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How to hold the guitar correctly? Proper guitar posture is something every guitar player should take seriously. Improper posture will not only can set back on your technique, but may result in injuries on the long run.

Holding guitar while sitting down: Your leg goes where the body of the guitar curve is at. Which leg? Using the right leg is more comfortable for most of us. Use your the leg which feels the most comfortable. To play standing up, you’ll need a strap. To set the correct length of your strap, first sit down with your guitar and adjust the strap in this position. Then stand up and play some to see if it the strap needs to be slightly lowered or raised.

Tension

This article was written to prevent having muscle tension while you are practicing on your guitar. These guidelines are useful for most of us, however not everyone has the same body shape, arm length, hand size etc. If you feel that in your case some advice below is not working, feel free to adapt it to your liking. As long as it doesn’t build tension in your body. Most of us tend to ignore the warning signs our body sends until it is too late, so it is a good general advice to follow this guideline.

Playing the Guitar Sitting Down

Playing guitar sitting down
Playing guitar sitting down

When you are playing sitting down typically you use an armless chair, stool or something similar. When you sit, both of your feet need to rest on the floor. This is usually not a problem for adults, however if your child is learning guitar, make sure you find the right size chair. I use armless office chairs in my studio so the height can be adjusted from student to student.

The curved in part of the guitar body will rest on your left or right leg. If you are learning classical guitar, then you will hold the guitar on your left leg and the neck is pointing up. For other styles such as rock, blues, jazz, where you usually need to strum the strings, the right leg is a better choice, also the neck is pointing only slightly up.

The body of the guitar needs to get as close to your body as possible. The guitar needs to straight face out not pointing up, not tilted to your face. Your back needs to be straight. Shoulders, neck and arms needs to be loose, relaxed.

Do we use a strap when sitting down?

The strap is optional, but it can help to remove weight from your leg, you can move around a bit and change position slightly while sitting. Especially for electric guitars it is very common to use strap even while sitting. I don’t use strap when practicing on my electric guitar, but when I am performing I use a strap most of the time. My personal preference is to set my strap to hold the weight of the guitar only when I stretch my back.

Typical posture problems while sitting down

Some of my students want to see the neck of the gutiar, the strings and fingers, and they tilt the guitar toward their face. This is not good for playing and can lead to develop this bad habit. You have to straighten up the guitar to be able to play correctly.

To see your fretting hand you might start hunch over the guitar body. Unfortunately this is also not a good thing to do, it will lead to fatigue and back ache. Can you take a look or have a peak once in a while? Of course you can. Just don’t make it a habit.

If you notice that you don’t hold your back straight, your shoulders or neck is not relaxed, I recommend using a foot stand. It is a pretty cheap collapsible stand. It will raise your left or right leg.

Holding the Guitar While Standing Up

Playing guitar standing up
Playing guitar standing up

To play guitar standing you will need a strap. The easiest way is to set the strap length is to do it while you are sitting. Then simply stand up to check how it feels like, so walk, move, and play a bit while doing that. Maybe the strap needs to be adjusted slightly up or down. Just make sure your shoulder is not raised when you play the guitar. Setting the guitar super low like the big guys will not help you play the guitar better, but rather will become a roadblock in your technique. Your left lower and upper arm should be bent around 90 degree angle when you play.

The same rule applies here as for playing sitting down: don’t lean over the guitar, keep you back straight. Peaking is allowed, hunching is not. Hold your guitar straight -don’t tilt it up. Also, keep the guitar in front of your body, not on your side.

How heavy is your guitar?

For acoustic instruments this is usually not an issue, however some electric guitar feels really heavy. The strap width flames and skulls might looks cool in the store, but it might help you very little to distribute the weight of your instrument on your shoulder and back. Get yourself a padded and wider strap if you feel that the weight is an issue with your playing.

Fretting hand – The Correct Left Hand Position

To play a note on the guitar, your fingers need to push down the strings to make those touch the metal fret on the guitar neck. Usually this doesn’t require lots of pressure, but as a beginner you might find that you need a surprising amount of force to make the string ring. There are a few key items here to remember.

The Thumb

First of all, put the thumb on the back of the guitar neck, at the middle. Don’t let your thumb peak out on the top of the neck. Hold your thumb on the neck at the middle while you are pressing down the strings from the other side. In this way you are pushing the neck from both direction when playing, and the necessary pressure is distributed between your fretting fingers and thumb, making their job twice as easy.

