Difficulty B, I, A
I really do believe that no guitarist should be without these two books. They form a big part of the foundation of our guitar technique and between them pretty much no stone is left unturned as far as helping us with our technical development goes.
However what makes them particularly special is that they are filled with beautiful music! Yes, some of the pieces are very obviously technical and musically less interesting, so, to some, not worth bothering with, however once you get involved the development of the techniques becomes exciting and irresistible, and you find more and more in the music.
I think the problem is that as our repertoire has developed, particularly for beginners, the 19th Century repertoire has started to be thought of as less relevant to the modern classical guitar. Nothing could be further from the truth and we must not get caught in the trap of giving our students or ourselves only music that is easy to interpret/ listen to, too our 21st Century ears! Part of learning the Classical Guitar is experiencing something completely new and learning to understand and interpret a new language i.e. written music. In my experience the 19th Century repertoire goes down very well with students of all ages and is invaluable to us as guitarists.
The Complete Studies for Guitar by Fernando Sor is suitable for guitarists of all standards. It contains lots of extra information, commentary, playing suggestions and engravings from original editions. It is arranged by Opus number, starting with 6 and 29, the advanced studies, and going on through 31, 35 and 44 to Opus 60 – “An introduction to the study of the Guitar”, with some extracts and exercises from the Method at the end. This means that beginners have to start at the end of the book since as Sor went through his life he thought more about teaching and helping complete beginners.
The pieces range from single line melodies to gradually more detailed counterpoint, arpeggios, melody and accompaniment, quickly changing chords, use of slurs and precise articulation. There is a lot of music that concentrates on melody and so requires good tone control and balance in the right hand. This is so important since we do have a tendency to get carried away with the left hand and just let the right hand do its own thing!
The 25 Melodic and Progressive studies by Carcassi provide the same foundations as the Sor studies in a more concentrated and compact way. In difficulty the pieces range from about grade 4 through to grade 8 and, to put it simply, they cover everything that is needed. It is great to see how he has composed lovely pieces out of simple scale or arpeggio patterns, the melodies are beautiful and all the pieces have great movement and character. Particularly interesting and important is his concentration on slurs (6 of the studies concentrate on slurs), an essential technique that is rarely taught in any detail and then taken for granted – not here!
Probably the most important feature of all of these pieces is that they develop specific areas of technique through proper pieces of music that are about much more than that technique alone. Exercises are wonderful when done correctly but there is nothing like being able to combine technique and musicianship.
I am still finding new Sor studies to enjoy and love dipping into the Carcassi, especially no.13, which reminds me of the music from the Railway Children – unfortunately no one else can hear it!
B = beginner. Grades 1-3 or roughly 1-3 years playing. I = intermediate. Grades 4-6 or roughly 4-5 years playing. A = advanced. Grade 7 and above, 6 years or more experience.