5 easy classical guitar pieces

5 easy classical guitar pieces by famous composers

Most people who start playing classical guitar already have a history of guitar playing before they start this genre. That’s why most of the times when you see lists of beginner pieces they feature pieces like Lagrima or Romanza. It is true that these are a great place to start if you already have some guitar playing experience under your belt. But for those who come into this genre early in their guitarplaying journey, these pieces can seem very daunting to start with.

That’s why I made this list. 5 pieces you can start with, even without a great deal of experience.

1. Matteo Carcassi - Sicilienne

Matteo Carcassi, 1792-1853

About the piece

Sicilienne or Siciliano or opus 59 part 3 no 22 is a short piece from Matteo Carcassi. It’s a lovely piece that is suited for any beginner.

It’s a good choice to get comfortable with alternating your index and middle finger on your right hand when strumming. It also sounds very good played at low speeds and becomes more cheerful the faster you learn how to play it.

Background info on composer

Born in Florence, Italy, Matteo Carcassi began music in his childhood first on the piano, and later on the guitar. Early on he acquired a reputation as a superb concert performer on the latter instrument. 

At age 18 Matteo Carcassi moved to Germany, where he found success. He is believed to have fought for France in the Napoleonic wars and 5 years later resided in , France. His obituary in the Journal des Débats of 20 January 1853 said “[il] avait fait de la France, qu’il avait servie comme soldat, sa patrie adoptive et de prédilection.” (“He had made of France, which he had served as a soldier, his adopted and favourite country”). 

Carcassi’s name appears as a subscriber of the French edition of Francesco Molino’s Nouvelle Méthode pour la Guitare. He taught both piano and guitar, while continuing with concert tours. His early works from 1820 were self-published and one of these, his op.4 six valses, has survived and is featured in the British Library. On one such tour to Germany he made the acquaintance of another famous guitarist Antoine Meissonnier, a Frenchman who also owned a publishing house in Paris. In all the time Carcassi had lived in France he had not encountered Meissonnier, even with with the two living in the same city together! Perhaps this is a reflection of the dirth of musicians involved in satifying the rapidly growing market for all things guitar in Paris. Meissonnier subsequently published many of Carcassi’s works and the two were close friends. 

From 1820 on his career was in the main centered in Paris, with a highly successful tour to London, England two years later. However, Carcassi had stiff competition in France in a Parisian favourite Fernando Carulli, nevertheless there was a voracious market for his solo guitar compositions. As Carcassi’s fame grew he performed in the more prestigious concert halls around Europe. He ended concert practice in 1840, and died in Paris in 1853.

2. Fernando Carulli - Opus 241 No.5, Andantino

Fernando Carulli, 1770 - 1841

About the piece

This piece is fairly standard in every classical guitar teachers repertoire. Just like sicilienne it is great for learning to alternate the index and middle finger while playing.

This piece has an extra challange though, since the left hand is a bit more difficult than sicilienne. There are already some chords involved and a few faster transitions. But as is always the case with a good beginner piece, it also sounds great played slowly and becoming faster and faster is very rewarding!

Background info on composer

Ferdinando Maria Meinrado Francesco Pascale Rosario Carulli (9 February 1770 – 17 February 1841) was an Italian composer for classical guitar and the author of the influential Méthode complète pour guitare ou lyre, op. 27 (1810), which contains music still used by student guitarists today. He wrote a variety of works for classical guitar, including numerous solo and chamber works and several concertos. He was an extremely prolific writer, composing over 400 works for the instrument. 

Carulli was among the most prolific composers of his time. He wrote more than four hundred works for the guitar, and countless others for various instrumental combinations, always including the guitar. His most influential work, the “Method, op. 27”, published in 1810, contains pieces still widely used today in training students of the classical guitar. Along with numerous works for two guitars, works for guitar with violin or flute, and three concertos for guitar with chamber orchestra, Carulli also composed several works for guitar and piano (in collaboration with his son, Gustavo). 

Many of the pieces now regarded as Carulli’s finest were initially turned down by publishers who considered them too difficult for the average recreational guitarist. It is likely that many of his best works remained unpublished and are now lost. Nevertheless, several of Carulli’s published works point at the likely quality and sophistication of his concert music, the Six Andantes Op. 320 (dedicated to the guitarist Matteo Carcassi) being a good example. The great majority of Carulli’s surviving works, however, were those considered marketable enough by mainstream Parisian publishers aiming at an amateur recreational market. 

