Carcassi’s Method for Classical Guitar was first published in 1836. It is still going strong through its various editions. For a good reason. It works. For a modern student who wants to learn the key concepts of classical guitar playing without spending too much time, the Carcassi method is ideal. The main method section is hardly 90 pages long. It is fast paced and deals with essentials only.
What exactly does the Carcassi method teach? The Carcassi method starts with the basics of sight-reading, exposes the student to different keys that are commonly used, teaches position playing in the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth positions, and finally deals with advanced concepts like double note playing and ornamentation. The famous 25 Studies included at the end of the method provides the student bonus study material.
You can download a free copy of the Carcassi Method. It is about 120 pages (yellowing) and gives you a good grasp of what you can expect if you order a paid copy (edited for modern students) – which you should. Once you are convinced about the method, you should order a modern edition for yourself.
Key points about Carcassi’s method you should know
Matteo Carcassi, an Italian guitarist and composer, lived in the 1800’s and traveled to Germany, France and England and became well known everywhere for his mastery of the guitar. In 1836, he published a method book for guitar, which is still in circulation today.
As great tutors of all ages have done, Carcassi organized his method book in a logical fashion, never staying too long on any one aspect. He interspersed his instruction on basics and necessary skills with lively studies and exercises. Every important point of technique that is needed is introduced in order, explained briefly and supported by example exercises. It is a set method he follows for every concept he imparts.
Even a high level view of his Methode For Guitare reveals the basic structure as a sound one.
- Basics of note playing
- Playing in different keys
- Playing in different positions
- Advanced concepts
- 25 Studies
The main point to note is that all the topics under these broad sections are covered pretty rapidly. Each topic barely lasts 3 or 4 pages, including exercises or sample pieces. This is the stand-out character of the whole book. No aspect is lingered upon for too long. If you remove the 25 Studies at the end of the book, the main method portion of the book is a mere 90 pages.
This sort of brevity while dealing with a huge quantity and variety of skills is just the kind of well-paced and deep learning that today’s YouTube-weaned, but serious, students appreciate well. Let’s delve a little deeper into the broad sections of the book.
Basics of note playing
You are dunked right away into how to read music. This here is the music staff. Here’s how the notes and their duration are represented. This is how you find and play them on the guitar. Without any fuss, you are taught the notes on the first position of the guitar by reading music off the page. It flows more like a user manual than a theory textbook.
Key basic concepts like time signature, sharps and flats, keys and scales are introduced with a para each. Race on. The sitting position gets a couple of paras. Fingernail use and care, left hand and right hand placement, follow next. And, by the way, this is how you tune your guitar.
A couple of exercises now train you to play some scales in the first position. You are learning to read at the same time you are playing music off your guitar. Your right hand is required to play the free stroke.
The scale exercises are followed by arpeggio patterns for the right hand, a typical feature of the classical guitar. You are already playing stuff and you are hardly on page 15.
Playing in different keys
One of the main aspects of Carcassi’s Method is the grounding a student gets (in quick time) in the different keys that “favor the guitar”. Unlike a piano method with its endless sharp and flat keys, the classical guitar’s basic tonality usually comes under:
- Key of C Major
- Key of G Major
- Key of D Major
- Key of A Major
- Key of E Major
- Key of A Minor
- Key of E Minor
- Key of F Major
- Key of D Minor
In the key of C for example the method introduces the scale to be played with alternation of right-hand fingers i, m and a in various combinations. It’s followed by an exercise to combine the scale notes in new ways to familiarize the student with them. There is a short Prelude, an Andantino and a Waltz to play in the key of C.
For the right hand, there are arpeggio patterns to learn, an exercise to take them for a spin and an Allegretto that is musical to play and technical enough to put the arpeggios into a musical composition.
Again, in the space of 3-4 pages, Carcassi has given the student a solid introduction to the notes in the key by way of an actual scale pattern, arpeggio patterns and a nice little piece to play. This way of learning technique can be fun.
In a similar fashion, the method cycles through all the keys mentioned above in order, devoting just a couple of pages to each key. The student never gets bogged down. He or she feels like they are constantly progressing to the next step.
This section on keys favoring the guitar is one of the biggest chunks of the book. It is a big chunk because there are that many keys to cover. A small section on the technical aspect of executing slurs follows the section on keys.
All the notes so far are taught in the guitar’s first position – which is to say the notes on the first four frets of all the six strings. The method now moves into its other big chunk of material which is learning to play in higher positions.
