Apple Valley Guitar and Piano Academy
Nylon-String Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons
Note: In case you went directly to this page first, and you want lessons in acoustic steel-string or electric/amplified guitar, we have alternative teachers nearby. See the main page www.avguitaracademy.com for details.
The purpose of this article is explain in detail the nature of fingerstyle technique, the acoustic nylon-string guitar, and why we teach it.
If you are unfamiliar with either, we invite you to enroll with us and explore a wonderful and exciting musical universe. The testimonial below from a parent of a 12-year-old, after having one year of fingerstyle lessons with our head teacher, tells the story from a more personal perspective:
"We wanted to let you know that our son played in church today. More people than we could count complimented him after the performance. The pastor said it brought tears to his eyes. We heard so many people say they never thought a guitar could sound so full and beautiful."
WHAT IS AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR?
An acoustic guitar is one that produces sound without electronics or an amplifier. This is accomplished by plucking strings that make the saddle, bridge, and wooden soundboard/body of the guitar vibrate.
WHAT ARE NYLON STRINGS, AND WHAT ADVANTAGES DO THEY HAVE?
Strings on all standard guitars are divided into two groups: treble (higher notes) and bass (lower notes). Nylon trebles usually consist of a single strand of nylon (monofilament). Many string manufacturers also offer other synthetic materials such as carbon fiber as an alternative for the trebles. Nylon basses are typically made from compacted strands of nylon wrapped with a metal coil and plated with silver.
In contrast, all six strings of a steel-string guitar are composed entirely of metal. The advantage that nylon has is greater flexibility, allowing for more subtle changes in volume and tone. This string flexibility factor is one reason why classical guitarists choose to play on nylon vs. steel strings.
THE BEAUTY AND VERSATILITY OF FINGERSTYLE GUITAR
Most guitar playing today incorporates a plastic flat pick, used to strum chords or play melodies, arpeggios, etc. Therefore, many people seeking guitar lessons are unaware of the alternative, which is fingerstyle guitar.
In this method of playing, the strings are plucked strings with right-hand fingers-- one at a time, or in groups of two, three, etc.
Of great importance is the fact that many combinations of non-adjacent strings can be plucked, such as strings 1 + 3 + 5. As a result, a fingerstyle guitarist can play versions of music written for piano (sometimes note-for-note), as well as arrangements of choral and orchestral music.
Considering this wide range of musical possibilities, plus the ability to produce vibrato and pizzicato like a violin, slurs (pull-offs and hammer-ons), glissando, portamento, muted effects, drumming sounds, etc., fingerstyle guitar it is arguably the most versatile instrumental mode in existence.
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH MUSIC HISTORY
Interestingly, the history of fingerstyle guitar stretches back to the 1500s, during the age of castles and kings (the Renaissance Period). As a result, our students have an opportunity explore nearly every point on the spectrum of Western musical development--an enriching experience and cultural education one can't get when studying modern popular music exclusively.
TONE OF NYLON VS. STEEL-STRING STUDENT GUITARS
In the price range of the typical student guitar (around $200-$300), we've consistently found that nylon-string guitars sound better than their budget steel-string counterparts. (This assumes our preferred Cordoba SOLID-TOP student models full size (C5), 7/8 (Dolce), and 3/4 (Cadete).
Guitarists can debate about whether this is true or not, but as education professionals, we operate according to observable reality and real-world experience.
In the final analysis, if your budget is limited to $300, learning on a nylon-string guitar means more immediate musical satisfaction for the struggling beginner.
NYLON VS. STEEL STRINGS FOR FINGERSTYLE PLAYING
The tension or stiffness of nylon strings is roughly half that of those made of all metal (as found on steel-string guitars). This makes them ideal for fingerstyle or "fingerpicking" guitar.
As noted above, stiffer steel strings do not flex as much as nylon. Therefore, considerably greater hand strength--plus natural/artificial fingernails or finger picks--are required to make the notes on steel-string guitars sound clear and loud when plucked with the right-hand fingers.
Not surprisingly, as noted above, the majority of steel-string guitarists play with plastic flat picks.
Most importantly, 95% of the students who first sign up for guitar lessons with us are beginners under the age of 12. For them, fingerpicking a steel-string guitar while producing adequate volume is not a realistic option due to inadequate finger strength.
Second, steel-string guitar fingerboards are narrower than those on nylon-string guitars, easily leading to muting/deadening of adjacent string notes with left-hand fingers. As an example, when playing chords that require two or more left-hand fingers to press down ("fret") strings, strings that remain "open" (not fretted) will not be heard. In turn, the chords sound incomplete and thumpy.
Therefore, in most, but not all cases, beginners do better on a wider fingerboard, assuming the overall guitar is the appropriate size for the student.
Third, compared to nylon strings, steel strings are more difficult to press down firmly with the left-hand fingers, leading to frequent buzzing of notes in the case of early beginners.
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