Guitar for Classical and Classic Rock

May 7, 2015

Graham Geist learns how to play songs better by studying classical music during a lesson with his teacher Steven Kennedy.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

Steven Kennedy regularly plays “Suite del Recuerdo” by Argentine composer Jose Luis Merlin during his concerts.  It’s one of the pieces he learned in 2006 while preparing his senior college recital. “I’ve kept it around because I still love it and it’s probably one that I get the most compliments from,” says Kennedy.

Kennedy is a 28-year-old full time musician that fell in love with the guitar as a teenager.  Back then, he emulated the sound of loud rock music, but when he enrolled in college his musical direction changed. “I ended up buying my first classical guitar about a month before my audition at Simpson College,” says Kennedy.  “I learned a very simple Bach aria, and from there I guess it’s taken over my life.”

It requires the absolute most complicated and precise technique.

After Simpson, Kennedy’s education continued in Nashville where he received his Masters of Music degree in classical guitar performance from Belmont University.  He moved back to Iowa in 2011, and now teaches private lessons to people like high school student like Graham ​Geist.  

Geist is taking lessons from Kennedy to learn how to play singer songwriter music. He also has an ear for bands of the not too distant past.  “I’m a classic rock guy,” says Geist.  “You know we got the Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and a bunch of other classic 80s and 70s bands.”

As Geist watches videos of Led Zeppelin, he carefully looks at what guitarist Jimmy Page is doing with his hands.  “He could do what probably no one else could do when it came to just jamming,” says Geist.  “And then you watch a classical guitar.  We were watching John Williams play, and you could see the technique and the style. So with classical it covers so many areas.”  Geist says working with music by composers like Bach helps him play everything better.

Steven Kennedy says if a person can play classical, they can play almost anything.  “It requires the absolute most complicated and precise technique,” says Kennedy.  “For somebody in high school to acknowledge that, as opposed to seeing you know just wailing away at the electric guitar with little technique, that speaks well for his understanding and as a teacher I love that.”

Classical Guitarist Steven Kennedy performing a concert at Capitol Hill Lutheran Church in Des Moines. Kennedy is also the president of the Heart of Iowa Classical Guitar Society and a teaches private lessons for guitar and piano.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

In addition to teaching, Kennedy performs a handful of concerts every year and is the president of the Heart of Iowa Classical Guitar Society, but soon he may return to being a student. “I’m debating if I want to go to school to get my doctorate,” says Kennedy.  “Here in Des Moines, Iowa we have a very good economy, so people have the discretionary funds to pay for lessons for their students. The downside to that is I do work a lot and I’d like to have at least a day or two off a week, so that’s something I’m kinda weighing here over the next couple of years.“


Kennedy also wants to record his second solo classical guitar album in a year or so, with an emphasis on music by South American composers.