The complete introduction to Aguado’s New Guitar Method by Brian Jeffery (1981)

Dionisio Aguado’s New Guitar Method, first published in Spanish as the Nuevo Método para Guitarra in Madrid in 1843, is an epoch-making work in the history of the guitar. Here are set out and discussed all the technical issues which concern modern players: correct hand-positions, angles of the fingers, ornamentation, special effects – always with an insistence on the one factor which more than anything else has enchanted today’s audiences: the magical sound of the guitar, its very special tone-quality and how to produce it. It is the most detailed and thorough of the early nineteenth century methods for guitar; and more than that, in it and in its earlier versions Aguado set out and codified for the first time the guitar technique which we use today. Because of the book’s continued relevance, as well as because of its functional position in the history of guitar technique, it has seemed desirable to make it available in English.

The text from which it has been translated is Aguado’s genuine and complete original text. The point is worth emphasizing. For although generations of guitarists have known that Aguado’s method for guitar was famous, and although Andrés Segovia has frequently recommended it to students, there have been several utterly different books on the market all claiming to be “Aguado’s method for guitar”. It was impossible to know which of the modern editions (if any) was authentic. The early editions themselves were confusing because of the many versions, editions, issues and translations which were published in the author’s own lifetime and which had not been distinguished by bibliographical work. Because we did not know which version was written at what date, it was impossible to assess accurately Aguado’s achievement or his place in history, and certainly impossible to use his evidence accurately in any historical discussion of the guitar. Nor were reliable editions of his pedagogical pieces possible, because their sources were not properly distinguished. Now the bibliographical research has been done, and is presented in this introduction for the first time in print. (1) The text in this book is that of Aguado’s own final edition and represents his fullest and final reflections on the subject of guitar technique, without the interference of any later editors or players.

Dionisio Aguado was born in Madrid in 1784, and died there in 1849. (2) He devoted his entire life to the guitar. Unlike his older Spanish contemporaries Sor and Moretti, he is not known to have composed any music whatsoever that was not for solo guitar; no choral music or piano music or ballet scores like Sor, no songs or chamber music like Moretti, nor even any guitar duets. Nor did he take any active part in the tremendous political events of his day: whereas Sor and Moretti were both commissioned officers in Spanish forces and fought in the battles against the invading armies of Napoleon, Aguado merely retired with his mother to his property in Fuenlabrada, a village outside Madrid, and devoted himself to the study of the guitar. (3)

The result is a certain lack of breadth of vision, but on the other hand an intense concentration on detail. No writer before him (or indeed, it is probably true to say, after him), in any country or at any period, studied and analysed guitar technique to such an extent. And there is no doubt of his success: the technique which he set out is, in all its essentials, identical with that which has been generally adopted today.

The “Escuela de Guitarra” (Madrid, 1825)

The essence of his teaching is already present in his first method for guitar, the Escuela de Guitarra, which he wrote in Spain in the early years of the nineteenth century and which was published in Madrid in 1825. Three copies of it are known to survive. The full title is as follows: Escuela de Guitarra, por Don Dionisio Aguado. Propiedad del author. Precio 120 R[eale]s. Con Licencia: Madrid. En la imprenta que fue de Fuentenebro. Año 1825. Grabado y estampado por B. Wirmbs. Se vende en la Guitarrería de Muñoa, calle angosta de Majaderitos. (4)

This early work is already a full and complete method for the guitar and represents an entirely new approach to the instrument. Aguado well understood this when he wrote in its “Prólogo” that the style of guitar playing had greatly changed in the recent past and that a treatise to deal with the modern style was needed. Also, of course, the instrument itself had recently changed, from the baroque guitar of the late eighteenth century with five double courses to the basically modern early nineteenth century guitar with six single courses. Aguado’s Escuela is the first comprehensive method for the modern type of guitar. Not only that, it is the first method for the instrument which is recognizably modern in its approach. It addresses issues which are still with us today, such as the differences in sonority between a note on one string and the same note on other strings at different frets (which he calls the “equísonos”), whether to play with nails or not, the angles of the left and right hands, and so on. Clearly it reflects new ways of thinking and a new methodology of teaching. To judge from the layout of the book, pedagogical ideas from outside Spain must have reached and influenced its author. Nevertheless it does stay in a number of respects within a native Spanish tradition – for example, in that as well as technique, it teaches the elements of music as applied to the guitar, something which Ferandiere had done only a few years earlier, in 1799, when Aguado was fifteen years old. (5)

The Escuela de Guitarra has 6 + 29 + 111 pages and 441 paragraphs of text. There are 131 lessons, each usually with both text and music (the music pieces are at first short and then longer as the book goes on). Altogether there is a great deal of explanatory text. There are also fourteen exercises for agility of both hands, and thirty studies. Sixteen of the thirty studies also appear in the 1843 method and have been published in modern editions; but the other fourteen do not, and as far as I know have not been published in modern times. Noteworthy pieces among these fourteen unpublished studies include no. 7 in C minor, and the very long and developed no. 29, in D.

