History of the Classical Guitar
The history of the classical guitar dates back to very ancient times: in the old east of 1900 BC Clay tablets with musical illustrations were found in the excavations of Babylon. In Roman times instruments not unlike the modern guitar were made of wood and strings.
In the 16th century, the roots of the modern classical guitar began to spread thanks to the marriage of Muslim and Christian culture.
The first instruments were made with 4 pairs of strings, a round shape and a body that featured the shape of a pear. The guitar became very popular with the population and was an integral part of any country dance or party occasion. The most elite part of society preferred the refined sound of the vihuela and the instrument to play when the lute was in the presence of the royals at court.
The poet Vicente Espinel is considered the inventor of what is recognized as the classical guitar, but it was the Catalan Joan Carles Amat who wrote the “cinco órdenes” and helped the instrument to spread throughout Europe.
The guitar became extremely popular in the Baroque period, the 6th string was added in the 18th century. During the 19th century the guitar became a recognized virtuoso instrument. Many stars and “masters” were born such as Fernando Sor y Dionisio Aguado. Outside of Spain, composers such as Paganini and Schubert were passionate about the instrument and its wonderful sound.
It is interesting to note that the Spanish and classical guitar arrived in the new world at the hands of an Austrian and not a Spaniard, Christian Frederick Martin who has the merit of having introduced it in South America. All this led to the golden age of the Spanish guitar. Renowned musicians such as Manuel de Falla, Joaquín Turina, Federico Moreno Torroba and Joaquín Rodrigo have composed solo pieces and symphonies with the guitar as the main instrument.
What Is a Classical Guitar?
Due to the many guitar models in the world, it can be difficult to distinguish the various types. There are three elements that distinguish a classical guitar from other types of models: the instrument, the technique and the music.
Nowadays, you can find guitars of all sizes, shapes and sounds. Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, steel string guitars, flamenco guitars, slide guitars, jazz guitars. In short, the list is potentially endless.
How does the classical guitar differ from other models? It has 6 strings, several frets, a hole and other features of most instruments. However, the classical guitar is unique because:
- The nylon strings: The strings for classical guitar are usually made of nylon (or other materials similar sounding like gut or carbon), which produce a rich, warm sound. Most other guitars have steel strings.
Fretboard is slightly wider: The fingerboard of a classical guitar is slightly wider than most guitars to make it easier to perform complicated finger techniques.
- Neck is slightly shorter: The neck of a classical guitar is slightly shorter because it makes it easier to play.
- The body is hollow: A classical guitar always has a hollow body, which allows it to produce a rich and resonant sound, even without amplification.
Just as you can find hundreds of different types of guitar, you will see thousands of different techniques for playing guitar. Some guitarists pluck with a pick while others pluck with their fingers. Some guitarists use a great deal of amplification and distortion, while others play with a natural “acoustic” sound.
However, there are a few things that separate the classical guitar playing technique from other guitar styles:
- Pinch Strings With Your Fingers: A classical guitarist plucks strings with their thumb, index, middle finger, and ring finger. This is often called the “fingerstyle” technique.
- Use your fingernails to play: A classical guitarist usually plays with their fingernails to produce a loud, clean, and resonant sound.
- Hold the guitar in place with a stand : A classical guitarist uses some sort of guitar stand to hold it in a good playing position.
- Try to play “clean”: A classical guitarist usually tries to play without emitting any hum and noise.