These days, kids are exposed to all kinds of music, and many want to learn how to play an instrument. Guitars are particularly popular, and parents often face the question of which type to buy for their child – classical or acoustic?
Classical guitars are better than acoustic guitars for children. They have soft, round-wound nylon strings that are easy on the fingers. They also have wide necks, making them more comfortable to play with. Acoustic guitars are larger and have thick steel strings that can be harder on the fingers.
In this article, I’ll explore both types of guitars to discover how they work, their advantages and disadvantages, and the best kind of guitar for a child. Let’s get started!
What Is a Classical Guitar?
A classical guitar is a stringed instrument with a long slender neck and a round, hexagonal sound box. It is a descendant of the Spanish vihuela and baroque guitar.
The typical classical guitar has six nylon strings wound around metal cores. This combination produces a warm, rich tone that is well-suited to classical and flamenco music. The strings are stretched over a bridge on top of the soundboard. The strings are plucked with the right hand while the left hand presses down on the fingerboard to create different notes.
The neck of a classical guitar is broader than that of an acoustic guitar, which makes it easier to hold the chords. The strings are also spaced further apart, making hitting notes easier.
How Classical Guitars Work
Classical guitars are held on the lap and are played with the fingers, not a pick. The strings are plucked with the right hand, while the left is used to press the strings against the fingerboard, changing the tension on the string and altering its pitch. This type of guitar playing is called fingerstyle.
Fingerstyle playing produces a softer sound than strumming with a pick. It is also more delicate and nuanced, which makes it ideal for classical and flamenco music.
As the strings are plucked, they vibrate and create sound waves that travel through the air and are amplified by the guitar’s resonant chamber (sound box). The sound box is the primary source of the guitar’s distinctive tone.
The standard sitting position is to have the guitar’s body tilted so that the sound hole points away from the player’s body. This position allows the right hand to pluck the strings over the
sound hole while the left hand has easy access to the strings.
Classical guitars are played without amplification. However, they can be plugged into an amplifier or PA system using a pickup and 1/4″ audio cable for increased volume. Pickups can be installed on them but are not as common because the nylon strings produce a minimal signal.
The most quintessential quality of a classical guitar’s sound is how the strings are plucked. This technique, known as “articulation,” allows classical guitarists to produce a wide range of sounds by varying the pressure, speed, and angle of the right hand as it plucks the strings.
Some of these techniques include:
This technique is used to play two or more notes in quick succession. The right hand plucks the first note and then lets it ring while the left hand presses down on the second note. This technique produces a smooth, connected sound often used in fast-paced passages.
The staccato technique is a short, detached play style that is the opposite of legato. In staccato, the notes are played in quick succession but with a brief pause between each one producing a choppy, disconnected sound. As with legato, the right hand does all the plucking.
With this technique, the musician plays a note by plucking the string with the right hand instead of using the left hand to press down on the fingerboard. Pizzicato is often used in slower, more lyrical passages that require a softer sound. Generally speaking, this technique ends up lending itself to staccato.
Tremolo is a rapid, repeating vibration of the string produced by plucking it and then quickly releasing it. This technique has a fast, repetitive sound often used for a dramatic effect. The most common type of tremolo is the “double tremolo,” which rapidly alternates between two notes.
Although the right hand produces most of the sound, the left hand plays a vital role in shaping the tone and volume of the notes.
The left hand performs two main functions.
- Changing the tension on the string. The left hand presses down on the string at different points along the fingerboard. This changes the tension on the string and alters its pitch. As the tension on the string increases, the pitch gets higher.
- Articulation. The left hand can manipulate the string to produce different sounds. These articulation techniques include vibrato, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and harmonics.
Vibrato is a rapid back-and-forth movement of the left hand that changes the tension on the string and produces a wavering effect, adding expression to a note. The right hand plucks the string while the left hand moves back and forth, causing the pitch to wobble up and down to create a vibrating sound.
Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
These are two techniques used to play two notes in quick succession without plucking the string again. In a hammer-on, the left hand presses down on the string to sound the second note while the right hand is still plucking the first note. In a pull-off, the left hand lifts off the string to sound the second note while the right hand is still plucking the first note.
Harmonics are high-pitched, bell-like tones produced by lightly touching the string at specific points along the fingerboard while the right hand plucks the string. There are two types of harmonics: natural and artificial.
While the techniques described above are the most common, there are many other ways to produce sound on the guitar. Experimentation is the key to finding new and exciting sounds.
The size and materials used to make a classical guitar all play a role in its sound. Generally, the larger the guitar, the fuller and richer its sound. The shape of the guitar’s body also affects its sound. For example, a dreadnought (a large, rectangle-shaped guitar) will have a different sound than a classical concert guitar (a smaller, oval-shaped guitar).
The wood used to make the guitar’s body also plays a role in its sound. Different woods have different tonal qualities. For example, mahogany is often used for its warm, rich sound, while spruce is known for its bright, clear tone.
Advantages of Playing a Classical Guitar
- Easy on the fingers: The nylon strings are softer on the fingers than steel strings, and the fretboard is wider, making it easier to press down on the strings. This makes classical guitars an excellent choice for those just starting.
- Very comfortable to play: The wide neck and spacing between the strings make it easy to form chords, and the soft nylon strings are gentle on the fingers. It’s also a relatively small and lightweight instrument, making it comfortable to play for extended periods.
- Produces a rich, full sound: The large body and wide fretboard of the classical guitar allow for a greater range of tones. The resonant chamber also amplifies the sound of the strings producing a mellower, softer sound than steel strings.
- String tension: Classical guitars have a higher string tension, producing a louder, brighter sound and giving the guitar more projection. The higher string tension also makes the classical guitar more resistant to changes in humidity and temperature, making it a more stable instrument.
- Consistent sizing: Classical guitars are typically made in standardized sizes, making it easy to find one that is comfortable to play. Their size makes them portable, so they can be taken with you wherever you go.
- Affordability: Classical guitars tend to be a bit cheaper than steel-string acoustic guitars making them an excellent option for those on a budget or for those who are just starting out. And considering their many benefits, they offer great value for the price.
Disadvantages of Playing a Classical Guitar
- Lack of volume and power: The classical guitar is not as loud as other guitars, such as the steel-string acoustic or electric guitar. This can make it challenging to be heard in a band or ensemble setting. Moreover, the mellower sound of the classical guitar may not be suited for some genres, such as rock or metal.
- Nylon strings need consistent tuning: Unlike steel strings, nylon strings do not hold their pitch well over time. They need to be regularly tuned to maintain their correct pitch. More frequent tuning can be a drawback for some guitarists.
- Nylon strings are not heat or humidity-resistant: Changes in temperature and humidity can cause the nylon strings to stretch or loosen, resulting in changes in pitch. This can make it challenging to keep the guitar in tune in various climates.
What Is an Acoustic Guitar?
An acoustic guitar is a guitar that uses only acoustic means to produce its sound. These guitars rely on the strings’ vibration and the body’s resonance to create their sounds. The most common type of acoustic guitar is the steel-string guitar. These guitars have a bright, lively sound that is well-suited for many different genres of music, including country, folk, rock, and blues.
However, nylon-string guitars are also popular among many musicians. These instruments have a softer, more mellow sound often associated with classical and flamenco music.
Acoustic guitars are typically made of wood, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common type is the dreadnought, which has a large body and a wide-waisted form. Other popular types include the jumbo, the grand concert, and the parlor guitar.
How an Acoustic Guitar Works
The strings of an acoustic guitar vibrate when plucked or strummed. These vibrations travel through the bridge and into the body of the guitar. The guitar’s body amplifies these vibrations, and they eventually escape through the soundhole.
The body is hollow, and resonance occurs inside the guitar’s body and in the air outside the instrument. The soundhole projects the sound outward, and the body’s shape affects the guitar’s tone. For example, a dreadnought has a large body and a wide soundhole, which results in a loud, full-bodied sound.
