Spanish Study is based on a very famous classical guitar piece, "Asturias" by Isaac Albeniz. In spite of being a greatly simplified version of Asturias, even to being set in a different key (the original is high up the neck of the guitar), this piece makes a satisfying and exciting first solo for students wanting to start classical guitar. It sounds more difficult than it really is.
A commenter at the bottom of this page plays Asturias (Leyenda or Legend), a beautiful performance. This is the real thing, not the easy version I have for beginner classical guitarists!
Here is a boy playing a shortened version of this piece, much more like what I have offered on this page, with a couple of added chords. Notice how nicely he extends his thumb:
On this page are 4 versions of Spanish Study. The first complete version, all on one page, has tiny notes and very little in the way of finger markings. It is handy to use once you have the basic idea of the piece:
Download Spanish Study all on one page
In classical guitar playing, "p," "i," "m," and "a" stand for the right hand fingers which pluck the strings:
P = pulgar, the thumb
I = indicio, the index finger
M = medio, the middle finger
A = anular, the ring finger
Spanish Study starts with only right hand thumb (p) and middle finger (m), taking turns. For a correct classical hand position, be sure the thumb plucks off to the side of the hand, so it doesn't meet the fingers. (I recommend purchasing a book such as Frederick Noad's Solo Guitar Playing, which has photographs to help students position their hands and bodies correctly... or find a teacher with a classical background!)
Notice where the music changes into triplets (the 3-note groups with a "3" over the top of the beam). The left hand "2" will be placed on "A," the 2nd fret of the "G" string, and stay there for the remainder of the piece. If you are not familiar with reading staff notation, listen to one of the videos on this page (not Asturias, but Spanish Study, below) and notice where the rhythm changes from a feeling of "1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2," to a feeling of "1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3."
A good way to practice this study is to leave off the high E (string 1) and play the thumb melody alone. This is very helpful for struggling note-readers.
Preparatory to starting this piece, it is a good idea to have your guitar students play short scales on each string, using each fret up to fret 5. Starting at string 6 (Low E), that would sound like:
"Open E, F (fret one), F sharp (fret two), G, G sharp, A. Next string: open A, A sharp, B, C, C sharp, D... Next string: open D, etc." I like to do this next to a piano so kids can see that there are no black notes between B and C, and E and F. Otherwise we use a paper keyboard. Unless they understand that the distance between notes is not always the same, they will be baffled by note-reading on the guitar.
The two-page version below is just the same, but it has finger markings on more measures and large notes to make it easy to see! Be careful not to mistake finger numbers (1, 2, 3) for fret numbers -- sometimes they are the same, but not necessarily! Notice in measure 9 that the B is fingered with a 1, even though it is a 2nd-fret note; this is to facilitate playing, as the 2nd finger just played an E (and should stay there through the next measure). "0", of course, means open string.
Just before measure 17, the left hand plays the B with a "1" finger again, because in measure 17 finger "2" must quickly snap down on an A. In the second half of the piece, some of the notes are fingered differently than in the first half, because the "2" finger is busy keeping the "A" note pressed down on the G string for the entire second half. Keep it pressed down! In measure 20, we meet a B note again, once again fingered with a "1" even though the C in the next fret is fingered with a 3.
For kids breaking into classical guitar, going "cold turkey" off of tablature may be very scary. I like to help them out with just the first few measures written in tab along with standard notation.
But sometimes, if they have been warming up to standard notation, I give them this version instead:
Here is the piece as a lesson on Youtube:
After playing entirely through this lovely piece, you can figure out why it is called a "study" or "etude" - all the right hand fingers get their turn to be part of a pattern, and it is tiring until your hand builds up strength. Don't overdo it at first! I mean it - you must be cautious with the small muscles of your arms and fingers.
Here is a final version of Asturias, played by guitarist John Williams. He gives an informative introduction and history to this piece:
Do you have a story or a question about teaching guitar? Do you think it is a hard instrument for beginners, or easy? What have been your challenges?