The book, however, is far more than a collection of music: it is essentially a text which deals at length with all aspects of guitar technique. Its writing is clear, its music plentiful. It occupies a highly important place in the history of the guitar and must be studied by anyone in the future who attempts to write any kind of history of the instrument at that period or who is interested in historical performance practice. No modern edition of it has yet been published.

The Escuela de Guitarra, according to its “Prólogo”, was preceded by a collection of studies, composed in 1819 and apparently published in that year or shortly after, perhaps in 1820. Aguado writes: “Su falta [the lack of a method] me movió a escribir en el año de 1819 una Colección de estudios, cuya edicion se ha concluido hace algun tiempo; pero al publicarlos no tuve presente que sería dificultosa la inteligencia de los mismos en razón de carecer de un método elemental.” (“The lack of a method caused me to compose in 1819 a collection of studies, which has been out of print for some time now; but when I published them, I did not realise that they would be difficult to understand for lack of a method.”) No copy of this collection of studies is known to survive. [Note 2005: copies of this collection have now been located.] But from the description of it, it is clear that it contained only music and little or no text; and Aguado goes on to say that most of the studies contained in it were later also published in the Escuela. So now we know that some of Aguado’s famous studies for guitar (until a copy of the collection of studies is found, we do not know precisely which ones) apparently were composed specifically in Spain in 1819.

But a collection of studies is not a method. The two things are completely different, and Aguado in the passage quoted about made the distinction perfectly clear. A tendency among modern editors, therefore, to regard Aguado’s studies as constituting in themselves the essence of his method, must be firmly discounted: there is no question at all but that a method, according to Aguado himself (and, it may be said, according to any sensible teacher) is a text which discusses the technique of playing an instrument. Thus, when we speak of Aguado’s method for guitar, we must mean one of those versions of his method (there are three of them, as we shall see) which consist of an extensive text, with music that illustrates and complements it.

The Escuela de Guitarra might have had small influence on the world, had not its author travelled to Paris in 1826, after the death of his mother in 1824. There he met Fernando Sor once more (they had met in Spain many years earlier, in 1813 or before) (6), certainly benefited from wider musical horizons, and made himself and his Escuela known to a wider circle. He composed many new pieces, and played in a number of concerts. He was to spend some eleven years there. In Paris in 1826 there was published a second edition of the Escuela de Guitarra, with the same title and still in Spanish, and with practically no changes in Aguado’s text. (7) Also in Paris, in 1826, there appeared a French translation of the Escuela, under the title Méthode Complète pour la Guitare. (8) The translation was done by Aguado’s friend, lover of the guitar and military man François de Fossa, lieutenant colonel in the 23rd French Regiment of Line. (9) Again there are practically no changes in Aguado’s text. However, Fossa had contributed to the 1825 edition an appendix on the art of modulating on the guitar, and this appendix was enlarged in the second edition and translated into French in its enlarged form. We may guess that this French translation of the Escuela was the book which made Aguado best known at this time: French methods for the guitar were highly popular, and this translation would certainly have reached many of the guitar aficionados abundant in Paris in those days.

The “Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare” op. 6 (Paris, 1834 or shortly before)

The next method for guitar by Aguado is a completely different book. It is called the Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare, op. 6, and it was first published in Paris by Aguado himself, in French. It is not dated, but there is evidence that it first appeared in 1834 or shortly before. The full title is as follows: Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare par D. Aguado. Op. 6. Prix 15 f[rancs]. Propriété de l’Auteur. [Picture of a tripodison, with the legend:] “Tripodison, inventé par Aguado”. A Paris, Chez l’Auteur, Place des Italiens, No. 5, et chez les principeaux [sic] Editeurs de Musique. (10)

This book is shorter than the Escuela de Guitarra and has a different aim. The Escuela had been a large-scale undertaking, aiming to teach the whole of guitar technique as it existed at that time and as Aguado himself had developed it; it also taught the elements of music and provided much music for technical development. The new work has quite a different purpose: to enable the amateur to play agreeable pieces in a short time. This is set out clearly in the second paragraph: “En écrivant cet ouvrage je me suis proposé d’offrir à ceux qui aiment la Guitare les moyens de jouer en peu de temps des morceaux agréables.” (Italics original). (“In writing this work, I have set out to offer to those who love the guitar the possibility of playing agreeable pieces within a short time”.) And he says that using this book, satisfactory results can be obtained in as little as six months.

