No matter what style of guitar you normally play, it’s hard to deny that classical guitar pieces are quite beautiful. These pieces command a degree of respect due to the amount of hard work and practice required to play them.
If you’re looking to become knowledgeable in the pedigree of classical guitar, these songs are a great starting point. They will help you to develop a large range of skills, including a classically trained ear. There are also some entries provided for even the most skilled guitarists to be able to play.
“Gran Vals” by Francisco Tarrega
Are you familiar with the iconic Nokia ringtone that was very popular throughout the 1990s and 2000s? It comes from this classical guitar piece composed by Francisco Tarrega, who penned the work in 1902.
This piece has a series of different motifs set against a waltz-type rhythm. You’ll no doubt be playing up and down the neck while utilizing every string and finger.
Take your time to make sure that you can get integrate the bass line, melody, and harmonic accompaniment. Once you get this piece down, you’re sure to please any audience, especially because of its recognizable melody.
You’ll be seeing Francisco Tarrega’s name throughout this list. His contributions to the classical guitar catalog are highly regarded as some of the best of all time.
“Grand Overture, Op.61” by Mauro Giuliani
Are you looking to add a guitar piece that fully embodies the characteristics of well-crafted classical music? Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture is sure to test your skills and push them to the limit.
This piece begins with a series of motifs that play with tension and release, with dissonance flowing to beautiful resolutions. It then moves into a bit of a lighthearted atmosphere until you have to execute a series of complex triplets.
Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture is not for the faint of heart. However, if you can manage to pull this off, you will be sure to have a happy audience.
“Chaconne From Partita No. 2 For Violin” by Johann Sebastian Bach
It is not uncommon for a violin piece to be adapted for the guitar. In fact, in recent times, guitarists such as Randy Rhoads utilized violin pieces to invent new guitar licks.
Bach is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers of all time, and this piece holds up well for guitar. It features many things that Bach is known for, particularly his long and sweeping melodic lines.
This piece does have some tricky moments, particularly one featuring all hammer-ons and pull-offs. There are also some tricky runs in 32nd notes which pose to be quite difficult to play at the correct tempo. The result, however, is quite magnificent, which is to be expected from Bach.
Take your time with this one and you will be quite happy with yourself. The piece is fairly long in length, so do be sure to be patient while learning it.
“Una Limosna Por El Amore De Dios” by Agustin Barrios Mangore
If you’re looking for a shorter piece that you can add to your repertoire, consider this one. Despite its short length, it has no short supply of beauty and difficulty (especially if you struggle with tremolo picking). In fact, the song is often called El Ultimo Tremolo, nodding to its tremolo-laden melodies throughout the song.
Agustin Barrios Mangore is one of the most accomplished guitar composers in all of history. Interestingly enough, he penned this work shortly before his death. An Alm For The Love Of God (as the title translates) seems to be one last offering for his creator.
“Greensleeves” by Anonymous
If you’re not very familiar with many classical guitar songs, you’ve likely heard this piece before. The reason is, the music is used in What Child Is This?, which is a widely-known Christmas song.
The origins of this song are pretty much unknown, but it is known that it originates from 16th century England. Many claims have been made regarding its origins, including one involving King Henry VIII.
Regardless of its origins, Greensleeves is an excellent piece to add to your repertoire, especially for beginners. Because of its notable melody, you’re likely to be able to get it under your belt in no time.
“Minuet In G” by Christian Petzold
Minuet in G is an interesting piece, at least from a historical point of view. This work was attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, as it was found in a notebook gifted to his second wife. However, it was discovered in the 1970s that it was actually composed by Christian Petzold.
Minuet In G features Bach’s signature sweeping melodies against a pedal tone bass accompaniment. Judging from this alone, it’s easy to see why it might be attributed to Bach.
It’s quite short and features a recognizable melody that is sure to resonate with any audience member. A beginner is likely to find this song appropriate for their first foray into classical guitar music.
“La Campanella” by Niccolo Paganini, Franz Liszt
Niccolo Paganini was a known violin virtuoso who often bedazzled audiences with his inhuman playing skills. In fact, there’s a myth that he sold his soul to the Devil, whereupon he wrote the famed Devil’s Trill.
