The classical guitar has seen many changes in the last century. Its repertoire is becoming more and more challenging and interesting thanks to new compositions, new arrangements, and many newly discovered compositions. Guitar performances today are cleaner and are executed with greater technical facility than ever before. Perhaps one of the most important areas that garners increased attention today is the quality and richness of sound. When we listen to other musicians —violinists, pianists, cellists—we hear beautiful sound and music. We do not hear technique or reduced sound quality. When a musician walks on stage and plays the first note, before he or she has the chance to captivate the audience with lyricism or impress with virtuosity, the first thing the audience hears is the quality and the richness of his sound.
Every instrumentalist will argue that the production of beautiful sound on his or her particular instrument is more challenging than on the next instrument. The guitar is no different. Production of good sound on the guitar is a very intricate process involving the shape and quality of ones nails, the strings, the angle of the wrist, the point of contact on the string, the ratio between flesh and nail, the tension in ones hand; if even one of those is out of whack, the sound can suffer. To produce a good sound and reduce “scratchiness” a guitarist needs well-kept nails that are evenly shaped and buffed. The shape of the nail should neither be very pointy nor flat. For most people the natural shape of the nail is most ideal shape for rendering the best sound. After shaping the nails and polishing them, the next step is to determine the best point of contact for each individual. This cannot be explained in words but rather should be learned through experimentation on the instrument. When plucking the string both the nail and flesh should be touching the string. If the angle of the fingers to the string is completely perpendicular, only the nail will pluck the string, producing a very pointy and sharp sound. The hand should be slightly turned toward the thumb, so that the angle of the nail to the string allows the flesh to also touch and pluck the string, thus producing a warmer and fuller sound.
Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks is to maintain sound quality while playing technically challenging passages. As pieces become faster and more difficult, guitarist’s attention is often occupied by hitting all the notes and less with how the various notes are hit; however, a musician’s goal should always be musicality and production of good sound. When the sound suffers during technically difficult passages, it only accentuates the technical challenge and the speed of it no longer becomes impressive. The sound quality should be maintained through slow and accurate practice and by always paying attention to the warmth and fullness of the sound, never sacrificing it for speed.
The most uncooperative string to produce a full warm sound is the open 1st string. Thus, it is best to practice on that particular string. Once a player has mastered a beautiful tone on the first string, the other treble strings will not present a challenge. The bass strings should be approached differently since they are wound strings and the same point of contact will not produce the same result.
In the beginning a player should strive to produce a good sound with each finger individually; i, m, and a (the thumb has a different technique and should be worked on separately). Once the point of contact for the best sound is determined for each finger and is practiced until it becomes second nature, then one more finger should be added and alternated ( i and m, a and m, and also i and a, if preferred). Close attention should be paid that when alternating fingers the position of the hand remains the same. When looking for the ultimate point of contact for each finger, the position of the wrist and hand should not be changing to accommodate the sound. Once the player is comfortable with the alternations, a metronome should be added to create a more structured time period for the fingers to pluck the string. The speed should increase on the metronome as the player becomes more comfortable with each stage, but never sacrificing sound for speed. The whole point of the exercise is to develop full and warm sound.