September 1941
volume LIX
number 9
page 641-643

The Carcassi Guitar Method

By George C. Krick

SINCE THE EARLY PART of the nineteenth century, when the guitar became known to everyone as a musical instrument worthy of serious study, numerous "methods" have been compiled by most of the great virtuosos and composers for this instrument, presenting to the future students their ideas of what studies were necessary to become a proficient performer. Of all these, none have approached the consistent popularity of the "method" by Matteo Carcassi, an Italian Guitar virtuoso, who was born in Florence in 1792 and died in Paris, January 16th, 1853. Philip J. Bone in his book, "The Guitar and Mandolin," speaks of it as follows: "This Volume, 'Complete Method for Guitar, op. 59,' is a scholarly and useful work, in fact one of the best, if not the best compilation of its kind. It has been favored with the widest and most universal circulation of any Guitar Method ever published and has enjoyed the distinction of being translated, revised, rewritten, condensed, augmented and mutilated by succeeding Guitarists of every nationality."

The original edition, with English and French text, bears this interesting introduction by the author: "The flattering reception given to my works by professors and distinguished amateurs up to this period, and a long experience in teaching the guitar having furnished me much useful information, I am induced to bring this method before the public. It will facilitate the study and give a thorough knowledge of the instrument in a concise and simple manner. I have taken great care to make each lesson so progressive that the pupil, however ignorant of the instrument, will be interested from the beginning to the end of his studies, avoiding those dry difficulties, which too often tend to discourage beginners. Besides the fingering of the left hand which I have treated extensively, the exact management of the right hand has always appeared to me one of the most essential means of acquiring sure and brilliant execution. From the success attending the application of this method amongst my own pupils, I can give assurance that any intelligent person who will study it with attention from beginning to end will acquire a perfect knowledge of the guitar."

The method consists of three parts, the first, beginning with an introductory chapter on the rudiments of music, explains proper position of holding the instrument, gives explicit instruction in the matter of fingering for left and right hand, presents scales, chords, preludes and simple pieces all arranged progressively. The second part gives examples of special effects—slurred notes, legato, staccato, trills, vibrato, grace notes, harmonics—followed by practical studies in the 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th position and scales in thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths. The third part is a collection of short pieces in different grades of difficulty further to improve the execution and musical taste of the student. This method was later supplemented by a volume of "Twenty-five Melodic and Progressive Etudes, Op. 60," a work containing a great variety of technical exercises designed for the development of right hand fingering.

Not a great deal is known concerning the early career of Carcassi beyond the fact that he studied the guitar in his youth and, by his concentrated efforts and natural musical endowments, acquired most extraordinary skill upon his chosen instrument. After establishing an enviable reputation as a performer in his native land, he toured Germany, where he was received with unbounded enthusiasm. In 1820 he arrived in Paris and, two years later, made his first appearance in London. These cities had been visited previously by Ferdinand Sor; and the English and French musical public, recognizing the genius of Carcassi, received him with open arms.

Ferdinando Carulli, sometimes called the father of the Italian school of guitar playing, had been a resident of Paris for some years and by his concert performances and guitar compositions had drawn to himself the favor and patronage of the wealthy Parisians. Up to this time he had written and published more than three hundred compositions, among them a method which was a universal favorite. But, with the arrival of Carcassi, the fickle Parisians were ready to transfer their allegiance to the new star on the guitar firmament. Carcassi was in the prime of life, and he introduced a new style of music, more modern, melodious, brilliant, abounding in artistic and pleasing effects and also of but medium difficulty. Publishers importuned him for his compositions, and salons of Parisian artists and of the nobility were thrown open to him. After a few years in Paris, Carcassi again journeyed through England and the various countries of continental Europe, later returning to his adopted city where he died in 1853.

Carcassi must be counted among the greatest masters of the instrument. In his compositions, of which about eighty were published, he shows much originality and individuality. He perfected the method of fingering, introduced many novel effects and carried the resources of the instrument to greater lengths than any guitarist before him.

On several occasions we have been asked if a study of the Carcassi method would successfully serve a foundation for modern guitar technic. To this we can truthfully reply in the affirmative. Carcassi advocated, as did some other guitarists, the resting of the little finger of the right hand on the sounding board, near the bridge. Most modern guitarists keep the right hand entirely free, which we also approve. During Carcassi's time, the right hand fingering of scales was done with alternating thumb and first finger on the three lower strings, followed by the alternation of first and second finger on the three gut strings. The modern Spanish guitarists omit the thumb in scale playing, using alternating first and second finger on all strings. As we have suggested before in this column, a guitarist should make a comprehensive study of all the different methods, etudes and exercises by all the great composers of guitar music, in order to become a master of the instrument. As an example, you may begin by using the Carcassi method during the first year, together with his "Six Caprices, Op. 26" and his "Twenty-five Etudes, Op. 60." During the second year, the Second Book of the "Foden Grande Method" is in order, and along with it the "Etudes, Op. 31, 35, 6 and 29" by Ferdinand Sor. The following years will call for etudes by Giuliani, Mertz, Coste, Legnani, Albert, Arenas, Aguado. Along with these etudes, one should make a comprehensive study of the concert repertoires of the same masters, finally leading up to the compositions and transcriptions by Tarrega, Segovia, Torroba, Turina, Ponce and other modern writers. Only by following a similar plan will a serious guitar student reach a high standard of proficiency.