The Various Standard Types of Repertoire for Classical Guitar

In order to explore the various standard types of repertoire for classical guitar, we need to categorize the repertoire into two holistic categories as pieces which are originally written and pieces that are arranged/ adapted for the guitar (from piano, violin, etc.). Also, the changes guitar and its repertoire went through are considerable, afterward, the people who affected this process.

Original pieces

Renaissance-guitarThe pieces originally written for the guitar and the guitar’s predecessors (e.g. lute, vihuela) can be divided into categories according to their style, time- period, nationality, texture, technical and compositional matter. Basically, due to the difficulty of composing music for guitar which is not possible without either proficiency in the instrument or close collaboration with a guitarist, there have always been fewer guitar composers compare to piano, violin, etc. The early guitars had great limitation. Therefore, pieces written for the guitar at the time featured less technical difficulty. Since the baroque era, guitar began to have remarkable changes, when more well-known composers to be exact as Gasper Sanz (1640-1710), Johan Pachelbel (1653-1706), and Antonia Vivaldi (1678-1741) started to write solos, concertos, etc. for the guitar and make a considerable turn-point in the repertoire for classical guitar.

Still, the fundamental standard of guitar’s repertoire defined in the 18th and 19th century by few remarkable guitarist such as Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), Fernando Sor, (1778-1839), Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), etc. During this time, which is also known as the golden age for guitar, significant methods, studies and etudes have been written for the guitar (e.g. 24 studies for guitar op.48 by Giuliani, complete guitar method by Sor and Coste).

These standards developed through next eras along with other musical aspects. In 20th century a well-known guitarist called Andres Segovia encouraged a lot of composers such as Manuel Ponce (1882 – 1948), Joaquín Turina (1882 –1949), etc. who were not guitar composers, to write music for guitar. Even though Segovia tried to edit and somehow adapt these pieces according to guitar standards, these pieces have unusual fingering compare to previous eras. Similarly, guitar composers such as Barrios mangoré (1885-1944), H. Villa Lobos (1887-1959) couldn’t express themselves by the standards set before either. Overall, fingering of 20th century pieces are unusual compare to former eras. Correspondingly, the musicianship aspect of this era is complicated and requires more analysis. Therefore, new etudes introduced for the guitar, during this time, the most famous of all is the “12 etudes” by H. Villa Lobos.

It’s noteworthy to name some popular repertoire for the guitar, since these pieces can show an overview of the standard types for classical guitar during the history (e.g. Green Sleeves by anon., Remembrance of-Alhambra by F. Tarrega, Invocation y Danza by Joaquin Rodrigo).
Technically, depending on the nationality of a piece especially from the 20th- Century on, there are some unique standards for each piece that one can expect to see. For instance, Spanish composers would like to use ‘rasguado’ technique in their compositions while one never encounters a ‘rasguado’ in a say Russian piece.
Thus, time played a great role for guitar recognition and developments. Similarly, standard types of repertoire differed during the time to time.

Ex. 1: A renaissance standard piece by Alonso de Mudarra (1510 – 1580), Fantasia no.10


Ex. 2: A 19th century standard piece by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), Capricho Arabe.


Arranged/adapted pieces

Secondly, there are arranged/adapted pieces which are a big part of guitar repertoire. Arranged pieces had a great role in the technical development of classical guitar. Sometimes, they played the role model by some means for some guitar composers. They have also been a rich source of technical ideas that could be performed on guitar as well. Yet, arranging pieces for the guitar can be a quite challenging task, since one has to be aware of all the limitations and boundlessness of the instrument, as playing certain passages is not possible on the guitar. On the other hand, certain figures and passages such as “rasguado” can only be played on the guitar. Sometimes arrangers need to tune 6th and 5th or other strings to other pitches (e.g. it is common to change the 6th string from E to D, and 5th string’s A to G). At times, more than five versions of the same piece is arranged but what makes an arrangement standard is avoiding the un-usual fingerings and meanwhile having all important notes presented and if possible, adding some extra notes. For instance, the two arrangements of Albeniz’s Asturias by Segovia and Konard Ragossnig both have these three standards. Relatively, the quality of arrangements has also been improved during the time.

Ex. 3: The arrangement of Albeniz’s Asturias by Konrad Ragossnig from piano for guitar.


Meanwhile, Asturias is one of the most famous and popular pieces of classical guitar repertoire.

Ex. 4: The most varied arrangements are made of J.S. Bach works. The second one by Vincent Maurice has got higher standards.


Thus, an important part of classical guitar’s repertoire is made by arranged/ adapted pieces. Many original guitar compositions are inspired by pieces that are written for other instruments. Also, many popular repertoire of classical guitar are arranged/ adapted ones. Not all arrangements necessarily have good standards for the classical guitar. Importantly, a standard arrangement is the one which uses the full capability of the guitar and avoids the limitations. Finally, time had a great role in the improvement of the arrangements for the guitar.

An essay by Arash A.


One comment

  1. I wish I could play classical guitar!

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