Playing in different positions
Carcassi’s method explores playing the notes on the page (by now all of them should be familiar to identify) at different places on the guitar. It is one of the guitar’s special features that a given note can be played on different strings at different frets. Figuring out how to use the notes in a systematic manner along the frets is the domain of the advancing player.
In typical fashion, the method selects the common positions that are the most useful or at least, frequently found in written music, and builds from there.
With some reasonable familiarity of the first position, we move on to the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth positions in turn. A page from the book introducing the fourth position (see above) lays down the notes to play – all very familiar to the student by now – except they are to be played on the strings indicated by the circled numbers. So even though the notes sound the same as before, these are new places on the fretboard to make those sounds.
Thus begins a practical exploration of the fingerboard. It is followed by an exercise to mix up the notes and challenge the student to identify and play them in the new position. There is a nice Waltz to learn and play in the fourth position.
And so it proceeds with the next three higher positions. The laying out of the simple scale and an exercise to mix up the notes are followed by a piece or two to play. Again about 3 pages or so on any given position and on you move to the next position.
We are now at around page 60 of the 90-page method. And we can presumably play any note on any string on any fret while knowing what we are playing! The learning will not happen overnight, of course. But with an hour an day, one can diligently get to this stage in about nine months, I should think. Some may take a year to reach this stage and that is fine too. Learning a musical instrument is not a race.
If you think about it, you’d realize you’ve come quite a distance. From a total novice to someone who can move around the fingerboard in a matter of months is significant growth. And you’ll be sight-reading like a boss.
The last section of the main method starts with what Carcassi calls ‘double notes’. This is a sound so typical of the classical guitar. A melody with counterpoint or a line above or below it is a delightful aspect of the instrument, almost its signature sound.
In a fashion we are familiar with now, the method devotes about 3-4 pages on how to play the double note with numerous patterns in the form of exercises. Scales in the form of thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths are fun to learn and play, because the sound of the ‘double note’ at every stage of the scale becomes ingrained pretty soon. There are a few lovely studies to play which are quite inventive and make use of the patterns.
This is followed by an advanced section of lesser-used keys on the guitar: Bb, Gm, Eb, Cm, Ab, Fm, Db, Bbm, B, F#m, C#m, G#m, F# and D#m. The whole lot is dispensed within about 8-10 pages and can possibly by skipped by modern players. These obscure keys, in which not much guitar music is written, were included for the sake of completion and also, it was the style of the time, following the example of piano methods, to cover every minor and major key.
The final bits include a valuable section on ornamentation as it obtained in Carcassi’s time. It is a good one because it covers in greater detail (and quickly, of course) all the major embellishments that the guitar can offer: trills, slides, appoggiaturas, mordents, gruppettos and harmonics.
As a dramatic roundup to help the student practice his knowledge across the spread of the entire fingerboard, the Method (also known as Op 59) ends with a superb Rondo that moves between all the positions learnt.
25 Studies (Op 60)
To many students, and teachers as well, the crowning glory of Carcassi’s achievement as a pedagogue is his 25 Studies or 25 Estudios. These are some of the most charming studies for the classical guitar. Each Study serves to illustrate a particular technique or two while also being musical to play and listen to.
Study No. 1 is for fast scale work, Study No. 3 looks at arpeggios with an accented melody line, Study No. 7 is excellent for learning the tremolo technique and so on. Various keys are represented, various tempos are explored. Taken together, the 25 Studies (also known as Op. 60) are perhaps slightly beyond the difficulty level of the overall method and it will take the determined, self-willed student to get the better of them.
As many a student has found out, these Studies will keep them company over a period of years, if not decades.
Get your modern copy of Carcassi Classical Guitar Method
As mentioned earlier, it makes sense to get a modern version of the Carcassi Method. The editorial markings will be better and more relevant to the modern student. I’m recommending the version edited by Philippe Bertaud in lay flat form. As a professional guitarist and teacher, Bertaud’s markings are helpful and keep to the original intent. Also, you get access to an mp3 collection of the 25 Studies performed by Bertaud himself.
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Of course, there are other method books besides Carcassi’s for beginners. I have a quick review of some of the major ones: 6 Effective Classical Guitar Methods for Beginners.
If you’re interested in other classical guitar methods or ways to learn the classical guitar do look at my article How to Learn Classical Guitar Using Online Resources.
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