La Campanella is not that song. It is, however, quite a difficult piece. Many people were impressed with Paganini’s performance of La Campanella. Franz Liszt in particular took it upon himself to rearrange the song for piano performance.
Should you decide to learn this piece, you’re bound to have fun. It becomes quite difficult and has some extremely fast phrases. Take your time and go slowly and you’re bound to add it to your playable repertoire.
“Tango No. 3” by Jose Ferrer
Jose Ferrer is a well-known 19th-century Spanish classical guitar composer who regularly performed and taught music. His work, Tango No. 3, is one of his most famous pieces.
Tango No. 3, as the name would suggest, features a Tango rhythm style. This piece is a great choice for a beginner looking to add to their song list.
It is a fairly short song, though it does have some challenges. Namely, there are some tricky trills and some triplets that could pose a problem if you have rhythmic difficulties.
“B Minor Etude Op. 35 No. 22” by Fernando Sor
This etude by Fernando Sor is somewhat melancholic in nature and features a rolling texture that carries the composition. It has an excellent melody that really stands out amongst its harmonic accompaniment.
For the most part, this is a fairly straightforward etude. If you’ve learned some of the aforementioned pieces, you’ll likely have an easy time with this one.
If you don’t know Fernando Sor, he was a well-known 18th-century Spanish classical guitar composer. However, his work extends far beyond the guitar, having written several symphonies as well as an opera.
“Ode To Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven
Even if you haven’t listened to much classical music, you’ve no doubt heard the name, Beethoven. His works have stood the test of time as some of the greatest to ever be composed.
Ode To Joy is perhaps one of his most recognizable. If you’re familiar with Christian hymns, the song Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring is set to the music of this piece.
For those that have played the piano, you’ve likely learned this song as a beginner. This song also makes a great entry into playing the classical guitar. It can be played quite easily and you’ll be able to learn it quickly due to its memorable nature.
Ode To Joy is a true staple within the classical music realm. People of all ages are likely to be familiar with it, as it is often played to young children.
“Bourree In E Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach
Speaking of well-known composers, here is another piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bouree In E Minor is one of his most well-known works, which was originally written for the lute.
This piece has 2 different sections, with the first being the most recognizable. However, it has been suggested to spend some extra time on the second section due to its difficulty and unfamiliarity.
When playing, you’ll notice that this piece has a lot of notes that are played simultaneously on wide-spanning strings. This will help you get used to playing with a gap of unplayed strings in between what is being played.
“Bolero” by Maurice Ravel
In continuing to name the most famous classical pieces of all time, this list would be incomplete without Bolero. Ravel’s piece was originally first performed in 1928.
You’ve likely heard this before, as it features a motif that gets repeated over and over again. As the motif repeats, the intensity of the song increases.
It has been suggested that Ravel’s piece is a byproduct of the onset of dementia. There have even been some instances where people have become enamored with the song, only to decline themselves.
Do take extra precautions if you should find yourself completely enthralled with Bolero. You may just unravel mentally. All jokes aside, this is a great piece to add to your collection.
“Andantino In G” by Ferdinando Carulli
Looking for an excellent beginner song to get started playing classical guitar? Be sure to check out Ferdinando Carulli’s Andantino In G.
You might think to yourself upon listening that the famous Beatles’ song Blackbird shares a resemblance with the intro. I would have to agree, as it does share a similar ascending and descending pattern.
Regardless, this is a perfect song to get yourself learning classical guitar. It is relatively straightforward and does not have too many tricky parts.
“Lagrima” by Francisco Tarrega
Here is yet another entry by the esteemed composer Fransisco Tarrega. This piece, Lagrima, is one of the most well-known classical guitar works.
For the most part, this can be ideal for the beginner who is working their way toward more complex pieces. It features a few different motifs, with the middle being perhaps the most different compared to the beginning and end. The rhythm is paced at a gentle and casual walking pace, which is perfect for the newer guitarist.
Lagrima translates to “teardrop” which is fitting for the piece’s somewhat melancholic atmosphere. There are some moments of joy, however, so it is not completely a depressive-type song.
“Romanza” by Anonymous
Looking for a staple song for a beginner learning classical guitar? Romanza (often titled Spanish Romance) is one of these pieces. However, this work is not easy to play compared to some of the other beginner-level songs on this list.