The book has 64 pages, and 172 paragraphs. It begins with a preface mostly devoted to recommending the use of the tripod. Then come 28 lessons, each devoted to a particular technical subject, and 34 exercises, which from lesson 15 onwards may be played along with the lessons. Of the 34 exercises, 12 are for the left hand, 12 for the right hand, and 10 for both hands. Nothing is said at the beginning about whether the book is intended for self-teaching or for use with a teacher; but in paragraph 96, a decision is specifically left to “le maître”, and so it seems that Aguado had a teacher in mind. It is specifically a simple method. There are instructions clearly set out, short pieces designed to give practice in technique, and commentaries on each piece. Altogether, the Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare, op. 6, is a good simplified method; it has interest for anyone studying Aguado or his history of the guitar, but it is not a major work as was the Escuela de Guitarra. None of the music, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is the same as any in the Escuela.

The Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare, op. 6, was published in a closely corresponding Spanish translation, called Nuevo Método de Guitarra, op. 6, by Campo in Madrid in about 1840. (11) And then the same Spanish version was published in a new edition (not a reissue, but a new edition, with text and music completely reset), entitled this time simply Método de Guitarra, Obra 6, by Schonenberger in Paris in about 1844/45. (12)

So the second of Aguado’s methods for guitar exists in three editions:
– The Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare, op. 6 (Paris, Aguado, 1834 or shortly before), in French;
– A Spanish translation of the same book, called Nuevo Método de Guitarra, op. 6 (Madrid, Campo, c. 1840); and
– Another edition of the same Spanish version, under the title Método de Guitarra, Obra 6 (Paris, Schonenberger, c. 1844/45) (plate number S. 1334)
As a kind of addition to it, there appeared in about 1837 Aguado’s Valses caractéristiques, servant de complément à la Nouvelle Méthode (copy: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale). This consists of a preface and 38 simple waltzes. Also in about 1837 there appeared another simple pedagogical work: La Guitare Enseignée par une Méthode Simple ou Traité des principes élémentaires, Pour jouer de cet instrument d’une manière agréable en peu de tems par D. Aguado (copy: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale). After an introduction, there are 22 lessons, each consisting of a waltz occupying one page, with discussions of various techniques on the facing pages; and six exercises. The musical quality is not high.

The “Nuevo Método para Guitarra” (Madrid, 1843)

Now we come to the only version of Aguado’s method for guitar which is at all familiar to modern players: the 1843 Nuevo Método para Guitarra, which we have translated into English for the present edition. In about 1837 Aguado returned from Paris to Madrid, and it was there that six years later he published this third version of his method: an entirely new book, even though it does incorporate some elements from the two earlier ones. When he wrote it, he was 59 years old, and had spent a lifetime devoted to the guitar and above all to its technique. Whereas the Escuela de Guitarra some twenty years before had broken completely new ground, and whereas the Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare had been designed for beginners, the Nuevo Método para Guitarra of 1843 is a synthesis of past experience, a long and mature work written after years of teaching and playing. In it we find Aguado’s teaching set out in its fullest form. It gives us the latest thoughts of someone who had devoted his life to the study of the guitar, thoroughly discussed and set in order for anyone to learn to play and make best use of the instrument. It is a different work from either the Escuela de Guitarra or the Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare. The full title is Nuevo Método para Guitarra por D. Dionisio Aguado. [Picture of a guitar mounted on a tripodison, with a paragraph of related text]. Grabado y estampado por Lodre. Impreso por Aguado, 1843. Se hallará de venta en Madrid en las guitarrerías de Gonzalez y de Campo, calle Angosta de Majaderitos, y en el almacen de Música de Lodre, Carrera de San Gerónimo, hoy calle de Zayas. Precio 90 r[eale]s [de] v[elló]n. (13)

The printing history of the Nuevo Método is somewhat complex. Although the book is a unity from a musical and didactic point of view, typographically it falls into two parts. The first part is paginated 1-56 and the musical examples are in a very strange-looking musical type. In his preface (q.v., in this edition) Aguado explains that the printer of the book, who was also named Aguado, possessed a fount of music type which he had never used and that the printer’s son Eusebito, a pupil of the composer, put the music in this first part of the book together. The second part of the Nuevo Método has music of a much more conventional appearance, a completely different type face for the text, and new pagination (1-87). This second part has the plate number “B.C.1”, from which one may suppose that it was engraved by or for the publisher of the book, Benito Campo. On the title-page of the earliest known issues are the words “Grabado y estampado por Lodre”: this can be interpreted as meaning either that it was Lodre who created the music type of the first part which was put together by Eusebito Aguado, or alternatively that it was he who engraved the second part for the publisher Benito Campo and added the plate number “B.C.1” for his employer.

