Preparing to Play the Classical Guitar (Guitar Lesson)

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Danny Voris

Preparing to Play the Classical Guitar

In this lesson, Danny covers proper posture and how to hold the classical guitar. He also explains how to shape the nails in order to produce the best tone possible.

Taught by Danny Voris in Classical Guitar seriesLength: 19:44Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (03:50) Posture and Holding the Guitar Using a Footstool

The classical guitar is held in a much different manner from the steel string acoustic guitar or the electric guitar. The classical guitar is positioned on the left leg instead of the right leg. The left leg is elevated with the help of a footstool. A footstool can be purchased at any music store where classical guitars are sold. If you currently do not own a footstool, you can rest your foot on any flat object that is roughly 6-8 inches tall. For example, a wah pedal stacked on some phone books might get the job done. For performances however, you will want to purchase a footstool.

Most footstools feature four height settings. Adjust the footstool so that the angle formed by the neck of the guitar and the ground is roughly forty five degrees. The headstock of the guitar should hang roughly at eye level.


The legs are the foundation of the body and proper posture. Any structure requires a solid foundation. Always follow the following guidelines regarding proper leg positioning.

1. Keep the feet about shoulder width apart if not slightly wider. For right handed guitarists, the footstool and left foot should be placed just inches ahead of the right foot.

2. The groin area and feet should form an isosceles triangle (two equal sides). The ancient Egyptians understood that the triangle is the strongest geometric shape. Consequently, you must position the base of your body in this formation.

3. Sit on the edge of a flat chair or bench. The hamstring muscles should not make contact with the surface of the chair.

Holding the Guitar in Place

The guitar is held against the body at three points.

-The top of the guitar's body rests against the sternum.

-The lower shoulder of the guitar rests against the upper left thigh.

-The lower hip of the guitar rests lightly on the inner portion of the right thigh.

Watch Danny in the lesson video for a clear demonstration of how the guitar should be positioned against the body.

Note: If you play a left handed guitar, simply reverse these directions.

In addition to the guidelines listed above, the back of the guitar should be tilted slightly inwards towards the body. This allows for maximum comfort while playing. It also promotes solid tone production. The vibration of the back of the guitar must not be eliminated by laying it flat across the abdomen. In addition, tilting the guitar results in the loudest, most powerful tone, since the soundhole is facing upward at a slight angle. When the guitar is held flat against the body, the soundhole faces down towards the floor at a slight angle. Consequently, the vibrations exiting the soundhole are aimed towards the floor instead of towards the audience's ears. Some of these vibrations are absorbed by the floor, resulting in a quieter, insufficient tone.

The Shoulders and Back

The spine must remain straight and relaxed at all times. Stretch your spine towards the ceiling without arching your back. While doing so, do not allow your shoulders to slouch in a forward direction. The shoulders must remain relaxed and loose at all times. Do not shrug them at all. Your arms should feel like they are hanging effortlessly from your body. Do not lift your right shoulder to bring your right hand closer to the strings.

The Abdominal Muscles and Lower Back

The abdominal and lower back muscles support the upper structure of the body. You must find a position where the spine remains straight while utilizing the minimum amount of effort from these lower muscle groups. Using the minimum amount of effort is of paramount importance to proper guitar technique.

Pain and Discomfort

If you experience pain or discomfort in any body part, immediately stop playing and address the issue. Adjust your playing posture until you feel comfortable and relaxed. If you are used to playing an electric or steel string acoustic, classical guitar posture will feel quite awkward at first. This will pass in time. However, always draw the line between feeling awkward and experiencing pain or discomfort.
Chapter 2: (11:22) Fingernail Preparation When playing classical guitar, the right hand fingernails are used to pluck the strings. Consequently, they must be grown out slightly and shaped properly.

Nail Types

Everybody's nails and hands are different. However, almost all nail shapes fall into four categories.