When you start practicing bending or if you are learning advanced jazz arrangements, you might need to reposition your thumb and put it to the top of the neck. But, for a beginner the correct placement of the thumb is behind the neck. In this way you can also use your thumb as a “pivot” to move your hand a fret or two up or down on the neck, or to reach out for higher or lower notes.

Other Fingers On Your Left

The rest of your hand must be curved around the neck in a C shape, without actually touching the neck. This way the top of your fingers automatically getting above the strings. There are two very important items here: one, when you press down the strings use the tip of your fingers – so you need to keep the fingernails short all the time. The second thing to remember is that you should not touch the guitar neck with your palm, the side of the fingers or with any other part, but with only the thumb on the back and the tip of your fingers on the fingerboard. With other words, don’t use a death grip on the guitar neck.

Elbow

While you are playing sitting down, and you are holding the instrument correctly, your left elbow will not touch your left leg or thigh. This is correct. If you are “resting” your lower arm or elbow on your leg than the guitar neck needs to be held higher. Go ahead and raise the neck until your elbow is in the air.

“So can I just simply lift the neck of the guitar with my left?”

No. The left hand hand never supports the weight of the guitar. Don’t lift or hold up the guitar neck with your left hand. Use your right arm to balance the instrument and set the height of the neck.

Strumming Hand

Your right arm goes around the guitar body and it is responsible for holding the instrument steady when you are sitting. Don’t squeeze the guitar, just rest your arm on it. With your right arm you should be able to set the height of the guitar neck while playing sitting down.

Some tips for the right arm

  • Your right elbow should rest on the top of the guitar body and you need to be able to move your lower arm freely between the top of the guitar (your chest area) and the bottom (where your thigh is). This is very important for correct strumming.
  • Your hand should be reach the sound hole on acoustic instruments. On electric guitars your hand should be right at the middle between the end of guitar neck and the bridge.
  • Parents, if the your child cannot hold the guitar body under the arm without raising the shoulder or cannot reach comfortable the middle part of the guitar body, then the guitar is too big. Consider getting a child size instrument.
  • For some body type it can be a problem to hold bigger guitars. If you have short arms or a curvy body type you might need to find a guitar with a smaller body. Especially if you have trouble moving your arm freely or you don’t reach the middle section of the guitar.

The most important role of your right is to be able to pluck and strum the strings. You can use your fingers, or you can use picks to do that. Let me show the correct way to hold and use a pick.

What is a guitar pick?

Guitar Picks
Guitar Picks

There are several types of picks you can buy. In this section we will discuss how to hold the flatpick – but I will just call it a pick. Most professional guitarists agree, that the best response and feel comes using small or medium size picks, with medium to heavy stiffness. The pick I am using is at 12 o’clock on this image, you can see it is about a medium size pick. It is a heavy pick what means it is very stiff.

Is it important how do you hold the pick?

Unfortunately holding the pick is important. Some places teach absolutely wrong ways to hold the guitar pick, some other website states that there are no wrong ways to hold the pick. Nothing is further from the truth. Holding the pick incorrectly will most likely slow your progress down significantly. The good news is that it is not that hard to learn how to hold your guitar pick the correct way.

We hold the pick between the index finger and the thumb. Here is a step by step instruction how to hold your pick correctly.

STEP 1: Hold and balance your pick on your index finger with the pointy end out. Your finger needs to be close to your palm, but not tight.
How to hold the guitar pick - Step 1
Hold the guitar pick – Step 1
STEP 2: Place your thumb over the pick to hold it.
How to hold the guitar pick - Step 2
Holding the guitar pick – Step 2
Holding the pick, photo from an other angle
Photo from an other angle
STEP 3: Optionally you can close your other fingers. Sometimes I play with closed fingers when I strum, other times, mostly when I play a melody I play with open fingers.
Holding the pick with closed fingers
Closing fingers – optional
Holding the guitar pick - photo form an other angle
Photo form an other angle
This is how you see your guitar pick when you play
This is how it looks like when you are playing

How strong do I need to hold the guitar pick?

You need to hold the pick firmly, but not too tightly. If you hold out your hand, someone should be able to take the pick away from you with medium amount of force. If the pick slides or turns between your fingers when you play melody or strum the guitar, then you need to tighten your grip on the pick.

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