This piece has 2 different sections with each taking place in a different key. The first section is in E minor and has a sort of melancholic mood to it.
The picking hand has a consistent pattern that is played throughout the entire piece. You’ll be well on your way once you are able to master the technique.
“Espanoleta” by Gaspar Sanz
Another excellent choice for a beginner is Gaspar Sanz’s Espanoleta. This is a relatively short piece with a memorable motif that is sure to come easy with practice.
Because of its simplicity, the piece allows for some ornamentation wherever you may deem it to be necessary. This can help to add a bit of extra spice to an otherwise straightforward piece.
Despite its short length, the piece does have quite a bit of exposition to its composition. It is a great example of how a simple melody can carry the listener and take them on a journey.
Gaspar Sanz was a well-known composer during his life. Throughout his life, he managed to write volumes of guitar studies that have become a commonplace staple amongst classical guitarists. He was also a poet and an author, though he is most known for his music.
“Waltz In E Minor” by Ferdinando Carulli
Carulli’s Waltz In E Minor is another excellent choice for beginners learning the classical guitar style. This piece is fairly open and features a pretty consistent pattern throughout the entirety of the song.
For the most part, this song features 2 different sections which are relatively similar to each other. One section features more of a rolling picking pattern with more complex instrumentation. The other section features more chordal instrumentation with more open spaces, bringing the piece to a nice resolution and close.
You’ll want to be sure to emphasize the melody of the song as the instrumentation provides a pleasant accompaniment. For the rhythm, it does have a waltz feel. However, you can (and should) play this at a tempo that feels comfortable for you.
As you may have noticed with the mentions of Carulli’s pieces throughout this list, many are ideal for beginners. However, do not let this deceive you, as Ferdinando Carulli was known as a guitar virtuoso in his own right. He has many pieces that are well-suited for advanced students as well.
“Op. 60 No. 1” by Fernando Sor
For the complete beginner working their way into the classical guitar repertoire, Sor’s Op. 60 No.1 is perfect. This is the first study from Sor’s 60th opus, which is very easy to play.
However, despite its easy notation, it’s important to be able to play with feel, as this piece is mostly melody. The phrasing is fairly symmetrical and is easy to recognize when each starts and ends. Implementing dynamics into your playing can really emphasize the melody in the right areas.
Do take extra care regarding the note sustain. You’ll be able to add a harmonic context that really dresses up the simple melody. Another note to keep in mind is to really stick to the picking pattern that makes the most sense.
Overall, Op. 60 No. 1 is a beautiful, breathy melody that really comes across well when played with the right intention. It’s also a great starting point in understanding how pieces are composed on the guitar.
“Tanz” by Georg Leopold Fuhrman
If you’re a beginner working through towards intermediate-level classical guitar, be sure to learn Tanz. This Renaissance-era piece was originally written for the lute but is quite enjoyable on the guitar. Its composition retains many elements that are inherent within music found in its time period.
Tanz is fairly easy to play for the most part. The piece does have a Drop-D tuning, which helps give a drone to the overall composition. This is especially pronounced with the rolling picking pattern that plays throughout the piece.
Amidst the rolling pattern is a melody that has an element of syncopation. This isn’t extreme syncopation by any means but can be a great start in understanding how the concept works.
If you’re having difficulty with the various elements within the piece, try isolating the melody and rhythm sections. Once you are able to play them separately, try practicing small sections of the two combined. Eventually, you’ll be able to play the song as one coherent piece.
It is always fascinating to be able to play a song that has managed to survive the test of history. Tanz was originally first published in 1615. Much has happened in the 400 years since, but we are fortunate enough to be blessed by works such as these.
“Country Dance” by Ferdinando Carulli
Yet another excellent Carulli piece that is very suitable for beginners is Country Dance. This is a relatively short and simple song that even those without a classical guitar background can master.
Country Dance is in the key of G major and has 3 different compositional sections. Each section consists of 8 measures, which are repeated before moving on to the next. The first 2 sections are played in G, with the last section shifting to G’s relative minor (E).
Once each section (and its repeats) have been played through, you will return to the beginning. However, there are no repeats upon the return. Instead, you’ll progress to the second section and play it once to end the song.