The title-pages of the earliest known issues indicate that the book was sold “en las guitarrerías de Gonzalez y de Campo … y en el almacen de Música de Lodre”. A later issue omits the words “Grabado y estampado por Lodre” and “Impreso por Aguado” and is for sale only at Campo’s shop.

In a later edition published by Faustino y Asenjo, Madrid, the first part was completely reset and re-engraved, doubtless because of the eccentric appearance of the music in that part of the original edition, but the second part was reprinted from the same plates as the first edition. Curiously, Faustino y Asenjo nevertheless did not delete Aguado’s words about the strange appearance of the music even though that note was completely irrelevant now that they had re-engraved the music in question. – Subsequently, the method (and its Appendix, on which see below) went through various new editions and issues published in Madrid by Faustino Fuentes (successor of Fuentes y Asenjo) and by José Campo y Castro. (14)

To the Nuevo Método para Guitarra should be added the sixteen-page Appendix to it, which according to a note printed in the Appendix itself was in the press at the time of Aguado’s death in December 1849. It contains some further thoughts and reflections and is included in the present edition. The full title is: Apéndice al Nuevo Método para Guitarra que en 1843 publicó Don Dionisio Aguado. Madrid. Por Aguado, Impresor de Cámara de S[u] M[ajestad] y de su Real Casa. 1849. (15) Despite the date 1849, the note referred to above shows that it was in fact printed early in 1850. It is found bound with the Nuevo Método in some copies.

A Paris edition of the Nuevo Método para Guitarra, still in Spanish and with the same title, appeared in about 1844. The publisher was Schonenberger. (16) The plate number (S. 1320) shows that it appeared shortly before the Schonenberger edition of op. 6, which was discussed above, whose plate number was S. 1334, and whose title was simply Método de Guitarra, doubtless to distinguish it from the present edition. Perhaps Schonenberger decided first of all to print the 1843 text, and then sales may have encouraged him also to publish very shortly afterwards his edition of the Spanish version of the simpler op. 6.

Schonenberger’s edition of the Nuevo Método para Guitarra was reissued in about the 1880s, under the title Método para Guitarra, by the Paris publisher Lemoine, with a new title page but using the same plates. (17)

So the final version of Aguado’s method for guitar exists in two editions:
– The Nuevo Método para Guitarra (Madrid, 1843 and later editions and issues); and
– The Nuevo Método para Guitarra (Paris, Schonenberger, c. 1844) (plate number S. 1320) and its reissue from the same plates as Método para Guitarra (Paris, Lemoine, c. 188).

In addition, there is the Apéndice of 1849/50, to be added to the 1843 method and in fact in some copies bound in with it.

Aguado’s New Guitar Method is one of several famous methods of the early nineteenth century, the principal others being those by Carulli, Carcassi, and Sor. Giuliani wrote no method. Full bibliographical research remains to be done on Carulli and Carcassi, but it appears that their methods first appeared in 1810 and 1836 respectively. Carcassi’s is fairly long, contains some attractive music, and is simply written, which is doubtless why it has been reprinted and translated so often; it has nowhere near the intensity of Aguado’s. Sor’s Méthode pour la Guitare was first published in French in Paris in 1830 and is a fascinating and highly intelligent work which deserves study by anyone interested in the instrument. But Carulli’s is the only one of the three which predated Aguado’s Escuela of 1825, and though it is clear from the Escuela that Aguado knew Carulli’s music, there is no evidence that he was influenced by Carulli’s method. It seems that Aguado was above all a product of the Spanish tradition. He knew the music of baroque Spain, was taught by the Spanish Cistercian monk and court favourite Miguel Garcia (otherwise known as Padre Basilio), and must have known the music of Moretti and the early guitar music (such as the sonata now known as Grand Solo) of Sor. His prose style shows him to have been an educated man, with the intellectual curiosity of the nineteenth century, and there is no doubt that that education and intellectual curiosity were acquired in Spain. It follows, then, that the honour of establishing the foundation of the guitar technique which we still use today belongs firmly to Spain.

Where exactly does the value of the New Guitar Method lie? Firstly, in its extraordinarily detailed coverage of almost all aspects of the technique of the playing the guitar: anyone who studies the book and successfully works his way through it will probably have received the most solid grounding in technique that any book can give him. It may seem surprising to some, but it is true, that all the essentials of today’s guitar technique are already in Aguado. No major changes have taken place since his day. Hand-positions, angle of the fingers, type of stroke, use of the nails, arpeggio technique, special effects – all are there in terms which are directly relevant to the modern player. Apoyando, for example, is discussed: see Lesson 50, in which Aguado insists that the right hand finger, after striking two strings, shall come to rest on the third. (18) In some respects, Aguado is even in advance of us: thus, in Study no. 8, bar 3, his fingering indicates inexorably the use of the little finger of the right hand (see also paragraph 370, 2). The theory, which is sometimes heard, that guitar technique was fundamentally revised and altered at the end of the nineteenth century by Tárrega and others, is now shown not to be true.

