Isaac Nicola during his studies in Europe

Isaac Nicola and the Cuban classical guitar method

The work of Cuban pedagogue Isaac Nicola (1916-1997) enhanced the classical guitar world. His Método de Guitarra, portrays some of his pedagogy’s main principles on technique. However, his approach to the repertoire compared to other contemporary methods is what makes this work unique and contributed greatly to the guitar repertoire. It is the result of a collective effort and years of teaching experience.

After retirement from performance career in 1957, Nicola devoted his life to teaching and working on developing the method that his mother Clara Romero (1888-1951), had created. Nicola’s method, started to be taught first at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory, and later it was implemented into the broader national music school system after the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. 

First published in 1973, in a much smaller version with only two books for the first and second years, the students used to copy them by hand because of the lack of hard copies. It started with a brief symbology and some introductory words from Isaac Nicola. The main objective of the method was to transmit to other professors and schools in Cuba materials and knowledge gathered through thirty years of pedagogical work. 

According to Nicola the content is basically taken from Clara Nicola’s method, which first edition was released in 1931, and revised and expanded by him following the pedagogical guidelines of his mentor Spanish Emilio Pujol (1886-1980). For this method’s edition Nicola collaborated directly with Marta Cuervo, colleague and professor that put together with him almost all the material of the first book.

Regarding this work, he explains in an interview that it was born out of necessity. That when he came back from his studies in Europe he started to make some changes in its organization and incorporated Pujol’s methodology, some exercises, and original music more inspired in the teachings of his mentor. This manner the method was continuously evolving and enriching from his experience with the students. He also added materials by Tárrega, Aguado. Marta Cuervo, and every student or colleague that collaborated one way or another. 

The 1973 edition, currently in possession of the Museum of Music in Cuba, portrays his ideas on classical guitar technique and music, in general.  But the work of Nicola goes beyond these books. He, along with a team of professors created the curriculum for all academic levels (elementary, middle, and undergraduate). Since 1973 and for over twenty years he visited as a National Assessor of Guitar different cities in Cuba supervising the guitar programs. He would teach and give guidelines to professors all over the country to enhance the program nationwide.

The 1973 version was updated with four books intended to cover all elementary level, from ages ten to fifteen. The first two books were published in 2001 by Editorial Atril-Abdala led by Nicola’s son Noel Nicola (1946-2005). The third and fourth books were published in 2003. 

Martín Octavio Pedreira Rodríguez (b. 1952), disciple of Nicola, worked with him intensively in the design of the last edition of the method and finished the work after Nicola’s death in 1997. Thus, he is considered co-author of the method. Some of Pedreira’s compositions with didactic approach were included in it. They were written to support the specific technical aspects depending on the stage of the student like the legato, slurs, arpeggios, scales, etc. 

Although the method embodies Nicola’s pedagogy and philosophy on guitar performance, it was the result of a collective effort. Both Pedreira and Nicola worked on the selection of the repertoire and authors included in the updated method. Each one of the pieces that appear there was carefully picked and discussed over by the two professors. It was organized so the students could develop skills and musicianship progressively. 

The method today represents a major pedagogical source in Cuba. But it also adds to the international context enriching the classical guitar standard repertoire with distinctive elements of the traditional Latin American and Cuban music. It served to promote Cuban composers and enhance the literacy of the instrument while working on traditional technical aspects of the classical guitar.