comprehensive work on this subject is The Art of Practicing, by Alice Artzt. Noteworthy also is Janet Marlow's analytic approach in "What Every Great Guitarist Knows About Practicing," and Richard Provost's use of visualization concepts in "Visualization: An Aid to Memorization."

The systematic teaching of pedagogical and technical methodology has not yet been widely established. The articles and books cited here represent the strengths and weaknesses of a growing discipline. In many ways the stereotype of the classical guitarist as an incompetent musician, when compared to players of other instruments, is confirmed by the ill-equipped graduates of many universities. Amazingly, many guitar degrees are still conferred without course work in guitar pedagogy or literature. On the positive side, the sheer volume of people interested in the classical guitar is a major factor in propelling the instrument into a position of prominence and, thus, accelerating work in deficient areas out of necessity.

End Notes

1Ferdinand (Fernando) Sor, Method for the Spanish Guitar, trans., A. Merrick (London: R. Cocks & Co., c. 1832; reprint ed., New York: Da Ca po Press, 1971), p. 46. In this early 19th century method, actually a treatise on guitar playing, Sor speaks of a similar deficiency in the instructional literature: "I am of the opinion that, when the matter in question is to methodize an action, it is essential to know the agents of it in order to establish rules for the purpose of employing them in the manner most analogous [sic] to their functions. . . He who desires to have only a collection of numerous progressive airs, will do wrong to purchase a work which I never should allow myself to use as a means of selling productions which I could or could not dispose of otherwise. . . . An author should give his work an appropriate title: method, exercises, lessons, and studies are by no means synonymous.

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