1. Type A - The nail features a steady curve across its surface.

2. Type B - The nail is relatively flat across its surface.

3. Type C - The nail bends downward. This nail type is undesirable for classical guitar. If your nails meet this description, you may want to consider using ping pong balls, acrylic nails, or the Alaskapik. More information about this subject is provided below.

4. Type D - The nail bends in an upward direction across its surface.

Shaping the Nails

A. Length

The shorter you keep your nails, the better. The fingernail should extend beyond the fleshy pad of the finger by about 1 millimeter. It's much easier to play rapid scale passages, tremolo passages, and arpeggios with shorter nails. Short nails produce the loudest and clearest tone. Also, as nails grow longer, they are more prone to break.

B. Overall Nail Shape

The edge of the nail must be shaped into a straight line or a consistent arching curve. Many players naturally have small hooks or divots that grown into the nails. A hook is a portion of the nail that grows in a different direction from the rest of the nail. In order to produce a solid tone, all hooks must be removed from the nail. Hooks result in a brittle, snapping sound. File the underside of the nail across the hook, until this portion of the nail is smooth and straight like the rest of the nail.

C. Surface Area

The maximum amount of nail surface area should make contact with the string. For this reason, many guitarists shape their nails into a ramp-like surface. The nail should gradually get longer towards the right side. With this nail shape, the nail glides smoothly across the string when the proper plucking motion is utilized.

Solutions for Broken Nails or Undesirable Nail Types

Nails break rather frequently. Or, your nails may naturally grow in a way that is not conducive to playing the classical guitar. Unfortunately, nothing can compare to the feeling and tone produced by natural nails. However, there are some synthetic options that work almost as well. Acrylic nails such as Lee Press-On nails are made of a much harder substance than the human nail. Consequently, they produce a louder tone. Unfortunately, due to their hardness, they produce a rather harsh tone that is undesirable. The vast majority of guitarists prefer to glue ping pong balls to the underside of the nails. Due to the downward hook of the nails on his index and ring fingers, Danny supports these nails with sections of ping pong balls. Attaching acrylics or ping balls with glue weakens the natural nail. Therefore, synthetic nails should only be used if absolutely necessary.

Alaskapiks present an effective third option. Alaskapiks are attached underneath the nail and wrap around the fingertip. They can be shaped and buffed like a natural nail or an acrylic. The advantage to these picks is that no gluing is necessary. This allows the nail to breath and grown in a healthy, natural state. Unfortunately, many classical players find that these picks feel awkward since they wrap around the finger.

Attaching Ping Pong Balls

1. The natural nail must be long enough to attach a piece of a ping pong ball underneath it. Otherwise, there is not enough surface area for the ping pong ball to adhere to. As a result, the ping pong ball will most likely fall off after a few practice sessions.

2. Using a pair of manicure scissors, cut a section of a ping pong ball into a half moon shape. Then, cut a small portion of the center out so that the remaining shape resembles a rainbow.

3. Insert the piece of ping pong ball underneath the natural nail. Check how it feels. You will definitely need to make some adjustments before the false nail is glued into place. The piece of ping pong ball should feel comfortable and natural underneath the real nail.

4. Apply a small amount of Krazy Glue to the side of the ping pong ball that will make contact with the natural nail. Glue the ping pong ball segment in place.

5. After the ping pong ball is glued in place, apply a small amount of glue around the area where the natural nail and ping pong ball meet. This will ensure that they ping pong ball won't fall off after a few hours of repetitious playing.

6. Using a pair of tweezers, clamp the ping pong ball securely in place. Hold it in this position for about 30 seconds while the glue dries.

7. Once the glue is dry, use the manicure scissors to cut off the excess piece of ping pong ball that extends around the edges and corners of the nail. The ping pong ball should begin to look like a natural extension of your real nail. Be careful that you do not take too much off. You need enough ping pong ball remaining in order to shape it properly with a nail file.

8. The ping pong balls will need to be replaced once a week as the natural nail grows out.

Shaping the Nails (contd.)

