Thursday, February 1, 2024

Learning Classical Guitar, The Saga Continues *Update*


I've been dabbling with teaching myself the Classical Guitar since 2012 when the post below was originally written. I never had enough time to devote to this hobby of mine before retirement. Now, I've returned to it with a vengeance, making a bit of progress!

I finally figured it out. Classical Guitar is all about arpeggiating chords finger style. Flamenco Guitar is all about strumming chord progrssions. All I have to do now is figure out an easy chord progression and an easy strumming pattern! I'm getting there, one day at a time. I just have to put in the time practicing 30 minutes every other day or so.

For example, see Bartolomé Calatayud's score "Vals" below as an example of a finger style Classical Guitar piece. Take a look at the first bar, there's 3 voices there already: Melody, Accompaniment and Bass. These are played with the 4 fingers of the right hand, P.I.M.A.

P = pulgar = thumb = bass
I = indice = index = accompaniment
M = medio = middle = accompaniment
A = anular = ring = melody
(m = meñique = pinky = not used)

All the subsiquent bars follow the same pattern. The first bar is interesting as the left hand has nothing to do with all the open strings! So the thumb plays the low E string for the bass line simultaneously with the ring finger on the high E string for the melody. Then the B & G strings are played as an accompaniment using the index and middle fingers as the E strings are still ringing. Very Cool!

Vals is a great beginner piece. Left hand fingering isn't too hard but the chords have great musicality! Just be careful of the Bm7 chord in bar 10. All you have to do is plant 3 fingers on the 2nd fret of each of the A, G & E strings just before starting that bar. The rest of the piece repeats these elements over and over with a great waltz vibe that is very sonorous. The score pictured below is only part of the piece. Here's the whole score

Also, holding the guitar Flamenco style (horizontally over the right leg while seated) rather than the Classical style (nearly vertical with the guitar between the legs and the left leg elevated while seated) may be better suited to my guitar as it is oversized! 

Finally, I need to find some exotic sounding Flamenco chords rather than the traditional Classical chords. I've been experimenting with Am, E, F & G chords with E, F & G sliding up and down the neck of the guitar. Flamenco Style lends itself more easily to improvisation by changing progressions or strumming patterns, even a little finger picking and arpeggiating, with little to no sight reading.

From this, you may suppose that I'm only playing Flamenco. This is not the case. I'm playing some Classical Guitar pieces too but I'm using some Flamenco techniques at the same time.

So, now, without any further delay, please enjoy my original post from Summer 2012 as reprised below.

Ahh ... the pursuits of Summer! Finally, it's time for some R&R. I know, perish the thought, but its time for some non Math related activities! In fact, I'm off for the whole Summer for the first time in 30 years! Can you believe it? I'm still pinching myself. I guess this is a practice run at retirement? Now I finally have plenty of time to devote to walking, biking, swimming and eating right! For me, the Summer is a spiritual time to regroup and fortify myself mind, body, heart and soul for next school year. I like to focus on outdoor activities for exercise and a good diet. Its also time for more soulful activities of Stone and Wood such as playing chess and classical guitar. I'm also attending to some of my old hobbies such as gaming, reading and catching up on genre TV and film.

I haven't blogged much about this but, not only am I a Science Fact slash Science Fiction geek, but I am also a huge Classical Music nerd! I am into all periods of instrumental music from chamber pieces to orchestral. I'm especially enamored of all forms of "Classical Guitar." I played the violin from 7th to 12th grade some 33 years ago. I was 1st violin for all 4 years of High School. I was even the Concert Master and Conductor from time to time. So, a few years ago, I thought I could teach myself how to play Classical Guitar! I love all periods of guitar repertoire: Baroque, Classical, Renaissance and Modern. I've played Violin, Mandolin, Guitar and Lute. I love Baroque, Spanish, Flamenco and Celtic tunes too! So, in my "copious" free time, I've not progressed very far, but it's been a fun journey. What follows, therefore, is a Math slash Physics Teacher's take on alternative tunings for the Modern Acoustic Guitar with nylon strings. I suppose I'll have to take off my Computer Science hat since we haven't dealt with microprocessor clock speeds in Hz since Grace Murray Hopper and the Harvard Mark I!

