Christopher Parkening
Guitar Method:
The Art & Technique
of the Classical Guitar

(Hal Leonard, 2000)

It's interesting to have the chance to read what Christopher Parkening considers a productive way to learn classical guitar. I bought this book because I was impressed by the quality of the music compositions within reach of a beginning classical guitarist. I use it as a complement to Frederick Noad's Solo Guitar Playing 1 method book.

Parkening introduces each string and its notation when played open (no pressing on the fret board). From there he gradually introduces more notes and their corresponding position on the staff and fretboard. There are several exercises and studies to reinforce recognition of each note learned and then several short compositions to apply what you've learned to "real" songs. Also from the beginning there are suggestions for practicing the studies and exercises with different finger alternation patterns along with suggestions of when (and which notes) to practice playing rest and/or free strokes. The nice thing is that Parkening seems not only to be teaching proper technique but also what to listen for and critique yourself so you can continue to improve. As he mentions in the practice section, "Always keep in mind it is better to play one piece well than many pieces poorly."

There are some fascinating insights throughout the book into how Parkening thinks a beginner should approach things such as correct practice, tone production, optimal fingernail shape and attack of the strings, selecting a good classical guitar and its care. This book also gives the most photos and detailed instruction I've yet seen in any book on exactly how to sit, position feet and legs, drape/weight arms and hands in relation to the guitar body and fretboard, and correct placement of both the left and right hands and their proper positions. Photos are plentiful although some are better quality than others. My favorites are the antique-ish photos -- especially the one of a very young Segovia listening to the elder Miguel Llobet play.

As the back cover says there are 50 solo pieces and more than 14 duets. Parkening also includes the necessary fundamentals of note reading, beginning music theory of sharps, flats, naturals, music keys and the circle of 5ths, chords and bar chords. Fretboard diagrams showing basic chords (and some bar chords) are found toward the back. All the compositions, duets and exercises are playable in the first position -- that is, they can all be played within the first four frets. Occasionally, he will include a fifth fret note with instruction on which string to find it. This is fairly uncommon, however, and is only done when it ends up making the piece easier to play.

There are pages explaining music notation terms as well as a large fretboard diagram toward the back showing each note name on each fret (all the way up to the 12th) and its corresponding position on the staff. There are a number of chromatic scale studies, arpeggio studies, finger technique exercises -- although I wish there had been more of these included (this is actually my ONLY quibble with Parkening's book and one he fortunately rectified in Vol. 2).

The final section of the book includes supplementary pieces to learn and add to your repertoire. They aren't strictly graded although he does mention that the easier key compositions are first. At this point he mentions you can begin studying Vol. 2 while still learning and practicing the supplementary pieces from book one.

Overall, this is a fine book and I don't think anyone will be disappointed with it. It has some of the nicest selections of musical pieces to learn I've ever seen in any beginning classical guitar study book. The main difference I've noticed between it and Solo Guitar Playing 1 is that the composition pieces ramp up in difficulty faster in Parkening's method. The reason for this, however, is that it is shorter than the Noad book. Combine it with Noad's Solo Guitar Playing 1 and you have an unbeatable combination for learning how to play classical guitar.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 12 April 2003

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