Nailing down the foundational aspects of how to play guitar is super important. It is sometimes easy to get caught up in learning where to put your fingers when you first start playing. Yet, simply learning to hold the guitar in the first place can give you an initial boost when you are starting out.
It can also help you avoid potential issues for your playing in the future. You may also avoid back, neck, wrist, and hand pain from maintaining correct posture and hand positioning.
The way you hold your guitar can affect:
Having poor form can also create awkward body positioning. While playing in this way, you may find you are having pain issues in your back, shoulders, or wrists too.
There are a few different ways you can position your body to maintain correct posture and avoid these issues. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Classical guitarists tend to hold the guitar in front of their body at an angle. For a right-handed guitarist, they have the groove of the guitar sitting on the inside of their left leg. A footstool usually props up the left leg so the guitar sits a little higher. Having the guitar placed like this allows the guitarist to have fantastic posture. It also allows for detailed accuracy from both hands.
Holding the guitar is in this fashion has benefits for beginners too. Since the guitar is at an angle, It is easier to see where the fingers are on the fretboard without having to lean over the guitar. This allows you to keep your back a little straighter while practicing for long periods.
In lieu of a footstool, some players cross their right leg under their left to raise the position of the guitar. This works in a pinch but sitting for long periods of time like this is very bad for your circulation.
While playing seated like this you should try to avoid moving the guitar in toward your chest too often. Doing so will avoid fatiguing your muscles.
This method of holding the guitar is not comfortable for every player, especially to begin with. In this case, it may help to also use a strap to hold the guitar in place.
The many different available sizes of classical guitars make it a breeze to find one that will fit in the space between your legs.
However, playing a dreadnought steel-string guitar with this posture would be extremely uncomfortable. This fact makes this posture less effective for steel-string guitars.
This is how you would have seen most mainstream guitarists playing. They have the groove of the guitar sitting on the leg that is on the side of the strumming hand. So, the right leg of a right-handed guitarist.
Another difference when comparing to classical guitarists is the angle of the guitar. Most seated players have the fretboard perpendicular to their body. This makes the neck parallel to the ground.
Having the guitar positioned like this makes it very tempting to lean over the guitar to see what you’re doing. Due to this fact, you should try to do this as little as possible as a newbie so you don’t form a bad habit. Doing so will also save your back.
While playing in this position, your strumming arm can easily help you to keep the guitar in place. Therefore, you are less reliant on keeping your legs as still as possible.
This is likely the position you should hold your guitar in as a beginner.
Now that we have established the way your body should sit, let’s take a look at some options for the ideal seats to sit on.
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While it is best to have a specialized guitar stool, there are plenty of other options available. You probably have a decent option in your house already. There are a few factors to look out for:
If you stick to these guidelines, it should be pretty easy to find a decent chair to practice with.
A dining room chair or office chair is usually perfect. This is only the case if those chairs don’t have arms attached to them. The arms can get in the way of you placing the guitar in a comfortable position and cause you to sit on the edge of the seat
A barstool can also be fine as long as it is not too tall. You need somewhere to comfortably put your feet. I have played gigs where they made me sit on a barstool. I just ended up battling with the guitar to keep it in a comfortable spot. You can forget about maintaining good posture too. If it has a built-in footstool it should be fine provided your legs are relatively parallel to the ground. If you must play on a tall barstool, use a strap!
One type of seating I would avoid is single person armchairs. Not only will the arms of the chair likely get in the way, but you will also be sinking into the chair. This means you will be unable to keep a straight back after a short time.
A larger couch can be fine so long as it is not super low to the ground. This can cause your legs to be at an acute angle and force the guitar to slide into your body too far.
How high the strap on a guitar should be set can be a contentious issue. For instance, having your guitar strap extremely low can be great for your image in a metal band. It is also comfortable for many players. However, it can be tough on the wrists of beginners.
Having the strap up high is also preferred by certain guitarists. It is a way to get their fretboard hand very straight.
There is no real correct answer as to exactly how high your strap should be set.
A good rule of thumb is to set the height of the strap to match where the guitar sits on your body while sitting down.
Doing so will keep your practice consistent whether you are standing or sitting. If you plan to play gigs while standing up I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice while standing too.
The slight changes in your posture between sitting and standing make a big difference. It is also a good idea to build up the muscles that will take the weight of the guitar while standing.
Please don’t try to play standing without a strap. It is basically impossible and there are plenty of options available.
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The position of your hands is very important to create enough strength in your fingers, especially for beginners. Good form will also help you avoid issues with pain from your fingers through to your shoulders. I am going to assume you are a right-handed player. If you are left-handed just switch the hands around for the following advice.
The left hand is the one that masters the fretboard. Your thumb rests behind the fretboard while the other fingers are on the frets to create the notes.
As a beginner, you may not have a lot of strength in the had to create bar chords or more difficult patterns yet. But you can check out the advice on playing your first chords here for a workaround.
There are two types of grip used for your left hand. One is slightly frowned upon by classical guitarists. This is often referred to as “baseball grip” or “bat grip”. The other is classic positioning.
With this technique, you use the heel of your thumb to press down instead of the ends. This allows for a stronger grip and is arguably much easier for certain chord shapes.
It also allows you to mute the 6th string with your thumb and play a cheaters version of barre chords. It is also more comfortable for most new players. However, If you are beginning your guitar journey you should avoid the baseball grip as much as possible. It will prevent you from forming bad habits in other areas.
I still use the baseball grip for open C chords and a few others and it has never impacted my playing. It’s just something to keep in mind.
This is the agreed “correct form”. Many famous guitarists still use baseball grip, but, this is what a classically trained musician would learn. You will have the end of your thumb pressing on the back of the neck for this method. It is much harder to learn and get the strength required. However, it will make more advanced techniques easier later. It always helps to start from a good foundation.
Your right arm should go over the top of your guitar with your hand likely over the soundhole of an acoustic. The right arm moves a lot. So, sometimes resting the wrist or forearm on the guitar can help maintain an appropriate position.
The pick should be held firmly between your thumb and index finger. There are a few variations of how to hold a pick but for basic strumming, this should be enough info. Try not to squeeze the life out of the pick but hold it firmly enough that it won’t fall out of your hand easily.
Play over the soundhole of an acoustic or roughly over the center pickup of an electric guitar. This can vary for certain tonal reasons but is a good general rule to stick to for beginners.
While picking individual strings some guitarists anchor their pinky to the guitar to help them be more accurate. This is by no means a universal method but may assist you too.
To strum, you should still try to aim your hand over the soundhole. It is actually more important as less sound will come from using your fingers to strum the strings.
Many guitarists rest their wrist on the bridge while fingerpicking to maintain accuracy. You should use your thumb for the bottom E string and maybe sometimes the A, or D.
Fingerpicking is complex and individual players often have their own style. I would recommend watching some videos on youtube or getting some online lessons to help get the correct technique down.
There are no exact rules when it comes to the guitar. Given that it is so popular there have been many different styles of playing created over the years. The basic advice above should help you get started but you are likely going to find what works for you over your journey of learning. Just try to look after your back, wrists, and hands while you are discovering what works for you.