The strings are attached to the body at the bridge. The bridge transfers the vibrations from the strings to the body. The strings are also connected to the tuning pegs at the headstock. The tuning pegs are used to tighten or loosen the strings, which changes the pitch of the strings.
The length of the strings, thickness, and tension also affect the sound of an acoustic guitar. For example, a guitar with thicker strings will have a fuller sound, while a guitar with lighter strings will have a brighter sound.
Playing an acoustic guitar involves holding the instrument in the lap or on the right thigh, with the left hand positioned behind the neck and the right hand plucking or strumming the strings. The strings are usually plucked with the right hand while the left holds down the strings at certain frets. This process is called fretting.
There’s a variety of different techniques that can be used to play an acoustic guitar, and the style of music will dictate which method is used. These techniques include:
- Strumming: a technique that involves moving the right hand back and forth across the strings with the thumb, the index finger, or a pick producing a continuous sound. Different strumming patterns can be used to create different rhythms.
- Fingerpicking: a more advanced technique that involves using the right hand to pluck the strings one at a time. This produces a more delicate sound than strumming and is often used in slower, mellow songs.
- Flat-picking: a technique that combines aspects of both strumming and fingerpicking. It is accomplished by holding a pick in the right hand and using the right hand to pluck the strings one at a time. This technique is often used in faster-paced songs.
The strings, body, bridge, and headstock all work together to create the unique sound of an acoustic guitar.
Advantages of Playing an Acoustic Guitar
- Portability: No amp or other electronic devices are needed to play an acoustic guitar. This makes them popular for many musicians, particularly those who play unplugged gigs or travel frequently. All you need is the guitar and your hands!
- Availability: Acoustic guitars are widely available and come in various styles and price ranges. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, there’s an acoustic guitar out there that’s perfect for you.
- Audible without amplification: Even without an amplifier, an acoustic guitar can be heard clearly. This is an excellent advantage if you’re playing in a small venue or don’t want to lug around an amplifier. These guitars are also powerful enough to be heard over other instruments, which makes them a good choice for playing in a band or ensemble.
- No complications: Acoustic guitars are relatively simple instruments, and they don’t require a lot of maintenance. There’s no need to worry about electronic components or batteries. What you see is what you get, and as long as you keep your guitar in good condition, it will last for many years.
Disadvantages of Playing an Acoustic Guitar
- Heavy strings: The strings on an acoustic guitar are thick, making them difficult to press down. Beginners or people with small hands may find it difficult to hold down the strings for long periods, making playing the guitar frustrating.
- High action: The action on an acoustic guitar is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. A high action means that the strings are further away from the fretboard, making it more difficult to press down the strings.
- String noise: The strings of an acoustic guitar are more likely to create noise when playing due to their thickness. This can be a problem when recording or playing in a quiet setting.
Classical vs. Acoustic Guitar for Child: Which Is Better?
As a parent, you want what’s best for your child, and when it comes to learning to play the guitar, you want to choose an excellent instrument for them. So, which is better? A classical guitar or an acoustic guitar?
Classical guitars are better suited for children because they are smaller and have narrower necks, making them easier to hold and play with. Classical guitars also have nylon strings, which are much softer and easier on the fingers.
Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, have steel strings. These are thicker and harder to press down, making them difficult for a child to play with. Acoustic guitars also tend to be larger.
The softer, mellower sound of a classical guitar may also appeal more to your child than an acoustic guitar’s louder, brighter sound. If your child is sensitive to loud noise, an acoustic guitar may be too much for them.
Both acoustic and classical guitars have their advantages and disadvantages, but when it comes to choosing the right instrument for your child, classical might be the way to go. As a parent, you want your child to have a positive experience learning to play the guitar, and a classical guitar is more likely to provide that.
Once your child gets a little older and wants to upgrade to an acoustic guitar, they can always do so. However, starting with a classical guitar will give them a better foundation and make learning to play more enjoyable.