First, I tried classic finger style guitar a la Andres Segovia and Fred Noad. The problem with Modern Standard Guitar Tuning is that it mixes 4ths and 3rds? Since I'm used to the Violin which is tuned to all perfect 5ths, the fingerings and deciphering standard notation on the Guitar turned into a massive headache for me. So, I ended up using a lot of Tab. You know, if I were a High School student today, for all that everyone thinks I'm a math and computing genius, I would be classified special ed! I have a very bad memory and I'm dyslexic. So, I really have a hard time learning new things. That's why I'm a Math teacher, I derive everything I need from scratch each day depending on the topic at hand. That way I don't have to memorize much. Now, I even need reading glasses to see anything small or close up. I blame TI for that. I've been peering at Graphing Calculator screens everyday for the last 20 years. If they were like today's iPod screens which are back-lit, hi res and hi color, that would be one thing. However, the TI screens were all dark, low res and grey scaled (until recently) ... ugh!

Standard Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: B3 246.9 Hz (3rd)
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: D3 329.6 Hz
string 5: A2 110.0 Hz
string 6: E2 82.41 Hz

This is the standard tuning for the modern acoustic guitar. All the strings are tuned a perfect 4th apart with one exception. The interval between strings 2 and 3 is only a 3rd. Its very confusing to play with such a tuning when you're used to all 5ths tuning on the violin!

Then I tried the flamenco style when I got myself an Esteban Guitar. The price (I got it off QVC) was not bad for a decent guitar, case and amp! The problem with the Esteban technique is that it was not based on standard music notation, nor was it based on Spanish, aka modern, guitar TAB. It was based on playing by ear or by watching the fingerings on his VHS tapes or some wacko notation he made up!

Alternate Flamenco Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: B3 246.9 Hz (3rd)
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: D3 329.6 Hz
string 5: A2 110.0 Hz (5th)
string 6: D2 73.42 Hz

There are a lot of variations when tuning the Flamenco Guitar. This one is called the "DAD" variant. Its simple to retune a standard guitar by dropping the 6th string one step from E2 to D2 giving a 5th interval between strings 6 and 5.

I finally broke down and went back to my violin roots learning Mandolin Scores. Playing the Mandolin is a lot like playing the Violin except you use a pick. Also, tuning the Mandolin is a lot like tuning the Violin with perfect 5ths except its like a Lute in that it has courses not just single strings. Courses are 2 strings tuned to the same pitch. So, the Mandolin still has 4 pitches like the Violin, but it has 8 strings! Playing the Mandolin was fun and brought back memories of my Violin repertoire. However, the timbre of the higher courses were too tinny for my liking.

Standard Mandolin/ViolinTuning
High (reference)
course/string 1: E5 659.3 Hz
course/string 2: A4 440.0 Hz
course/string 3: D4 293.7 Hz
course/string 4: G3 196.0 Hz

This is the tuning I'm used to as it uses all 5ths as intervals between each pair of strings. BTW, retuning a guitar is easy if you have an electronic tuner. I have a cool app on my DROIDX smart phone called gStrings. It samples inputted audio and tells you what frequency and note you have tuned a particular string to ... very handy!

Standard Viola Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: A4 440.0 Hz
string 2: D4 293.7 Hz
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: C3 130.8 Hz

Note that this tuning is just like Violin tuning except the 4th string starts a 5th below.

Standard Cello Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: A3 220.0 Hz
string 2: D3 146.8 Hz
string 3: G2 98.00 Hz
string 4: C2 65.41 Hz

This tuning is like the Viola except that every string on the Cello is tuned an octave below the corresponding string of the Viola (note all frequencies are half as much, eg A 440 becomes A 220).

Standard Bass Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: D3 146.8 Hz
string 2: G2 98.00 Hz
string 3: C2 65.41 Hz
string 4: F1 46.25 Hz

Bass tuning is to the Cello as Viola tuning is to the Violin since all strings are a 5th lower!

Finally, I discovered a great music teacher, Allan Alexander and all his scores and CDs on EBay! I consider myself lucky to have had 2 great music teachers in my life. Pedro Biava was my first teacher. He taught me the Violin and conducted the High School orchestra. He was also director of the Longwood School District's Music Program. He started it on a wing and a prayer and grew the program to great success over his 30 year career. He also played a mean Cello. I graduated High School in 1979 and he retired in 1990. He then started a second career as an entertainment attourney for musicians moving to Florida. His brother Luis Biava is also an accomplished musician. My second teacher is Allan Alexander. I discovered his website (see link above) and his EBay store. That's where I purchased all his score books and CD bundles for learning to play the Guitar and Mandolin. His masterpiece, however, in my opinion, is "The Guitarist's Lute Book." This ingenious book was all about playing French TAB for the 6-course Renaissance Lute on the modern Acoustic Guitar simply by down tuning the G string to F# and placing a capo on the 3rd fret thus achieving Standard Lute Tuning on the guitar. Also, learning French Tab was easy, with Allan's help! It's like Spanish (aka modern) Tab, except instead of numbering the fingerings as 0,1,2,3,4,5 letters a,b,c,d,e are used. Also, the letters are in a fancy font: c looks like r so as not to confuse it with e and d looks like a lowercase Greek letter delta. BTW, I can be forgiven for playing Tab here as most, if not all, surviving Renaissance Lute music was recorded in French Tab (sample below).