The New Guitar Method is important historically, because from it and from its earlier versions, we can date so many aspects of guitar technique. But above all and perhaps unexpectedly, it is important because it emphasizes the very aspect of the guitar which today, through concerts and records, and especially through the playing of Andrés Segovia, has caught the imagination of millions of people: the beauty of sound of the guitar and how that sound should be achieved. “I decided that I should concentrate principally on the best method of producing full, rounded, pure and agreeable sounds”, writes Aguado; and again: “the guitar has its own particular nature: it is sweet, harmonious, melancholy… its sounds are susceptible to modifications and combinations which make it mysterious, and very appropriate for melody and expression”. Throughout the book it is clear that the quality of sound is a primary concern of his. He himself, it appears, produced a very beautiful sound. Here is the historian Baltasar Saldoni describing his playing: “I was awakened by music that seemed celestial; and I wondered what instrument it could be that charmed me so, such were the sweetness and softness of its sounds and harmonies, produced by the manner in which its strings were struck…” (19)

Aguado does not merely recommend full, beautiful, and varied sounds on the guitar: he tells you how to achieve them. And above all they are achieved by a certain kind of right hand finger stroke, at a certain angle, with a certain degree of strength, and with a certain position of knuckles, and with a certain very exactly described combination of the nail and the flesh of the fingers of the right hand. Certain modern writers have got this wrong. They say that whereas Sor played with the flesh of the fingertips, Aguado used the nails – as though Aguado played only with the nails and not with the fingertips at all. (20) This is incorrect. If we look at what Aguado actually wrote, we find that he specifically says that the string should not be struck with the nail alone, “because then the sound would certainly not be very agreeable”. His way of achieving a beautiful sound on the guitar is to strike the string first with the flesh of the fingertip and then immediately with the nail: “The string is first played with the fingertip… and then the string is immediately slid along the nail.” (paragraph 37) Now this is not a point of small interest: it is of the greatest importance to the history of the guitar, because the quality of the sound produced by the instrument, through its appeal to concert audiences, is largely responsible for the guitar’s present great success. Andrés Segovia, who has enchanted so many people with the beauty of his sound, uses just such a combination of nail and flesh and has refined and developed it for his own use. (21) We can now show that the original idea of using a combination stroke for the sake of beauty of tone, the root from which today’s sonority his grown, is not an invention of this century: we find it already in Aguado, a Spaniard who developed his ideas in Madrid before he ever left Spain, and so it is true beyond a shadow of a doubt to say that the magical sound of the classical guitar today has its roots deep in the history of Spain.

There is one respect in which Aguado’s idea did not catch on. That is in the use of a special device which he invented, the tripod (he originally called it the tripodison, but later abandoned that name). This was a three-legged wooden stand placed in front of the player, with a metal section attached to it in which the guitar was firmly held. It offered two advantages. One was that the player did not have to support the guitar, so that his fingers and arms were completely freed for the tasks of stopping and plucking the strings; and the other was the guitar could produce the fullest and richest sound of which it was capable, because it was freed from anything touching it which might deaden any of its vibrations. Aguado’s tripod should be seen in the context of the many nineteenth century devices and changes in instruments – vast numbers of them – some of which succeeded and are still with us today, and some of which did not. Aguado’s invention, even though it seems that it may well have worked, died with him. Today some people are experimenting with it once again, with new ideas and with notable success; but meanwhile the reader, if he wishes, may ignore the references to the tripod in this book. Aguado specifically says that everything in the New Method is perfectly valid whether one use the tripod or not.

It appears that Aguado was also involved with another physical aspect of the guitar; a new type of bridge. Today we almost universally use this type of bridge into which is inserted a piece of material to serve as a kind of nut, rather than the older type of bridge prevalent in the nineteenth century and earlier. In paragraph 27 of the New Method Aguado says that he believes that it was he who invented the modern type of bridge, in 1824 (that is to say, while he was still in Madrid). Research has still to determine whether or not this claim is true. In the Escuela of 1825, p. 25, he says simply that this type of bridge is “de invención moderna”. Whether or not Aguado was the inventor, this at least establishes that by 1825 the modern type of bridge was in existence.