Buy a nail file that has several levels of coarseness. Ideally, the file should have seven different coarseness levels.

1: heavy grit for shaping
2. medium grit for shaping
3: fine grit to neaten edges
4: even out the nail (ensures consistency across the nail)
5. smooth the nail
6. buff the nail
7. shine the nail

Use surfaces 2-7 when preparing the nail. Do not neglect the last two steps! These are two of the most important. In order to produce the best possible tone, your fingernails must be as smooth as glass!

At first, shape the nail into a perfectly round shape. Use the file underneath the nail to remove any hooks. The bottom of the nail should remain flat and consistent all the way across. Then, add the ramp. Most players prefer to slope the fingernail so that the right side is slightly taller. This ensures that maximum nail surface area travels across the string. This produces the loudest, clearest tone possible.

Note: If your nails produce a brittle snapping sound, your nails are shaped incorrectly, or you are playing with poor technique.

Final Thoughts on Nail Maintenance

Note: These tips concerning nails maintenance were written by classical guitarist Karl Wohlwend. Click herefor more information about Karl.

1. Keep your nails well-maintained. A shorter, smoother nail will be less likely to break on door handles, guitar case latches, etc.

2. Be flexible. Nails are almost never prefect. However, being adaptable will allow you to play with your nails in a variety of conditions.

3. Be strict. Even though it is possible to play with no nails and / or nails in various conditions, never play with nails that produce poor tone quality. Your ear will get accustomed to hearing poor sound, and you will not push yourself to create good tone.

4. Keep in mind that nervousness affects accuracy. For performance situations, it may be helpful to grow the nails slightly longer than usual.

5. Nails break more often when dry. In dry climates, breaks can be prevented by moisturizing the nail. Vaseline Intensive Care Hand and Nail Formula works very well.
Chapter 3: (04:30) Recommended Listening Listening to great players will inspire you to play and practice more. Listen to recordings can also be an effective learning tool. The players listed below provide a great demonstration of how a specific piece should be played. Like Danny mentions, it doesn't take any real talent to play the notes on the page correctly. It takes skill, imagination, and creativity to bring the notes to life and create a powerful performance. In addition, all of these players have exceptional tone. Strive for this level of tonal quality with your own playing. Check out the following guitarists for inspiration and guidance:

1. Andres Segovia
2. John Williams
3. Julian Bream
4. David Russell
5. Pepe Romero
6. David Tanenbaum
7. Benjamin Verdery
8. Frederick Hand
9. Manuel Barreuco
10. Ana Vidovic
10. Dimitri Illarionov
11. Brian Head
12. Frederick Noad
13. Odair Assad
14. Sergio Assad
14. Sharon Isbin
15. Jason Vieaux

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

StraussStrauss replied

Though he mostly played metal music randy rhoads was taught classical guitar and one of his songs dee shows that he is as good at classical guitar as he is at metal

guitarlessons1guitarlessons1 replied

Tell me how do I go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 in Lesson 1

fastapastafastapasta replied

Thanks for the suggestions

daweiladaweila replied

You should put up a list of recommended artists under supplemental content.

devon mccreadevon mccrea replied

Andres Segovia is the first classical artist you should listen to. He was the first one to really establish what a great classical player should sound like. I would also recommend listening to Pepe Romero or even all of the Romeros. Listen to those two artists first (and only those) and then you will become spoiled under there great technique and always know what a good guitarist should sound like.

joseplluis7joseplluis7 replied

Hello Danny. I've got a new classical guitar. I come from playing electric. I find the tension harder and the action higher. I suppose it's part of the game, but I would like to know what should the a correct action and a good string type (mine are addario exp extra hard) to start playing.

devon mccreadevon mccrea replied

Hello, this isn't Danny but I got some answers. The high action on the guitar is a problem, i would recommend to either get the action lowered (with reason) or to get a new guitar all together. Addario are good strings but I would recommend La Bella. I always have enjoyed those.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Vaseline Intensive Care Hand and Nail Formula works the best. I've found that nail hardener or other remedies don't work as well...I'm not sure about the vitamins.

