From the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Blair Jackson
It almost goes without saying that when it comes to learning classical guitar, enlisting the services of a teacher (or teachers) is the best route to systematic improvement for people serious about mastering the instrument—especially those with aspirations beyond playing as a casual pastime. But there are also many reasons why working with a teacher might not be right for you, ranging from the cost of private instruction or school programs, to the need or desire to progress independently at your own pace, to trepidations about not being comfortable performing for or being judged by another person, to wanting the absolute freedom to study what you want when you want. Or maybe you just want to learn a little classical technique to improve your playing in the multitude of other fingerstyle settings.
The good news is that there has never been a better time to pursue learning classical guitar than right now—if not from scratch, then by studying new-to-you concepts, techniques, and styles of music. And, not surprisingly, nearly everything you could possibly want to know about the subject is just a few clicks away on the internet. Besides literally thousands of free videos, written tutorials (and combinations thereof) on virtually any classical-guitar-related topic you can think of, there are also many sites offering systematic instruction, sometimes from well-known players, to help guide you—often, but not always, for a fee (annual, monthly, or per lesson; it varies).
We looked into a number of the most popular classical-guitar learning sites and offer profiles of three here; at the end you’ll also find brief glimpses of four others. We would strongly urge you to do your own comparison shopping for the online learning environment that best suits your needs, but with any luck this will aid you in that search—or at least get you thinking about what steps you might want to take next in your pursuit of becoming a better, more confident player.
THE CORNER ACADEMY
Classical Guitar Corner, Simon Powis
Originally from Australia, New York–based guitarist Simon Powis has built his online school into one of the most widely respected sites of its kind. “I fell in love with the guitar at age 11,” he tells us, “but I didn’t experience what it is like to work with a good teacher until I was 19 and studying at university. For eight years I was passionate but lost with the guitar. I had no sense of structure and found myself feeling frustrated. I think this early experience impressed on me just how important it is to learn in a structured way—how working on the right materials at the right time can make all the difference.
“I have always loved teaching, but it wasn’t until I was writing my doctoral thesis with Ben Verdery at Yale University that I truly learned about the craft of teaching. The thesis was focused on sight-reading pedagogy. It opened up a whole new world for me and started me on the path to creating Classical Guitar Corner. I wanted to share what I was learning.
“Our Classical Guitar Corner Academy is for the amateur guitarist who wants a first-rate education. We are a team of five right now, and we serve adult musicians who want to learn with a structured curriculum. We offer a graded curriculum that is structured lesson-by-lesson, unit-by-unit, and grade-by-grade. From Grade 1 through Grade 8, the curriculum starts from the very beginning and guides the player all the way through to advanced pieces by Bach, Barrios, and Tárrega. More than just repertoire and technique, we also incorporate sight-reading, theory, musicianship, and ensemble playing into the curriculum.
“The Academy is all about the players and we celebrate success at every stage—whether it be the first progress-video posted or performance in a live video seminar or passing their eighth-grade advanced exam. We embrace the journey and look for joy along the way.
“Classical Guitar Corner has grown a lot since I started it in an attic ten years ago. We have a faculty of teachers around the world, the most supportive community you could ever imagine, a summer school near Boston; we publish books, we sponsor scholarships for young teachers and guitar societies, and we are constantly adding to the resources available, with guest master classes, study guides, ensemble music, theory classes, and the list goes on. But the heart of the Academy is a curriculum that is highly structured and has been continuously refined over the past decade. One of the beautiful aspects about online education is that you can adapt quickly to student feedback and that is exactly what we have done. And we have a group of supportive, kind, and enthusiastic musicians who make our jobs a joy and provide accountability, motivation, and inspiration for fellow players.
“For the past year, too, we’ve been running a ‘coaching call’ program that gives our members access to one-to-one coaching every single week. This has been a popular and extremely valuable program for those who use it, and it bridges the gap that is often missing online, which is immediate feedback and guidance.”
Simon also provides some nitty-gritty factoids: “Our website has a wealth of material, with a podcast, lessons, videos, and articles that are free to anybody who would like them. For those who want to join the Academy, we have a quarterly membership ($150), annual membership ($397), and annual with individual coaching ($547). We provide members with a university/conservatory-style experience and believe that our pricing represents outstanding value for what the Academy offers.”
RAPID RISE TO THE TOP
tonebase, Igor Licthmann
Having appeared on the web for the first time in 2016, San Francisco–based tonebase (yes, they insist you don’t cap the t) is one of the new kids on the block, so to speak, but its growth has been astonishingly fast, and the site now offers hundreds of hours of tutorials on basics, technique, and how to play specific pieces in the repertoire, supplied by some of the finest classical guitarists, young and not-so-young, in the world.
Igor Lichtmann explains about the origins of tonebase, and more: “My co-founder Chris Garwood and I are both classically trained guitarists who met while pursuing a performance degree in Ben Verdery’s class at the Yale School of Music. While there, we attended a class called Careers in Music, which was a semester-long, project-based seminar on the theme, ‘If you were to change one thing in the music world, what would it be?’ Chris and I always felt that access to really great musicians has been restricted, and we figured there must be an easier way for music lovers, students, amateurs, professionals, and teachers to access knowledge from the best artists in the world. That notion became the foundation of the project we started pursuing within that class. This eventually resulted in our teaming up with our third co-founder, Abhi Nayar, who was a computer science and economics major at Yale at that time and was instrumental in building out the initial version of our site.”
