The rich tradition and repertoire of classical guitar dates back centuries, and today’s aspiring classical guitarists have no shortage of excellent learning materials to choose from. Among the best classical guitar books today are modern methods as well as those widely renowned “classic” methods created and compiled by the early masters.
In this post we’ll cover the best of both worlds, classic and contemporary. First we’ll look at a few of the best classical guitar method books for beginners, and then we’ll cover several of the best technique books and methods for intermediate and advanced classical guitar players.
Many of the earliest methods are better suited to more experienced players. However, some guitar teachers still use older works – the Carcassi method, for example – with beginner students, so don’t overlook them if you’re a beginner up for a challenge.
Click on the links below to jump to that section of the article:
- Classical guitar method books for beginners
- Classical guitar method books for intermediate to advanced players
- Music theory books for classical guitarists
What are the best classical guitar books for beginners?
The following methods, widely used by guitar instructors with their students, are also highly useful methods for self teaching:
- Solo Guitar Playing
- Classic Guitar Technique
- The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method
- The Hal Leonard Classical Guitar Method
- Mel Bay Complete Method for Classic Guitar
- A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar
We’ll cover each of these books in more depth below.
Solo Guitar Playing
Author: Frederick Noad
This modern classical guitar method, written by respected classical guitarist Frederick Noad (1929-2001), has two volumes.
The first volume, linked above, is an excellent instructional book to start with for beginning guitarists with no previous musical experience. It provides comprehensive training in fundamental classical guitar playing skills, starting with easy single-line melodies.
You’ll learn how to read music as well as play it by ear and memorize it. You’ll get to know your way around the fingerboard, build your dexterity and speed through many exercises, and improve your tone.
- 200+ graded exercises and beautiful repertoire selections
- Access to online audio included
- Fully illustrated with diagrams and photographs
- Described by readers as a great book for self teaching
- 282 pages
Classic Guitar Technique
Authors: Aaron Shearer, Thomas Kikta
This two-volume method by Aaron Shearer progresses from beginner to advanced classical guitar technique. The series has been used by guitar teachers as an instructional text for generations, but it’s also a great choice for aspiring self-taught guitarists.
Volume 1 begins with the very basics: guitar selection, maintenance, tuning, posture, hand positioning, and reading standard notation.
It then progresses to fundamental skills like rest strokes and free strokes, notes in open position, playing with thumb and fingers, arpeggios, tremolo, chords, and scales.
There are three supplementary books for this method which contain additional exercises, studies, and theory instruction.
Note: There’s also a newer Aaron Shearer method available; however, this older one is still the preferred instructional text of many teachers.
- Includes pieces by classical guitar masters Carulli, Sor, Giuliani, and Aguado
- Includes online access to demo/play-along tracks
- 120 pages
The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method
Authors: Christopher Parkening, Jack Marshall, David Brandon
Authored by virtuoso classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, this highly popular modern method consists of two volumes.
The first volume covers the very basics of classical guitar playing, including choosing a guitar, parts of the guitar, caring for your instrument, tuning, posture, hand positioning, and reading music.
The exercises gradually increase in difficulty, taking you step by step through the fundamentals of classical guitar technique.
This first volume of the Christopher Parkening Guitar Method also covers basic theory concepts, including scales, major and minor keys, the circle of fifths, and transposition.
- 50+ beautiful pieces and 14 duets for classical guitar
- 26 easy-to-follow graded exercises
- Concise yet comprehensive
- Photos and illustrations
- 112 pages
The Hal Leonard Classical Guitar Method
Author: Paul Henry
The Hal Leonard guitar methods tend to be concise and easy-to-follow, and this one by renowned classical guitarist and teacher Paul Henry is no exception. That said, complete beginners may find the Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Book 1 to be a useful supplement to this book.
This edition of the first volume contains both guitar tablature and standard music notation. The book briefly covers how to read music. You’ll also learn tuning, proper playing technique, notes in open position, scales, chords, PIMA technique, and more.
Hal Leonard’s classical method includes pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Purcell, Carcassi, Giuliani, Aguado, Tarrega, Bathioli, and other classical masters.
- 25+ pieces for classical guitar
- Includes access to online demo tracks with adjustable tempo and looping for easy practice
- Above edition contains both guitar tablature and music notation
- Companion songbook available
- 120 pages
Mel Bay Complete Method for Classic Guitar
Publisher: Mel Bay Publications
This modern method by leading music education publisher Mel Bay is accessible to beginners yet comprehensive in its coverage of classical guitar technique.
You’ll learn how to read standard guitar notation, quickly progressing from simple one-line melodies to exercises and pieces with one or more notes played simultaneously.
This method book covers essential skills like right- and left-hand technique, harmonics, and playing in multiple keys and positions. It’s written completely in standard guitar notation – no tab – so you’ll quickly hone your music reading skills.
The Mel Bay method includes pieces by classical guitar masters like Carcassi, Giuliani, Sor, Carulli, Aguado, and Diabelli. Mel Bay has also included transcriptions of pieces by well-known classical composers like Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Brahms, and others.