SylviaSylvia replied

Dan? Do you use oils on your nails to keep them from cracking? And do you ever use Pre Natal Vitamins to help them grow??

devon mccreadevon mccrea replied

I wouldn't use vitamins, the nails honestly don't need to too long and if you must use nail harder this I would recommend this. My teacher used it.

Classical Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

The origins of the classical guitar date back to the fifteenth century. The vihuela, lute, and baroque guitar are the early predecessors of the guitar. With its origins reaching deep into the past, the classical guitar repertoire spans over five hundred years worth of material. Danny Voris explains the techniques necessary to mastering this timeless art form.

Overview of the Classical GuitarLesson 1

Overview of the Classical Guitar

Danny provides an overview of the topics that will be discussed in this lesson set. He also explains the origin of the classical guitar.

Length: 5:57 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Preparing to Play the Classical GuitarLesson 2

Preparing to Play the Classical Guitar

In this lesson, Danny covers proper posture and how to hold the classical guitar. He also explains how to shape the nails in order to produce the best tone possible.

Length: 19:44 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Installing Nylon StringsLesson 3

Installing Nylon Strings

Danny demonstrates how to install nylon strings on a classical guitar.

Length: 12:58 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Left Hand TechniqueLesson 4

Left Hand Technique

Danny covers the basics of left hand techniques for classical guitar.

Length: 20:19 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Finger Independence Lesson 5

Finger Independence

For lesson five, Danny discusses left hand finger independence. He also discusses hammer-on and pull-off technique.

Length: 17:06 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Right Hand TechniqueLesson 6

Right Hand Technique

In lesson 6, Danny discusses and demonstrates right hand technique for the classical style.

Length: 24:26 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
ArpeggiosLesson 7


Lesson 7 is all about arpeggios. Danny provides discussion and exercises designed to build your right hand skills.

Length: 8:43 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
The Importance of ScalesLesson 8

The Importance of Scales

Lesson 8 covers scale exercises in the classical format. Danny provides a few patterns that focus on finger independence and position shifts.

Length: 6:26 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Renaissance PeriodLesson 9

Renaissance Period

In lesson 9, Danny begins discussion of the five different musical periods of classical guitar music. He starts with the Renaissance.

Length: 40:19 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Robert Johnson's AlmanLesson 10

Robert Johnson's Alman

In lesson 10, Danny takes a more in depth look at a Robert Johnson's "Alman." This lesson contains a detailed explanation of fingering.

Length: 27:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Behind the Scenes with Danny VorisLesson 11

Behind the Scenes with Danny Voris

Danny Voris discusses the major music periods and the advent of tonality.

Length: 7:19 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Baroque PeriodLesson 12

Baroque Period

Danny discusses and demonstrates a piece from the Baroque period.

Length: 22:17 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Classical PeriodLesson 13

Classical Period

In lesson 13, Danny discusses the Classical period of music.

Length: 20:53 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Romantic PeriodLesson 14

Romantic Period

In lesson 14, Danny discusses the Romantic period of music. He demonstrates a famous piece from this period commonly referred to as "Romance."

Length: 21:11 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The 20th CenturyLesson 15

The 20th Century

In this lesson, Danny discusses the 20th century influence on classical guitar.

Length: 22:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Danny Voris

About Danny Voris View Full Biography

A unique guitarist in the region, Wright State alumnus Danny Voris, musically fulfills audiences with a mixture of exciting guitar playing and talented compositional skills. After graduating WSU in 1989, Danny obtained a teaching position at Sinclair Community College. In the fall of 2000, Danny obtained a scholarship to the graduate program at The University of Akron. After graduating the University of Akron in 2002 with a Master’s degree in Classical Guitar Performance, Danny returned to Dayton. There he began teaching at Jim McCutcheon Music Studios and at The Miami Valley School in Kettering, Ohio.

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