Who is the tonebase audience? “We cater to a few different types of players. Mostly our audience consists of teachers and professionals, invested hobbyists, and folks just starting out. We always make sure that we create our tutorials with a clear type of player in mind. For instance, in addition to having courses on basic technique fundamentals, we just released a very detailed course for the very beginner, taught by the outstanding L.A. pedagogue Daniel de Arakal, guiding them from their first day with the guitar to being able to play a simple Carcassi etude at the end. At the same time, catering to the professional crowd, we have tutorials on monumental works like the Antonio José Sonata taught by the great Zoran Dukic, as well as warmup routines by Pepe Romero that many teachers implement in their lesson plans. In total we have accumulated over 250 lessons on all things guitar from some of the most iconic players, such as Leo Brouwer, Sharon Isbin, Sérgio Assad, and dozens more.
“I think those different types of videos can live well together on one platform, and in fact really complement each other. We’re building a resource for the entire guitar community. The common denominator is quality: People, regardless of their development, life situation, or proficiency level, want to learn from the best. And our mission is to cater to that wish. The idea of sharing their thoughts with an engaged audience of passionate learners has resonated with most of the artists we’ve had the luck of collaborating with so far.
“I’d really encourage players, regardless of their perceived proficiency, to check out the platform,” Licthmann says. “Our company motto is ‘To Educate and Inspire,’and though, of course, it’s important to master all the basics and fundamentals of guitar technique, it’s as important to have the inspiration to play. There’s no easy road to guitar mastery. It takes years of solid practice, and results come over time. The difference between a good and a great teacher is that the great teacher knows how to inspire students and help them discover a whole new world of self-expression through music.”
On a practical level, “We have a pretty neat interactive video player that makes it super fun to follow along with the explanations of the instructor. Every tutorial comes with a carefully curated, downloadable workbook PDF, and we will be rolling out a number of exciting features over the next few months and introducing community features to create a real hub for musicians and music lovers online.” The platform offers a considerable amount of free content; as for pricing, there’s always a free one-week trial available, and then the rates are $29.95 monthly ($19.95 per month if you buy an annual subscription), and $495 for a lifetime membership—though discounts are frequently offered on all programs.
A HEARTY SUPPLEMENT
This Is Classical Guitar, Bradford Werner
British Columbia–based guitarist/pedagogue Bradford Werner says, “I originally created the site for my students at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. I wanted my youth and teen students to see high-quality guitar playing to supplement their [in-person] lessons. It was a way for my students to absorb the culture, musical ideas, and technique of classical guitar. I also posted free lessons and sheet music to support what I was teaching in person. Many of my students didn’t know what classical guitar really was, since classical guitar is a strange name for the variety of music we play. So, in short, the site answers the question: What is classical guitar?
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“My audience is a mix of college-age guitar students, adults, and my youth students. I feature a lot of younger players because, again, I want my students to see more than just established old men playing guitar—classical guitar wasn’t always as diverse as it is today. So, I aim for a nice mix of youthful and emerging players, but also some established professionals. This really helps build youth enthusiasm. Plus, you can’t expect 12-year-olds to watch a 200-pound man holding the guitar and expect them to imitate that. They need to see players with similar body types and high levels of technique and musical skills. I try to cater to all levels but it’s sometimes random, because I mainly post newly released videos or something I’m currently teaching in person.
“The site has over 150 lessons, 1,500 articles, reviews, and sheet music, so there’s plenty to explore. Werner Guitar Editions is my dedicated sheet music store. There came a point when I wanted to separate the business side of what I was doing in order to keep the main blog free for my students. When the site became a full-time job, I needed to start creating some premium projects and so WGE was born. If people don’t want to spend money they can just avoid it—This Is Classical Guitar is completely free in terms of viewing, lessons, and videos. I’m really for the open web and will never form a paywall. WGE has been fun for me, as I enjoy creating new repertoire editions and making video performances and lessons of the scores.
“I get a lot of positive feedback about my email newsletter. It’s a weekly dose of guitar content to help students absorb the culture slowly over time. Students need to get exposure to the different styles of guitar and lute, and taking even five minutes a week to watch high-quality content goes a long way. There’s so much great stuff online today and most of my followers join multiple newsletters and sites such as [AcousticGuitar.com’s sister site] ClassicalGuitarMagazine.com or ClassicalGuitarCorner.com. This Is Classical Guitar is a great way to supplement and enrich your music studies. But remember that in-person lessons with a good teacher are still the best way to learn and interact with music.”
Four More Worth Investigating
Classical Guitar with Jason Vieaux
Hundreds of detailed lessons from the Grammy-winning classical guitarist, through the popular ArtistWorks platform. Includes slow motion and looping on videos; lessons drawn from Giuliani, Carcassi, Sor, et al.
Cost: $105 for three-month plan
Fundamentals of Classical Guitar (Berklee College of Music)
Twelve-week, college-level program from David Newsam, director of Berklee’s Classical Guitar Chamber Program, delves into basics and specific genres/techniques such as Brazilian, tango, folk, percussive playing, and more.
LAGA Online Classical Guitar Lessons
The Los Angeles Guitar Academy’s program includes access to 2,400 prerecorded lessons dealing with everything from posture and nails and warmups to the fine points of technique. Webcam/Skype lessons available, as are downloadable PDFs.
Cost: $37/month for prime membership, free trial
This massive wesbite offers many teachers in many different styles of guitar, as well as a plethora of teaching features, but a search will turn up three different tracks of classical guitar instruction, including 37 intermediate lessons from Pamela Goldsmith and 30 from Evan Taucher on modern classical guitar.
Cost: $49/month or $399/year
(For a descriptive list and links to 22 different online options for learning classical guitar, including the above four, go to cmuse.org/learn-classical-guitar-lesson-online
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.