Prelude by Matteo Carcassi

In this video we’ll look at the Prelude by Matteo Carcassi (Op.59, No.1). This brooding piece is excellent for the beginner classical guitarist and features an arpeggio texture with a singing bass melody. First you can watch a performance of the piece by Simon Powis and then a full lesson on how to play the piece and make it musical and atmospheric.

This piece comes from our book Easy Classical Guitar: Volume 1, Classical. You can download a PDF of the book in either notation or notation + TAB at this link.

Lesson: Prelude by Matteo Carcassi

Rhythms and Tempo Rubato

This piece features sixteenth-note rhythms. While you may not have encountered sixteenth notes in Grade 1 just yet, they are just an equal division of the beat into four. With eighth notes, an equal division of the beat into 2, we count: one-and, two-and, three-and, four-and. To count sixteenth notes we say: one-e-and-uh, two-e-and-uh, three-e-and-uh, four-e-and-uh. The entire piece has this same running, sixteenth-note rhythm. And pieces featuring this kind of continuous, running rhythm gives us a lot of space for expression with the time. We call this “tempo rubato.” We speed up and slowing down with tempo rubato. How do we know how to do that? Phrasing.


A phrase is a complete musical idea that makes sense unto itself. The first phrase is just two measures long. It doesn’t feel quite complete does it? That’s because it’s not complete—the music continues. The next phrase is also two measures long. It seems like an idea unto itself, but it’s still not quite complete. The music continues again with the third phrase and it’s only one measure long, quite a bit shorter. Yet again it’s still questioning, still incomplete. And then the last phrase, it’s a longer one, has a diminuendo, which means it will slow down and get quieter. What you’ll notice throughout about the phrasing is that it doesn’t really have a resolute ending. Each phrase is a question answered by the next, but never coming to a satisfying resolution. That’s what gives this piece its almost brooding nature.

Pedal Tone

Another thing you’ll notice in that last phrase is the use of a pedal tone on the low A on the fifth string. A pedal tone is named from organ music where organ players would use their feet to play the pedals. Essentially it means a bass note that continues underneath other material above it (even when harmony changes as it does here).

Right-hand technique

If we look closely at the beginning of the piece, we can see that the bass notes played by the thumb all have stems pointing down. This indicates they are a separate voice from the accompaniment notes played by the index and middle fingers. And really this bass line is the most interesting part of the beginning of the piece. It has movement and rhythm and is just more appealing. And so to feature that line, we can play that bass line louder. To do that, we can play i and m a bit softer, but also press into the string more with the thumb to bring it out more.

In the second phrase, the a finger plays a distinct musical line in the top voice. In combination with the bass it makes a bit of a duet. So we can bring out the top line by pushing the a finger a bit as well. Be careful about tone quality. It’s very easy to be bright and brittle when we make a right angle with the string. Instead, turn your wrist a bit to make the a finger strike the string more lengthwise. That will give you a warmer tone.

In the third phrase, the bass line is much more active, and then it almost does nothing at all in the last phrase. So be sure to bring out that extra motion again with the thumb in the third phrase while you relax into the pedal tone of the final phrase.

Left-hand technique

When we have left-hand chords, we need to put all of the fingers down together to form block chords that land on the beat. But when we play arpeggiated chords like they are here, we can put our fingers down sequentially. We can move them one at a time and stay very relaxed in the left hand. You’ll notice at the beginning that the A in the first measure is played by the second finger. But notice how that second finger can stay down on the string for the one and a half measures. That keeps the left hand stable and we don’t have to move it at all. So it’s worth digging into the fingering when we can leave fingers down as we transition through the music.

Now, in beat 2 of measure 2, the second finger needs to jump from the A to the E, from the third to the fourth string. And you can do this successfully. However, sometimes we can use a finger that is not being used to make an easier transition. For instance, if we use a three on the A instead of a two, it’s much smoother musically. So there’s an opportunity to re-finger the second measure to make it easier for the hand and it smooths out the transition to make it more musical.

The second phrase in measures 3-4 has the most active fingering. Think about using sequential fingering and also think about what fingers are free so you can get them ready to move early. For instance, the G in the bass on beat 3 of measure 3 can be over the G ready to go since the third finger is free at that moment. Following on from that the first finger is also free for the F on the first fret. We call this left-hand preparation, where the fingers are moving toward their next destination early.

Likewise, in measure 4 we can take advantage of sequential left-hand fingering to make this passage easier.


There is a lot of room for this music to be quite flexible. We can add some swells in the middle of phrases with dynamics. And we can also end phrases with a diminuendo, getting quieter, and maybe a rallentando, slowing down, as well. Tone colors also add a nice contrast. There are many things you can do with this simple piece.


We hope you enjoyed this lesson on the Prelude by Matteo Carcassi, Op.59, No.1. It’s a great piece for exploring musical ideas but with a simple texture. Don’t forget to download your PDF of the book so you can have the music as you learn the piece.

If you’d like to dive even deeper, you may be interested in membership at CGC Academy, our online school for classical guitar. Go here to learn more and join CGC Academy today.