Think of some well loved pieces like the ones below:
These and many other guitar pieces use a combination of chords and arpeggios.
If you Google "classical guitar exercises", you tend to find things like this:
Do exercises like that get you closer to the heart of guitar music?
Do they have any resemblance to those well-known guitar pieces you've always wanted to play?
After studying hundreds of method books from the 18th and 19th centuries, it's pretty clear that the old masters weren't practicing exercises like those.
- They were practicing chord progressions. And lots of them.
- They were also practicing arpeggios and combining those with the chord progressions.
That is what gets you towards the heart of guitar music.
Varieties of chord progressions
There are many chord progressions out there to practice, so where can you start?
If you've never practiced chord progressions, I recommend starting with these:
You don't have to analyze the chords before playing them.
In fact, it's better to get them under your fingers before you try understanding them.
One of Beethoven's pupils had this to say about learning harmony:
"A thorough knowledge of the Theory of Harmony, which may be gained practically by means of finger-exercises, assists us much in playing at sight; on the contrary, he who has only a mere superficial knowledge of it, and that only in his brains, will only be led more astray" --- Carl Czerny
Isn't that a totally different mindset than what is taught today?!
Today we're told to read textbooks or watch lectures of people explaining harmony before we dare to practice it. But according to Czerny (Beethoven's pupil!) this is backwards.
- We can gain a knowledge of harmony by means of finger exercises
- This helps us when sight reading
- Merely knowing harmony without first practicing it can actually make it MORE confusing
The ultimate chord progression: The Rule of the Octave
I want to introduce you to the Rule of the Octave (ROTO), which is a totally forgotten and overlooked chord progression.
It was part of an 18th/19th century composer's toolkit. It's very likely that guitarists including Sor, Giuliani, Aguado, Mertz and others of this pedigree were aware of the ROTO.
The ROTO is essentially a scale that's been harmonized with chords (the bass line is an ascending and descending scale). This has been done in a way that teaches you the laws of harmony - things like tension and resolution, voice leading, etc.
The same chord progression is used for each key - one for major and one for minor.
It really is a beautiful chord progression to practice and also makes for a very effective technical study.
Combine the ROTO with arpeggios and you are really getting close to the heart of guitar music.
You can add Giuliani's 120 right hand exercises (click here to download) - you can finally make great use of those studies!
Watch the video to see how you can apply arpeggios to chords for a great exercise.