In addition to his highly successful Methode Op. 27 (which went through four editions during his lifetime and a major revision, as Op. 241), Carulli also published several supplements to the method, along with a method without explanatory text (L’Anti Methode Op. 272), a method for the decacorde, a harmony treatise, a treatise dealing with guitar accompaniment of the voice, and several collections of vocalises and solfèges. The latter studies were intended to exploit the guitar’s accompanying capabilities, and to be used by both singer-guitarists amateurs, and voice teachers who were not proficient figured bass readers.

Classical guitarists have recorded many of his works. Arguably his most famous work is a duet for guitar and flute, which was recorded by Alexander Lagoya and Jean-Pierre Rampal, although his Duo in G Op.34 achieved a measure of indirect fame in Britain as the theme tune of cult 1980s science fiction/television game show The Adventure Game. The Duo in G has been recorded several times, most famously by Julian Bream and John Williams.

3. Dionisio Aguado - Study in A minor

Dionisio Aguado, 1784 - 1849

About the piece

Another piece you will find in most classical guitar teachers repertoire. Study in A minor by Aguado is an absolute classic.

This piece is great for practising your thumb action on your right hand. The most important melody in this piece is in the bassline. That’s where your focus should be.

Make sure that the alternating pattern of index and middle finger is consistent though. Might need to practise this one with a metronome if you can’t get it right.

Background info on composer

Born in Madrid, this Spanish Maestro surname is derived from the spanish word for “soaked” : this was a nickname an ancient relative, a knight, acquired after returning from a battle caked in mud! Dionisio Aguado was taught by Miguel Garcia. 

At this time tablature was still the notation of choice for guitarists in Spain. Frederico Moretti began employing 5-line staff notation, distinguishing different parts through the use of note stems and rests. Along with others, such as Fernando Sor also a Spaniard, Aguado switched to this new guitar notation. 

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic french invasions of Spain (1808), Aguado continued to perfect and develop his technique while working as a guitar teacher in the village of Fuenlabrada. 

A “Coleccion de estudios para guitarra” was published in 1820, and five years later his guitar tutor “Escuela de Guitarra” appeared, both in Madrid. In this tutor Aguado describes the use of fingernails on the hand used for striking the strings, as well as an invention of his own creation – the tripodion – a device which held the base of the guitar and thus limited the dampening effect of the player’s body touching the instrument. In 1824 his mother died, and a year later Aguado left for Paris. 

In the French capital Aguado built a reputation as as an excellent performer and teacher, his guitar tutor, now revised, was translated by Francois de Fossa into French (Methode complete pour la guitare) and printed in 1826. Dionisio Aguado was friendly with Fernando Sor, and the latter commememorated the friendship in his work for guitar duet Les Deux Amis (“The Two Friends”), with one part marked Sor and the other Aguado. Their technique differed with Sor preferring not to use his fingernails.

4. Fransisco Tarrega - Study in C Major

Francisco Tárrega, 1852 - 1909

About the piece

Study in C major might be the most difficult piece on this list depending on your own personal talents obviously.

The difficulty is that this is the only piece on the list that uses the ring finger on the right hand. Alternating index, middle and ring finger is something that’s very commen in classical guitar pieces and is something you’ll have to get down eventually. But this can be a bit challenging for a beginner.

Make sure the timing between your alternating fingers is correct. Using a metronome at first can help a great deal

Background info on composer

Francisco Tárrega was an important Spanish composer whose music and style of guitar playing became strongly influential in the twentieth century. He was central to reviving the guitar as a solo instrument in recital and concerts. Among his most popular compositions are Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Danza mora. He wrote nearly 80 original works for the guitar and over 100 transcriptions, mostly of piano pieces by Chopin, Beethoven, and others. 

Francisco Tárrega was born on November 21, 1852, in Villareal, Castellon, Spain. In his early childhood, Tárrega fell into an irrigation canal and injured his eyes. He was taught his first lessons on guitar by Eugeni Ruiz, a blind musician. In 1862, concert guitarist Julian Arcas, on tour in Castellon, heard young Francisco play and advised Tárrega’s father to allow Francisco to come to Barcelona for study with him. Tárrega’s father agreed, but insisted that he take piano lessons as well. His father was well aware that the guitar, as a solo vehicle, was in decline, coming increasingly to be viewed as an instrument to accompany singers, while the piano was all the rage throughout Europe. 

