With so much amazing classical guitar music to choose from, how do you decide which pieces are absolutely essential to learn to play? Here, we’ll share our top picks for classical guitar students to study and play.
To study the classical guitar is a great and noble pursuit. Bringing back music that is centuries old is not a easy task, especially when the documentation and the preservation of sound was increasingly difficult the farther you get from the 1900’s. This makes the job of a classical guitarist not only a musician capable of reproducing the music, but also an interpreter, researcher, and philosopher!
In light of this, we have literally thousands of pieces to play, not to mention that we can transcribe and also play the thousands of works which were written for the guitar’s older brother, the lute. So where do you start in deciding which pieces you want to learn?
5 Classical Guitar Pieces Everyone Should Know
This list is comprised of easier pieces that every classical guitarist should know how to play. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced virtuoso, these are pieces which at some point, a classical guitarist needs to have played.
1. Gran Vals by Francisco Tárrega
A beautiful piece written by a Spanish composer, Francisco Tárrega. His works are an absolute for the aspiring classical guitarist. I included this piece because besides being beautiful, it is also known as “the most popular tune” because it was used in a popular Nokia cell phone ringtone.
2. Fantasia No. 10 by Alonso Mudarra
This piece is originally written for the Lute. Composed in the Renaissance, before the invention of the guitar, this piece is very popular among the guitar standard repertoire. It is full of energy and it was a true breakthrough and innovation of its time for its contemporary (for the time) sounding middle section.
3. Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9 by Fernando Sor
A wonderful piece written by one of the most important composers of the guitar. This piece uses a theme from a section in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, Die Zauberflöte, and develops 5 wonderful variations on it. A great work that every classical guitarist should know.
4. Grand Overture, Op. 61 by Mauro Giuliani
The lesser known, but equally important composer Giuliani has truly spectacular works. From the classical era, his pieces can not be overlooked for the absolute beauty that they bring to the instrument.
5. Asturias (Leyenda) by Isaac Albéniz
This piece was originally written for the piano. However, being that the composer was intentionally trying to emulate the sounds of the guitar, in the end, this piece has become more popularly performed on this instrument. It’s Andalusian sounds paint a wonderful bridge of the true connection that Spain has with the guitar.
5 Pieces Every Classical Guitarist Should Hear
This is a list of pieces which every classical guitarist should listen to. These works are more difficult and require a very advanced skill level on the instrument. However, they are important works for the guitar and you should at least be aware of their existence.
1. Fantasie Hongroise, Op. 65 No. 1 by Johann Kaspar Mertz
An all around great piece which is fun and exciting for any audience to listen to.
2. Chaconne from the Partita for Violin, No. 2 by J.S. Bach
Originally written for the violin, the great virtuoso Andrés Segovia made this piece a well known work in the guitar repertoire and has even fooled audiences into believing this piece was actually written for the guitar.
3. Una Limosna por el Amore de Dios by Agustín Barrios Mangoré
This piece has a wonderful story behind how it was named. Also known as the El Ultimo Trémolo, or the Last Song, it was the last piece composed by one of the most important composers for the guitar, Agustin Barrios who composed over 300 works for the instrument.
4. Invocación y Danza – Homenaje a Manuel de Falla by Joaquin Rodrigo
This work is an amazing piece composed in the 20th century. It shows how far music for the classical guitar has come. Although, it is nearly impossible to play, you should at least listen to it. It is by the same composer who wrote the world famous classical guitar concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez.
5. Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70 (1963) by Benjamin Britten
This piece is from another great 20th century composer. Britten made many works for the guitar and paved a road of sounds for the guitar composers of the present day. The piece was written for the legendary guitarist Julian Bream and is based on the piece Come, Heavy Sleep by the Lute composer from the Renaissance, John Dowland.
Ready to learn to play this beautiful classical guitar music? A qualified and dedicated guitar teacher can help you refine your technique and develop your talent. Find your perfect guitar teacher today!
Christopher S. teaches guitar and composition in Jamaica Plain, MA. He received his Bachelors degree from Humboldt State University and is currently atttending New England Conservatory for his Master of Music degree. Christopher has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher S. here!
Photo by Ken Dodds