The New Guitar Method throws interesting light on early nineteenth century performance practice. In paragraph 295, Aguado discusses the ways in which music can be varied on the guitar, and he takes as an example a bar from Sor’s Fantasia, op. 7. Today, few players would think of varying a note of so complex and formal a work. Yet we know that in the early nineteenth century, the art of varying complex compositions was far from dead, and Aguado’s examples show us some ways in which that varying might be done – and by inference, apparently was done at the time. Players may wish to start from paragraph 295 and explore the application of some of Aguado’s ideas to other early nineteenth century guitar works. – Another aspect of performance practice, a surprising one, is the appearance in paragraphs 280-81 of 22 preludes which, says Aguado in his Preface, “can be performed before beginning a piece of music”. This tradition of playing a short quasi-improvisatory piece before a more formal one is of course very old, going back to the Renaissance and beyond, and its appearance here in a book published in 1843 is of the greatest interest. Again, readers may care to explore the use of these preludes in the way in which they were intended.

In this edition, we have kept closely to the original 1843 text, using the copy in my own collection. That copy has a list of errata; we have incorporated these and have also silently corrected some dozen other errata which were discovered in the course of translation. Our printer has taken over and used some of the actual designs and ornaments which appeared in the original 1843 edition. The music has been completely reset. The footnotes are Aguado’s own, except those in square brackets which are ours. Spanish words have been kept where they are internationally known today as the normal terms for the techniques or sounds in question, such as arrastre or campanelas; and in some other cases the Spanish words have been translated but are also given in parentheses where it is of interest to know the original term used, such as “silenced sounds [sonidos apagados]”. In the music, the original 1843 text has been respected. Nothing has been added, nothing taken away. All fingering, phrasing, dynamics, metronome markings and other indications, are Aguado’s own. Conventions of notation have been modernised, and obvious errors are corrected without note; otherwise we have changed nothing and added nothing.

Aguado’s interesting fingering follows a different principle from that used today. Modern editors of guitar music use fingering principally as an aid to sight-reading: to tell the player what fingering to use without his having to look ahead. Aguado, on the contrary, gives the reader credit for sight-reading ability, and restricts his fingering to places where there is a choice, where he wishes to recommend one particular fingering rather than another which might have been possible. In some places, his fingering will surprise the modern player, and indeed some modern editors of his music have changed it, on the assumption that the original fingering was false or irrational. However, a close examination of Aguado’s fingering shows that he always has a very good reason for what he does, and his fingering should not be rejected without very careful consideration. For example, in the first bar of Lesson 17, he indicates that two successive notes should both be played with the index finger of the right hand; he insists on this same point also in bars 2 and 5 of the same Lesson, and also in Lesson 24; and this is certainly in order to obtain a particular sonority and particular placing of the musical accent.

To sum up: the picture that emerges from Aguado’s various methods for guitar is that of a man who dedicated himself for many years to the technique and pedagogy of the instrument. Beginning his study in Spain during the political turmoil of the first years of the nineteenth century, he continued it during the calmer years that followed there, and later in Paris and back in Madrid. It was a collection of studies, initially, that preceded and gave rise to his first large-scale method, the Escuela de Guitarra. A simpler method followed in Paris, the Nouvelle Méthode de Guitare, op. 6. And finally, a few years before he died, he produced a synthesis of both of these methods and of his long experience, in the Nuevo Método para Guitarra of 1843. There is no doubt that the three versions of Aguado’s method, along with Sor’s Méthode pour la Guitare of 1830, are the central texts for the history of the guitar and its technique in the classical period. But not only that: this great classical method has much to say to us still. It has influenced guitarists ever since it was first published, and there is no doubt that it will continue to do so. The present English translation of it will help to make this possible.


(1) A shorter version of this introduction was published in advance of this book as “I metodi per chitarra di Dionisio Aguado” in Il Fronimo, Milan, 1980.

(2) The information about Aguado given here is of necessity based on my own research, since no serious research on him has yet been published. The reader should be warned that a large number of statements about his life given in encyclopedias and music histories are false, either slightly or glaringly. Editions also are unreliable. Thus, one edition called Aguado-Sinopoli: Gran Método Completo para Guitarra (Buenos Aires, Ricordi, n.d. [c. 1947?] is a mere compilation by Sinopoli based only vaguely on Aguado, with pieces by a variety of composers. Another, called Aguado: Método de Guitarra, nueva edición revisada por R, Sainz de la Maza (Madrid, Unión Musical Española, 1943; slightly revised reprint, 1977) contains nearly all music and little text and has no value to anyone interested in Aguado’s ideas on technique or pedagogy, for those ideas are nearly all omitted or seriously altered. Only one edition in Spanish, published by Ricordi in Buenos Aires under the title of Aguado: Método Completo de Guitarra (plate number BA 6231) is somewhat close to Aguado’s own 1843 edition, though with many small changes – but there is no way for the reader to know that that is the case, for the edition does not tell us so.

