Many of us probably think we know how to hold a guitar, but did you know that how you hold this instrument influences how you play? Holding your guitar correctly and with proper posture can make it easier to learn how to play, save you from aches and pains during longer sessions, and improve your overall sound. Many new players suffer from these issues, and a few adjustments to your form may be the solution.
Why Hand Positioning Matters on the Guitar
The position of your hand and the posture that you use when playing the guitar can impact:
- How comfortable it is for you to play your guitar
- Strumming technique
- Fingerpicking position
- The positions of both your right and left hands
Improper form can make your guitar harder to play due to the awkward positioning of your hands and body in relation to the instrument. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to have good posture to prevent injuries, stiff muscles, and tension.
Many chairs and other pieces of furniture do not support proper hand positioning, and you should avoid using these items as seating. Poor seating choices can negatively impact your ability to play, and may also cause you some discomfort if you try to make it work for a session anyway. You'll want to be sure and stretch on occasion as well no matter how good your posture.
Further Reading: How to Hold Your Guitar Pick
Casual vs. Classical Positioning
Positioning while playing the guitar can vary based on which of your hands is dominant. Many instructors also recommend that new students use a footstool. This tool can help for casual or classical positions when playing the guitar, and the stool elevates your leg to increase your comfort.
Having the guitar up slightly higher in relation to the rest of your body will also make it easier to play and see what you are doing as you practice. The footstool will prevent your leg from getting tired as you try to hold up the guitar, but you should avoid slouching the guitar to your chest to get a better view.
Moving the instrument in this way will cause more fatigue as you practice and can cause poor posture that can lead to you feeling sore.
Learn more about mastering the basics of guitar before moving onto playing songs!
The Classical Position
For right-handed players, you can put your left foot on the footstool, and place the guitar on your left leg. The stool works to elevate the guitar in the same way as in the casual position, but playing the guitar this way can be more difficult for some musicians.
Many players will utilize a strap when sitting in this position, which can place the guitar in a more favorable position in relation to your body. Your hands can then reach various notes more easily.
If you're struggling in this positioning, consider a guitar made for smaller hands.
Using a casual style for playing guitar will allow you to sit upright and keep your guitar straight, so it's parallel to your torso. Many new players will slouch over their guitars, but you should try and avoid this at all costs as it changes the way your hands align with the guitar, and can also cause tension and fatigue throughout your body.
Another essential element to watch is the position of your strumming arm. This arm should wrap around the guitar tightly and keep the instrument close to your chest so it, and you, are unable to slouch.
Standing and Using a Strap
Guitar straps are generally inexpensive for basic models, but you can get fancy ones that cost hundreds of dollars. There are some DIY strap options available, but a decent strap for your guitar is worth investing in if you plan to stand for performances.
If you plan to stand when performing, it's best to practice while standing, so you can get used to the feeling and identify potential areas where you need improvement. You may also sit in addition to standing during a performance, but you'll want to practice both positions in advance.
Further Reading: Learn to Tune a Guitar Perfectly
Sitting to Play
Sitting down to play is the most common way to play the guitar when you first start, but finding the best chair might be a challenge depending on what furniture you have around. A couch is less than ideal because it doesn't offer enough support and will allow you to slouch into an unfavorable position.
An armchair is an equally bad choice because the arms will restrict your movement as you play and may also lack the type of firmer support you need to maintain proper posture. Many chairs with arms won't allow for the kind of movement you'll need when playing the guitar, and they can cause you to adopt positions that end up causing discomfort. If you're taking one of my recommended online guitar lessons, you'll likely be sitting down and looking at your computer, so keep these tips in mind especially when learning from one of these online platforms!
High stools are another item to avoid as there is very little stability, and you may feel unbalanced while sitting in one. A high stool also doesn't allow you to prop up your guitar like a conventional armless chair, so you'll want to have a strap to make playing easier if there's no other option.
Ideal Seating Options
The best chairs for playing guitar are surfaces where you have plenty of space to move around and any type of chair without arms. Your legs should be at a 90-degree angle, and you should be able to sit upright comfortably.
It's less important what you sit on than the position of your body when you play. Furniture can significantly restrict the progress you make when learning the guitar, and the ability to freely move your arms is incredibly essential. The goal here is to control the guitar and to do that you need to be upright and looking over it for the best possible angle.
Check Out: My Jamorama Course Review for Beginners to Guitar
The Placement of Your Left Hand
Your left hand, traditionally referred to as your "fretting hand," is responsible for working the neck of the guitar and moves along the frets found there. Your thumb rests behind the neck, and your first two fingers should wrap around the front comfortably to rest on the strings.
Using these fingers, you can press on the strings to rest them very close to, but not on, the fret. This process is more natural when you have short nails, so they don't get in the way by touching the frets or fretboard.
Placing Your Right Hand
Placing your right hand is easy as you rest your upper arm on the top part of the guitar and pull the instrument in close to your body as you sit upright. Your hand should rest over that hole in the front of the guitar, called the soundhole, and you can relax your hand, wrist, and arm until you are ready to play.
Fingerpicking and Using a Pick
Proper fingerpicking position will allow you to easily manipulate the pick above the soundhole while also resting your arm in the correct place to minimize fatigue. Using a pick is a relatively easy thing to master, and you'll want to hold it firmly between your thumb and the index finger on the same hand.
Holding the pick firmly in your hand is necessary as you learn to strum your guitar. If you've positioned your arm correctly, you can make this process more comfortable and more natural. Hold the pick, bend your fingers slightly, and use the inside of your forearm to stabilize your hand.
Traditionally you'll play the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings (the bass strings) with your thumb, and the index finger plays the 3rd string. The first and second strings fall under the ring finger and middle finger, respectively, but there are other methods for fingering. Whichever finger you are using, you'll want to utilize the tip of your finger when playing. I have a great choice for my favorite acoustic guitar for picking in my buyers guide. I recommend you check it out!
Thoughts on Guitar Size
Guitars come in multiple sizes, and you'll want to make sure you get the correct size to make holding it a more natural process. Your elbow should land somewhere between the strap button and the bridge of the guitar, and your arm should rest comfortably on the top of the guitar body. Variants such as bass guitars can also really change the way you hold it, so keep that in mind as well!
The job of your elbow is to act as a pivot point for playing the instrument, and you'll need to be able to move your arm freely from the elbow to the hand. Your hand should be able to move smoothly across all the strings, and your elbow shouldn't be behind the guitar or too close to the strap button at the one end of the guitar.
Holding your guitar in the proper position can make a significant difference in how quickly you learn and how comfortable you are while playing. Guitars do come in different sizes, and you can find one to suit any player.
Proper posture is also essential as it allows you to hold your guitar in a position that allows for more natural hand movement, and keeps you from getting tense during a session. There are a few different ways to hold a guitar, depending on the style of playing. You'll also want to consider different fingerpicking positions that might work well as you learn to play.
Proper seating can also help you hold your guitar correctly while maintaining the correct posture, and an armless chair that allows your legs to sit at a 90-degree angle can work.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.