By his early teens, Tárrega had become proficient on both instruments. For a time, he played with other musicians at local engagements to earn money, but eventually he returned home. In 1874 he enrolled at the Madrid Conservatory where he would study composition under Arrieta. He had brought along with him a recently purchased guitar, made in Seville by Antonio Torres. Its superior sonic qualities inspired him both in his playing and in his view of the instrument’s compositional potential. When Arrieta heard his student Tárrega in a guitar concert, he convinced him to focus on guitar and abandon ideas of a career involving the piano. 

In about 1876, Tárrega began teaching and giving regular guitar concerts. By this time he was composing his first works for guitar. In 1880, he met his future wife, Maria Rizo, when he was giving a concert in Novelda. That same year he went on tour to Lyon, Paris, and London, now playing his own works in addition to those of other composers.

In 1881, he and Maria were married in Novelda. He soon began transcribing piano works of Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and others to enlarge his guitar repertory, and, no doubt, to make use of his considerable knowledge of keyboard music. Tárrega and his wife moved to Madrid, but after the death of an infant daughter, Maria Josefa, they settled permanently in Barcelona in 1885.

On a concert tour in Valencia shortly afterward, Tárrega met a wealthy widow, Conxa Martinez, who became a valuable patron to him. She allowed him and his family use of a house in Barcelona, where he would write the bulk of his most popular works, including Recuerdos de la Alhambra. From the latter 1880s up to 1903, Tárrega continued composing, but limited his concerts to Spain. In about 1902, he cut his fingernails and created a sound that would become typical of those guitarists associated with his school. The following year he launched a tour of Italy, giving highly successful concerts in Rome, Naples, and Milan.

 

5. Mauro Giuliani - Écossaise

Mauro Giuliani, 1781-1829

About the piece

Écossaise is a short piece from Matteo Carcassi. It’s a lovely piece that is suited for any beginner. It’s gentle and relaxing and somehow upbeat at the same time.

It’s a good choice to get comfortable with alternating your index and middle finger on your right hand when strumming. It also sounds very good played at low speeds.

This one is all about tempo and phrasing!

Background info on composer

An acclaimed Italian guitar virtuoso and composer, Mauro Giuliani, along with Fernando Sor, was one of the last great classical proponents of his instrument until its revival in the early twentieth century. He studied counterpoint and the cello, but on the six-string guitar he was entirely self-taught, and that became his principal instrument early on. Italy abounded with fine guitarists at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Carulli remains the most familiar today), but few of them could make a living because of the public’s preoccupation with opera. So Giuliani embarked on a successful tour of Europe when he was 19, and in 1806 he settled in Vienna, where he entered the musical circle of Diabelli, Moscheles, and Hummel. He solidified his reputation with the 1808 premiere of his Guitar Concerto in A major, Op. 30, and was soon heralded as the greatest living guitar virtuoso. Even Beethoven noticed Giuliani, and wrote of his admiration for him. Perhaps to return the favor, Giuliani played cello in the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. 

Around 1814, Giuliani was named virtuoso onorario di camera to Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie-Louise. But, deeply in debt, he returned to Italy in 1819. An 1823 trip to London brought him acclaim in the English-speaking world, and resulted in a short-lived fan publication called The Giulianiad. After this visit, the guitarist settled in Naples, enjoying the patronage of the court of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. He became adept on an obscure instrument called the lyre-guitar (which was marketed mainly to female amateurs), and perfected the design of the “ghitarra di terza,” an instrument with a shorter fingerboard than that of the regular “Spanish” guitar. 

Giuliani published more than 200 works; his most durable pieces include three lyrical concertos in a late Classical/early Romantic style, and, for solo guitar, the Grand Overture, Op. 61, and a series of six sometimes long-winded suites, Le Rossiniane, based on tunes by Gioacchino Rossini. As a special help to other players, Giuliani notated his works on the treble clef in an innovative manner, with the rests and note-stem directions distinguishing the melody from the bass line and inner voices.

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