Compositionally, these sections are relatively similar. However, due to the nature of the minor key, the third section sounds notably different.
Rhythmically, Country Dance is written in cut time, so it does move at a foot-stomping pace. However, this pace is likely to be easy enough to handle once you are able to get the fingerings down.
“Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz
Did you think that most of these songs were going to be best suited for beginner classical guitarists? Think again! The song Asturias (or Leyenda) is a prime example of the level that every classical guitarist aspires to play at.
Yes, this song is quite difficult. Even listening to the piece can be quite bedazzling and entrancing. There are a large number of different techniques at play within this song, which makes it a great showcase piece.
Interestingly enough, this song was originally composed for the piano by Albeniz. It wasn’t until later that it became available for guitar due to Fransisco Tarrega’s transcription efforts.
The piece begins with a simple descending motif that quickly expands in its complexity. This motif is then accompanied by tremolo picking on the higher strings as well as staccato chord stabs. A melodic arpeggio then ends the first section of the song.
Asturias then takes a more intimate approach to the listener’s ear, but it is not devoid of technique. You’ll be employing harmonics amongst its octave-based patterns. Of course, this quickly becomes more difficult as the song progresses.
Your best bet is to take this one slow. Being able to master and play this song without mistakes is an incredible achievement few are able to accomplish. Your hard work will definitely pay off with this piece while astonishing those who get the chance to hear.
“Recuerdos De La Alhambra” by Francisco Tarrega
What list of classical guitar pieces would be complete without mentioning Recuerdos De La Alhambra? This is perhaps one of the most popular guitar pieces and frequently enjoys a slot in a performance encore. However, this is an incredibly difficult piece to master if you do not have the skills to play a song at this level.
Recuerdos De La Alhambra features tremolo picking throughout the piece. This lends an incredible delicate feeling to the overall piece, which is absolutely breathtaking when performed right. The real trick is to be able to emphasize the melody amongst the tremolo picking.
If you decide to take on this gargantuan guitar piece, it is best to take your time. You’ll want to break it up to focus on the melody within the song. Once you’re able to play the melody, take some time to study the various chord shapes within the song.
Afterward, play the song with a metronome at slower tempos to really focus on finger independence. This will help you to assimilate all of the various techniques and fingerings at play within the piece. Eventually, you’ll be able to play this up to speed.
It goes without saying that mastering this song and playing it well is an incredibly huge accomplishment. Doing so really shows the mark of a guitarist who has put the time into their craft.
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
You might be surprised to see Classical Gas on this list. Classical guitar purists will likely call this heresy. While not a traditional classical guitar song, this song has a well-deserved spot as one of the best.
Originally released in 1968, Classical Gas has become a hit phenomenon. Modern fingerstyle experts such as Tommy Emmanuel have busted this out to critical acclaim. In a sense, Classical Gas is a modern classical guitar song that’s sure to be popular well into the future.
Similar to the last few mentions on this list, Classical Gas is incredibly complex and difficult to play. There are many techniques at play within this composition that require a level of mastery to correctly pull off.
However, unlike all of the aforementioned pieces on this list, Classical Gas still retains modern music elements. Regardless, this is still a classical guitar piece at heart. Any serious classical guitarist will likely be able to pull this one off (and have fun doing it).
Your best bet is to take this song incredibly slowly, perhaps even a measure at a time. After you’ve spent some time mastering the small elements within the song, take care to bring the tempo up.
Classical Gas does have some repeated sections throughout. You’ll be able to pick up the song in a quick manner once you’ve mastered the hard bits.
Despite its modernity, playing Classical Gas is sure to please a crowd. Most people are very familiar with the famous melody within the song. Like Recuerdos De La Alhambra, this makes a great encore piece.
Top Classical Guitar Songs, Final Thoughts
All of the songs listed here are an excellent choice to add to any repertoire. Even if you don’t plan on performing them, learning these pieces will teach you a great deal about the guitar.
You don’t have to be a guitarist with a college degree to play these songs in front of an audience. In fact, you can probably find a willing audience at local establishments such as wineries and fine restaurants. If you pull out some of the more difficult pieces, you’re bound to gain fans and hold an audience’s attention.
Last Updated on February 10, 2022.
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