(3) Baltasar Saldoni, Diccionario De Efemérides de Músicos Españoles, II (Madrid, 1880), pp. 251-4, article “Aguado.” Saldoni’s article is based, often word for word, on the corresponding article in the Diccionario de la Música of José Parada y Barreto (Madrid, 1868), which in its turn is based on an article on Aguado published in the short-lived Gaceta Musical, I (Madrid, 1855). See also (with reservations) M. Soriano Fuertes, Historia de la Música Española, IV (Madrid and Barcelona, 1859), pp. 212-3.

(4) Copies are in London, British Library; Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional; and Chicago, Newberry Library. The title above is taken from the Madrid copy. The date on all three copes is 1825. Yet in the preface to his 1843 method, Aguado wrote that he had published the Escuela in 1820. (This is doubtless the source of R. Sainz de la Maza’s statement, in his edition listed in footnote 2, that Aguado’s method was first published in 1820). Until now, however, no copy has been found with a date earlier than 1825. Domingo Prat, in his Diccionario…de Guitarras …(Buenos Aires, 1933), p. 130, states that he is writing with a copy of the 1820 Paris edition before him; but this is demonstrably incorrect, since the first Paris edition certainly does not date from before 1825 or 1826 (see below), so perhaps Prat’s whole reference is wrong. Certainly no copy has yet been found with the date 1820, and unless and until one is found, the existence of an 1820 edition of the Escuela must remain hypothetical.

(5) See Fernando Ferandiere, Arte de tocar la Guitarra Española por Música (Madrid, 1799) (Facsimile edition: London, Tecla Editions, new and much augmented edition, 2013).

(6) Fernando Sor, Méthode pour la Guitare (Paris, 1830), p.22.

(7) Copies are in Barcelona, Orfeó Català, and in the New York Public Library.

(8) Published by Aguado himself from the Hotel Favart, and distributed by Meissonnier, Chanel, and Richault (four copies in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, and one in London, British Library). A later issue is known, published by Richault alone (copies: Copenhagen, Royal Library; Washington, Library of Congress; St. Louis, Missouri Historical Society; and my own collection). The date 1826 for the first issue is established by a note in Aguado’s own hand on one of the Bibliothèque Nationale copies (shelf-mark L 17003): “Je certifie le present exemplaire de consigne conforme à l’édition entière qui en a été faite. Paris 14 Septre 1826. [Signed:] D Aguado.” – This note also gives us, incidentally, a more precise date than was hitherto possible for the arrival of Fernando Sor in Paris from Russia. In my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist (London, Tecla Editions, 1977), p. 86, I stated that Sor left Russia for Paris in late 1826 or early 1827. But the French translation of Aguado’s Escuela, published as we now know no later than September 1826, has a note on page 4: “Ceux qui ont entendu Mr Sor se souviendront que…”. This strongly suggests that Aguado had himself heard Sor play (it is most improbable that he is referring to their meeting long ago in Spain in 1813 or before), and therefore that by 14 September 1826 Sor had already returned to Paris from Russia.
– While this book was in proof, two entries in the Bibliographie de la France came to light, which show that both the Paris editions were planned by June 1826, and that the French translation was made by de Fossa in direct consultation with (“sous les yeux de”) Aguado. The first, on 21 June 1826, reads: “Souscription à une méthode complète de guitare, publiée en espagnol par don Dionisio Aguado, traduite en français par M. de Fossa, sous les yeux et suivant l’intention de l’auteur, sur le manuscrit corrigé et augmenté pour servir à la deuxième édition espagnole. In 40 d’une demi-feuille. Impr. De Gaulthier-Laguionie, a Paris. – A Paris, chez Meissonnier aîné, boulevart Montmartre, no. 25; chez Schlesinger, chez Pacini. Cette méthode comprendra environ 150 planches. Elle paraîtra dans les deux langues. Le prix marqué, soit en espagnol, soit en français, est de 30-0. Les souscripteurs ne paieront leur exemplaire que 12-0”. The other, on 27 September 1826, announces the actual publication of at least the French edition: “Méthode complète de guitare, par Aguado. Prix 30-0. A Paris, chez Aguado, hotel Favart, place des Italiens”.

(9) His rank is specified in the dedication to him of Aguado’s Trois Rondo [sic] Brillants, op. 2 (Paris, Meissonnier) (copies in Barcelona, Orfeó Català, and Washington, Library of Congress).

(10) Copies in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (one of them incomplete), and Washington, Library of Congress. With a lithograph by Hippolyte Adam showing Aguado using his newly invented tripodison. That it was published in 1834 is suggested by an inscription on one of the Bibliothèque Nationale copies: “Déposé à la Direction Xbre [December] 1834”; and the book was also listed in the Bibliographie de la France on 24 January 1835. However, since the Bibliographie de la France listed on that date not only op. 6 but also a whole series of works by Aguado from op. 6 to op. 14 inclusive, this dating is not entirely reliable as an indication of recent publication and it remains possible that op. 6 was in fact published somewhat earlier.