Standard LuteTuning
High (reference)
course 1: G4 392.0 Hz
course 2: D4 293.7 Hz
course 3: A3 220.0 Hz (3rd)
course 4: F3 174.6 Hz
course 5: C3 130.8 Hz
course 6: G2 98.00 Hz

The first thing I learned from Allan was how to tune a Guitar as a Lute. Simply take a standard Guitar, tune the 3rd string down a half tone from G to F#. Then place a capo on the 3rd fret!

Now, I finally decided to try my own tuning! I wanted to go back to 5ths tuning on the Guitar so I could easily play it as a Mandolin. I'll call mine Cello Guitar Tuning which is somewhere between the New Standard Tuning (NST) and MandoGuitar Tuning. The California Guitar Trio in the YouTube above is known for using NST. With my tuning I can play finger style guitar with mandolin, violin and even Cello Scores!

All 5ths Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: B4 493.9 Hz (too high)
string 2: E4 329.6 Hz
string 3: A3 220.0 Hz
string 4: D3 146.8 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

This would be the ideal tuning as the intervals between each pair of strings is a perfect 5th. However, the standard high E string on the guitar will snap when tuned to 493.9 Hz! The solution here would be to get a string with a slightly smaller wire gauge and replace the E string with it. I'll have to experiment with other gauges.

New Standard Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: G4 392.0 Hz (3rd)
string 2: E4 329.6 Hz
string 3: A3 220.0 Hz
string 4: D3 146.8 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

NST was put forward to solve the problem of streching the high E string too much. The compromise here is to give up the perfect 5th interval for just the highest pair of strings and tune to a perfect 3rd instead. They say this makes for easier chords but I'd like to stick to all 5ths somehow.

MandoGuitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: C2 65.41 Hz
string 6: F1 43.65 Hz (too low)

MandoGuitar takes the tradition of the Classical Guitar player's playing treble clef violin or mandolin scores as is, without transcription, tuning the guitar an octave lower. The standard high E 329.6 (an octave lower than the high E on the Violin) is retained but the rest of the guitar is tuned in 5ths. You could probably play Cello repertoire as this tuning will include Cello tuning A3, D3, G2 and C2! However, F1 is too low a frequency even for the highest gauge string.

myCelloGuitar1 Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

Here's my solution for fixing the MandoGuitar F1 problem! However, G2 on string 4 is still a bit too loose.

myCelloGuitar2 Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: C2 65.41 Hz

Here's my final solution for the MandoGuitar F1 problem - just 5 strings! G2 and C2 on strings 4 and 5 are a bit easier to play. So, get rid of the standard D string and restring! In other words, move the 2 lowest strings from positions 5 and 6 up to positions 4 and 5 then retune to G2 and C2. 5 strings is enough for what I want to achieve: a Guitar on which you can play Violin and Cello scores easily. Maybe a higher gauge string 6 would work, but the guitar would have to be redrilled too.

So, in conclusion, my favorite tuning is Allan's 6-course Renaissance Lute! However, I will try some Violin and Mandolin repertoire on my CelloGuitar. I'm using CelloGuitar1 right now, but I will be trying CelloGuitar2 or all 5ths with a thinner string1. Pictured above is sample Flamenco Tab. I always wondered how the Classical Guitarists play Bach's Cello Suites on a standard guitar since the transcriptions would have been horrendous! Now I know, they just retuned to 5ths!

I hope you enjoyed my latest blog on Summer diversions. I know it's unusual for this blog to touch on genre related topics and hobbies and such. You can expect, however, a few more along this vein! 

Well, that's all folks.