- Complete all-in-one method
- Spiral-bound for ease of use
- Access to online audio included
- Many musical illustrations, photographs, and diagrams
- Many songs, studies, études, and musical exercises included
- 144 pages
A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar
Author: Charles Duncan
This three-volume modern method by premier classical guitarist Charles Duncan is one of the best classical guitar books for beginners of all ages who want to teach themselves how to play classical guitar.
Book 1 teaches beginner fingerboard technique and basic music theory concepts. It also includes a comprehensive introduction to two-part playing using thumb and fingers, which is a lot more exciting than single-line melodies!
You’ll learn how to play rest stroke and free stroke, read music, play in open position, and play melodies with bass accompaniment.
- Book has many pieces, including solos and duets
- CD includes 27 demo/play-along tracks
- Readers say the book is a good self-teaching method
- 64 pages
- Also available as a complete three-volume book/CD set
Classical guitar methods for intermediate to advanced players
The following methods and technique books are best suited to more experienced guitar players (or, in some cases, ambitious beginning guitarists).
With a few exceptions at the top of the list, these works were composed by the early masters of classical guitar.
- Pumping Nylon: The Classical Guitarist’s Technique Handbook, by Scott Tennant
- The Bible of Classical Guitar Technique, by Hubert Kappel
- Guitar Works I, by Leo Brouwer
- La Guitarra: A Comprehensive Study Of Classical Guitar Technique And Guide To Performing, by Pepe Romero
- The Complete Carcassi Guitar Method, by Matteo Carcassi (1796–1853) and published by Mel Bay
- Twenty Studies for the Guitar, by Fernando Sor (1778–1839) and arranged by Andrés Segovia (1893–1987)
- Villa-Lobos: Collected Works for Solo Guitar, by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
- Complete Giuliani Studies, by Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829) and published by Mel Bay
- Guitar School, by Emilio Pujol (1886–1980)
- Julio S. Sagreras Guitar Lessons, by Julio Sagreras (1879–1942) and published by Mel Bay
- 20 Microestudios (sheet music), by Abel Carlevaro (1916–2001)
- Aguado: New Guitar Method, by Dionisio Aguado (1784–1849)
- Complete Method for Guitar, by Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841)
Music theory books for classical guitarists
A good theory book can put what you’re learning into context and help you improve faster.
One such instructional book written with classical guitarists in mind is Classic Guitar Technique, Supplement 2: Basic Elements of Music Theory for the Guitar. (This book is a supplementary text in the Aaron Shearer method, recommended above.) The book covers four key musical concepts: scales, intervals, key signatures, and chords.
Though not specifically written with the classical player in mind, the following books also provide a good introduction to theory for guitarists:
- Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask, written by Tom Kolb and published by Hal Leonard
- The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists: The Complete Guide to Music Theory from a Guitarist’s Point of View, written by Joseph Alexander and Tim Pettingale
Learning classical guitar: FAQ
Is classical guitar hard to learn?
Classical guitar is more challenging to learn than a “strum-and-sing” style of guitar for several reasons. With the latter, you don’t have to worry so much, if at all, about subtleties like proper form, good tone, “correct” technique (this may differ from teacher to teacher), and sight reading physically demanding passages of music.
That said, no beginner starts out doing those things. If you start with a good classical guitar teacher or instructional book and practice consistently, you can learn to play easier classical arrangements within a few months – even if you’re just picking up the guitar later in life.
Can you teach yourself classical guitar technique?
With the help of a good method or technique book and consistent practice, you can learn how to play easy arrangements in the classical guitar repertoire within just a few months.
However, the study of classical guitar is quite regimented, and it can be difficult to learn the intricacies of good form and technique without at least observing an experienced player. At best, you’ll wonder if you’re doing it properly.
An experienced instructor can help you correct bad habits and offer practical guidance about what to practice next. If you can’t afford regular private lessons, taking just a few introductory lessons can be helpful to lay a starting foundation.
You don’t have to leave home, either: Many guitar instructors and performing artists are now offering guitar lessons via Zoom due to the pandemic.
Aside from private lessons, other self-guided options include online instructional video lessons and guitar-learning apps that use AI technology to accelerate the learning process, as well as gamification to motivate you to practice. This interactive mode of study is superior to learning solely via an instructional method book, because you can see and hear what you’re learning put into practice.
Some guitar-teaching apps and websites also involve interaction with an instructor and fellow students.
Some of the best websites and apps for learning classical guitar online include:
- Guitar Tricks
How long does it take to learn classical guitar?
If we use the Royal Conservatory of Music as an example standard, and estimate that each grade in the program takes roughly a year to complete, then we could say that it takes around eight years to become an advanced player and around 10 years to reach a professional or performance level in classical guitar.
In reality this standard is rather arbitrary because, when it comes to learning an art, there is no ceiling to the learning. Besides that, everyone learns at a different pace based on factors like natural aptitude and quality and amount of practice.
If you want to play for your own personal enjoyment (and that of your friends and family), don’t despair at the above figures: You can learn to play easier pieces that sound pretty within a few months to a year of consistent practice.
The best classical guitar method books are like a good teacher, offering great advice and inspiring you to practice consistently.
In addition to a good method book, you can accelerate your skills and understanding of classical guitar by taking in-person or online lessons, as well as by studying music theory. I hope the resources listed above help you in your endeavor to become a better classical guitarist.