(11) Copies in the New York Public Library and in the collection of Mr. Rodney Nowakowski. The edition was probably published after Aguado returned to Madrid from Paris in about 1837, and certainly before his death in 1849, because the New York Public Library copy bears his signature. It includes the lithograph of Aguado by Adam. (The New York Public Library copy has been recently rebound, and the modern spine bears the date “1825”; but this dating is certainly erroneous, doubtless through confusion with the Escuela de Guitarra of 1825).

(12) Copy also in the New York Public Library. The plate number is S. 1334; not to be confused with the Schonenberger edition of the 1843 version, whose plate number is S. 1320 and on which, as well as on the dating, see note 16 below.

(13) The earliest known copies appear to be those in the collection of Mr Vladimir Bobri and in the library of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. The evidence for the early date is the address of Campo, given in those copies as “calle Angosta de Majaderitos”. The title above is taken from the Lubbock copy. In copies in the Orfeó Català, Barcelona, and in my own collection, Campo’s address is given as “calle de Cadiz (antes angosta de majaderitos) No. 16”, which indicates that those copies are from a later issue. A lithograph portrait of Aguado is included. This and the lithograph by Adam in op. 6 are the only known portraits of Aguado.

(14) A copy of the Faustino y Asenjo edition is in Barcelona, Orfeó Català; and of the Faustino Fuentes issue in Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya.

(15) The title above is taken from a copy in my own collection.

(16) Copies in Washington, Library of Congress, and Boston, collection of Matanya Ophee. – The Schonenberger edition of the Nuevo Método has its price in Spanish currency (“5 Duros”), and in the copy of Matanya Ophee there is a long list of musical works published by Schonenberger and “Traducidos al Español”, with prices in both Spanish and French currency (“reales de vellon” and francs and centimes). The Schonenberger edition of op. 6 also has its price in Spanish currency (“60 Realles”). Since the market for musical works in the Spanish language must have been small in Paris, it seems very likely that the works in this list were intended not primarily for distribution in Paris, but rather for export, to be shipped to Spain and (doubtless) Spanish America and sold there. In the case of the two Aguado methods published by Schonenberger (the Nuevo Método and op. 6), since the texts are identical with those of the Spanish editions published by Campo, there is a strong suspicion that Schonenberger simply pirated the Campo editions and shipped his own pirated books out to Spain, where, of course, they would be competing directly with Campo. This throws interesting light on the music trade in Spain at this date. – In the absence of published research on Schonenberger plate numbers, we must rely on other evidence for dating these editions. Such evidence is provided by a plate in the Ophee copy of the Schonenberger edition of the Nuevo Método, showing a lady playing the guitar, headed “Colocation [sic] de la guitarra sin la trípode”, and labelled at the bottom “Paris, chez Schonenberger, Boul. Poissonnière 28, Ancien 10”. There is no corresponding plate in the Campo edition. The words “Ancien 10” refer to the fact that Schonenberger moved from no. 10 Bd. Poissonnière (where he was in 1833, according to Cecil Hopkinson, A Dictionary of Parisian Music Publishers, London, 1954) to no. 28 (where, according to Hopkinson, he was established by 1843). The reference to his old address must mean that the plate, and therefore the edition, was produced not long after the move; otherwise it would have no sense. Since we know that the Campo edition of the Nuevo Método in 1843 is definitely the first edition, because Aguado tells us about its genesis in his preface, the Schonenberger edition must be posterior to it. It follows, therefore, that the Schonenberger edition was published no earlier than 1843 and very little later: perhaps in 1844. And as the Schonenberger edition of op. 6 has a plate number which is very close to that of his edition of the Nuevo Metodo (S. 1334 and S. 1320 respectively), we may again guess that the Schonenberger edition of op. 6 was published in about 1844 or 1845.

(17) Copies in Washington, Library of Congress, and Boston, collection of Matanya Ophee.

(18) This subject was treated by Matanya Ophee in a paper delivered at the conference of the Guitar Division of the American String Teachers’ Association at Lubbock, Texas, in October 1979, and to be published in Guitar Review, no. 49.

(19) The whole of Saldoni’s charming description of his meeting with Aguado at the Hotel Favart in Paris is reprinted in my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist, pp. 107-8.

(20) Grunfeld, The Art and Times of the Guitar, pp. 187-90

(21) See Vladimir Bobri, The Segovia Technique (New York, Macmillan, n.d. [1972?]) and Charles Duncan, “The Segovia Sound: What is it?”, Guitar Review 42, 1977, pp. 25-31.

Click here to return to the main page for Aguado’s New Guitar Method