The Benefits of Cross Domain Learning for Classical Guitar

I had a wonderful comment on the blog recently from a reader in India (so fab to know we’re a big widey world network of musicians!) from a post (click on this highlighted text to take you there) asking folks what they’d like to see, or read about on the blog.

Well thank you dear reader (you know who you are) – I thought it was such a great question that I thought I’d share and elaborate. Which reminds me, there were another great bunch of questions on there which I don’t think I’ve elaborated fully on as yet, so I’ll get on to those too!

Anyway, I digress!

This particular comment in question was around cross-domain learning, or musical cross-polination. And the views put across by this reader I whole-heartedly agree with! Here’s an excerpt from the comment:

I’d like to have your views on cross-domain learning (for those musicians who work in more than one domain). I have personally benefited as a classical guitar player due to my jazz orientation in some key areas:

1. An “aural” sensitivity towards repertoire – particularly modern material
2. Timekeeping – primarily due to ensemble work
3. An ear-based understanding of harmony and melody due to improvisation
4. Fingering strategies in scale work – I don’t normally practice them “traditionally” but tend to play improvised passages while singing with them.

Of course, there are benefits in the opposite direction too.

The reason for asking – there are some jazz guitarists here who are beginning to be interested in the classical guitar – but are a little intimidated by the “difficulty” involved. It would be good to reassure them that the two worlds are not that distant, after all!

I’m a big fan of cross domain learning as a musician, and musical cross-polination with other musical types too. There are some great benefits as someone just coming to the classical guitar for the very first time, perhaps having played or playing another instrument.

Personally I was very fortunate growing up to firstly learn the recorder as a wee whippersnapper to learn the absolute fundamentals of music, followed then by the piano and then by the clarinet and voice (those of you readers who’ve had the misfortune to hear me sing will understand that my voice study was not so long……). The classical guitar, in fact, was the last instrument I came too.

And I came to the classical guitar having had my schooling in musical theory, in reading music, in interpreting music, in understanding how different sounds are produced on different instruments and even how different instruments can work together. This latter point was of particular relevance re the clarinet in concert bands and orchestras.  It really gives you an appreciation of how large ensemble works are put together, the sounds that can be created and musical textures when you’re sitting in the midst of a full-blown symphonic orchestra!

And so the point I getting to here is that I found the classical guitar then relatively easy to pick up and learn. There was none, or very little of the musical “language” learning to get in the way. I was really able to focus on the medium itself, developing my technique and making music on the classical guitar.

So for those of you who who play other instruments, particularly other genres of guitar, and are thinking of picking up the classical guitar I say go for it! Musical worlds, even non-guitar worlds, are really not so different. Cross-domain learning, in my opinion and from my own direct experience, opens up new ways of learning, new approaches that you can carry over from your previous musical experience, leaves you able to focus on the new medium and a wonderful new world of music making.



One thought on “The Benefits of Cross Domain Learning for Classical Guitar

  1. Thanks, Nicole, for the great response to my comment. I’ll point my jazz-leaning friends towards your blog, and hopefully, more of them will look further into the evocative and rich world of the classical guitar. The benefits in the opposite direction towards jazz, for me, have been:

    – A much wider and “at-hand” tonal pallete for use in improvisation
    – Left-hand freedom: not being bound by traditional chord voicings and scale shapes
    – An enhanced contrapuntal understanding of music and harmony – which helps interpretation
    – Right-hand fingerstyle technique – which is considerably more flexible than a plectrum in most applications

    It has always seemed to me that some great jazz pianists (Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal and many more) achieved their considerable levels of musical innovation and expressive power, not to mention formidable technique, due to their early classical music studies. I still wait for a jazz guitarist to bring in that sort of nodal shift to the idiom, specially considering some of the excellent music written for the classical guitar in the last few decades.


    -Jayant S-

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