Be well,

A. Jorge Garcia

Applied Math, Physics & CS

Nassau Community College

A. Jorge García

Applied Math, Physics, CS

Nassau Community College

Computing Independent Study Facilitator (Baldwin High Retired)

Continental Mathematics League Advisor (Baldwin High Retired)

Baldwin High Chess Club & Chess Team Founder (US Chess Federation Club Baldwin High Retired)

National Computer Science Honor Society Advisor (Grace Hopper NY Chapter Baldwin High Retired)

2017 PAEMST NYS Mathematics Secondary Nominee (Baldwin High Retired)

HTH & stay safe,

A. Jorge Garcia

Teaching With Technology:
Coding since 1975,
HS Math & Physics since 1984,
College Math & CompSci since 1993,
 Linux Clusters since 2002,
CAS since 2011,
Retirement since 2020?
AP Computer Science: 1988-2019
AP Calculus BC: 1993-2018 
Applied Math, Physics and CS

Please support my classroom:  

2017 NYS Secondary Math PAEMST Nominee

pastebin youtube slideshare

(IDEs & Code)
Jupyter: CoLab

APCSA: Big Java
APCSA: CSAwesome
APCSA: AP Central

CRIB SHEET (given during exam)

CRIB SHEET (not given during exam) 

(1 video = up to 5 bonus points):
1) Use a recognizable tune.
2) Karaoke entire song changing up the words (about STEAM).
3) You are Singing, Dancing or Playing an instrument.
4) You upload your video to YouTube and provide the url.
5) YouTube Description includes the lyrics.

(up to 5 articles = 1 bonus point each):
1) Cover Sheet is a Summary of the article.
2) FullPage, 12 pt, DoubleSpaced, 1" Margin.
3) Article has to be STEAM related
4) Article has to be a current event.
5) Copy of entire article is attached.

In recent years our independent study class has been about the care and feeding of Linux Clusters: How to Build A Cluster, How To Program A Cluster and What Can We Do With A Cluster? 

BTW, Shadowfax is the name of the cluster we build! FYI, we offer 4 computing courses: 

CSH: Computer Science Honors with an introduction to coding in Python using SAGE, IDLE, VIDLE and Trinket

CSA: AP Computer Science A using CS50, this IDE and this IDE and OpenProcessing

CSI: Computing Science Independent Study using OpenMPI and 

CSL: Computing Science Lab which is a co-requisite for Calculus students using Computer Algebra Systems such as SAGE.

CIS(theta) aka CSI
Membership Hall Of Fame!

CIS(theta)* 2020-2021: 
DiegoM(12), GeordiP(12), MattB(12), MattO(12), MelanyeCG(12), NickE(12), WilliamF(12)
*Honorable Mention: I retired before we got to start our project this year...

CIS(theta) 2019-2020:
AaronH(12), AidanSB(12), JordanH(12), PeytonM(12)

CIS(theta) 2018-2019:
GaiusO(11), GiovanniA(12), JulianP(12), TosinA(12)

CIS(theta) 2017-2018:
BrandonB(12), FabbyF(12), JoehanA(12), RusselK(12)

CIS(theta) 2016-2017: 
DanielD(12), JevanyI(12), JuliaL(12), MichaelS(12), YaminiN(12)

CIS(theta) 2015-2016: 
BenR(11), BrandonL(12), DavidZ(12), GabeT(12), HarrisonD(11), HunterS(12), JacksonC(11), SafirT(12), TimL(12)

CIS(theta) 2014-2015: 
BryceB(12), CheyenneC(12), CliffordD(12), DanielP(12), DavidZ(12), GabeT(11), KeyhanV(11), NoelS(12), SafirT(11)

CIS(theta) 2013-2014: 
BryanS(12), CheyenneC(11), DanielG(12), HarineeN(12), RichardH(12), RyanW(12), TatianaR(12), TylerK(12)

CIS(theta) 2012-2013: 
Kyle Seipp(12)

CIS(theta) 2011-2012: 
Graham Smith(12), George Abreu(12), Kenny Krug(12), Lucas Eager-Leavitt(12)

CIS(theta) 2010-2011: 
David Gonzalez(12), Herbert Kwok(12), Jay Wong(12), Josh Granoff(12), Ryan Hothan(12)

CIS(theta) 2009-2010: 
Arthur Dysart(12), Devin Bramble(12), Jeremy Agostino(12), Steve Beller(12)

CIS(theta) 2008-2009: 
Marc Aldorasi(12), Mitchel Wong(12)

CIS(theta) 2007-2008: 
Chris Rai(12), Frank Kotarski(12), Nathaniel Roman(12)

CIS(theta) 1988-2007: 
A. Jorge Garcia, Gabriel Garcia, James McLurkin, Joe Bernstein, ... too many to mention here!