If you’ve decided to finally start learning how to play the guitar then you have an exciting journey ahead of you!
You’ve probably already started making a list of all your favorite songs that you want to play and feel eager to start jamming.
However, before you can put in hours of practice to learn to play the guitar well, you’ll have to learn how to hold it properly!
Let’s take a look at how to hold a guitar so that, not only can you start practicing ASAP, you’ll feel and sound better while you do.
Sitting or standing: Which is better?
While every musician is bound to discover their own preference between the two, you can play the guitar equally well whether you’re standing up or sitting down.
In fact, when you’re just starting out, it’s important to practice playing both ways so that you can get a well-rounded feel for what you prefer. Many people who learn to play exclusively sitting or standing report that trying to get the hang of the other posture later on feels like going back to square one.
So, which is better, you ask? Well, it partially depends on what your goals are as an aspiring guitarist.
If you plan to perform on stage then it’ll be ideal for you to practice standing up even if you enjoy sitting sometimes to change things up as well. If you hope to accompany your guitar playing with singing, then standing will also make it easier to make full use of your diaphragm and get the projection you want.
The biggest factors in whether you should sit or stand for the majority of your practice sessions are your individual instrument and your ability to maintain good posture.
Many beginner musicians like to sit to play because they assume that it’ll be easier. This is certainly the case if you’re learning on a heavier guitar or a large acoustic guitar that’s tricker to reach around.
However, sitting down can make it harder to maintain the correct posture. And, learning good posture until it becomes second nature is extremely important while you’re getting started!
Lots of beginners find that standing up to play helps them keep their back and shoulders straight, which does wonders for their reach.
When you maintain good posture during your practice sessions, you’ll find that it’s much easier to form the correct hand shapes and fret properly.
Poor form will require you to twist your arm and reach further in order to fret, which can result in sour, flat notes and a sore wrist. This type of strain takes its toll on your endurance and your sound quality, both of which can discourage you away from practicing.
Since posture while holding the guitar is so important, how do I make sure mine is spot on?
First, let’s quickly outline where the guitar goes so that you know how you build your posture up from there.
For a right-handed player who’s sitting down, the guitar’s waist should rest in a balanced way on their right thigh, with the guitar sitting at around chest height.
If you prefer to play while standing, then you should adjust the strap and angle of your guitar to mimic how it would rest if you were holding it while sitting down.
Let’s start with the back.
For starters, you’ll benefit greatly from using a guitar strap whether you choose to play sitting or standing. Don’t go without one!
The strap will help distribute the weight of the guitar more gently across your body so that you can focus on your form and your playing. Using a guitar strap will enable you to keep your back straight, which is the first step to maintaining a great form.
You’ll want to ease your shoulders back a bit as well. Not so much that you’re straining or pressing your shoulder blades together, but enough to guarantee that you aren’t slouching.
Another important thing to remember is that, while you’re almost certain to need to look at your fingers and fretboard while you’re learning to play, you should tilt your chin in order to do so. Bending down with your entire neck will induce strain, fatigue, and soreness–not to mention that it’ll ease you down into a slouch, leaving you hunched over your guitar before you even realize it!
Next, the arms!
Another key element of holding your guitar properly is the way you position your arms.
You’ll want to hold your fretting arm at a 90-degree angle.
This is very important since it directly affects how your wrist will feel during and after a jam session!
Maintaining the proper angle on your fretting arm will also give you a much better ability to reach around the fretboard and produce notes cleanly and beautifully.
Some players find it more comfortable to cross their legs while playing guitar so that their instrument rests a bit higher, which will result in their strumming elbow forming a more acute angle.
Some people might instinctively want to criticize this based on the 90-degree rule, but if this is comfortable to you and you can reach all the guitar strings, then it’s all good!
There’s some give here–just don’t hold your strumming arm at an angle greater than 90 degrees since this will take a much heavier toll on your wrist. Other than that, just focus on keeping your fretting arm at 90 degrees.
Anything else that might help?
Just an added tip: Whenever you strum the strings of your guitar, try to do so from the wrist instead of from the elbow.
You’ll maintain greater control over your picking that way, keeping it nice and snappy, and you’ll be far less likely to wear yourself out by repeatedly waving your whole forearm up and down!
Another great tip to reduce wrist fatigue is to learn to fret notes and chords with the lightest touch possible. Many beginners tend to press the strings down as hard as they possibly can to avoid that dreadful, flat “plunking” sound that notes get when you don’t fret cleanly. However, it takes less effort than you may think!
Play around with it and experiment with how lightly you can press to keep your notes sounding crisp and clean because fatigue in your fingers means fatigue in your wrist.
How do I know if I’m doing it wrong? What are some things to avoid?
One of the key things to remember here is that a guitarist’s posture is all about reducing strain.
If you start getting a cramp in your neck after looking down at your fingers to make sure you’re forming chords correctly, then something obviously isn’t right! Try focusing on tilting your chin rather than craning your neck down from its base, and aim to keep the weight of your head centered above your neck. Look with your eyes, not your neck!
Another red flag is if your back starts to get tired, tense, or sore between the shoulder blades. This is a sign that you’re hunching, probably without even realizing it.
When you keep your back straight and sit or stand as tall as you can, then you distribute the weight of your body and your instrument much more evenly over your spine–just as it was meant to be. And, while avoiding back pain is already a big enough reward on its own, centering your and your instrument’s weight will relax your upper back and loosen up your shoulders.
This will leave your arms much more free to reach the fretboard and strum or pick with fluid motions. You’ll feel better and be able to play better as well!
Also, keep in mind that there’s bound to be a beginning adjustment period where your wrists and fingers fizzle out before your appetite for music does. Don’t worry, you’ll build up more endurance over time.
However, if your wrist feels all strained and twisted after just a few chords, then check on the angle of your arm. Make doubly sure that that angle is at 90 degrees. Your elbow and shoulder are sturdier than your wrist is, and they’re much better equipped to handle the movements needed to play.
A good rule of thumb is to let them do most of the muscle work while holding and reaching around your guitar so that your wrist and fingers are free to fret.
When you reduce strain on your body by maintaining the correct posture, you also increase your endurance as a guitar player. Focusing on posture while getting a feel for your instrument might seem a bit annoying at first, but once you form good habits they’ll pay off generously.
Are there any permissive areas where I’m safe to adjust my posture based on personal preference?
As mentioned before, some guitarists like to cross their legs while sitting down to play: As long as you put the leg on the same side as your picking arm on top, this is perfectly fine. So, if you’re right-handed and are fretting with your left hand, be sure to cross your right leg over your left.
Many people also like to use a small footstool designed for guitarists to bring the guitar up closer to themselves. This creates a similar effect to crossing your legs, but is far more comfortable for some people.
You may also see some guitar players, especially beginners, tilting the guitar towards them a bit so that they can see the fretboard better. There’s nothing wrong with this either, since seeing where your hands are going is immensely helpful at the start of your musical journey! It’s also an infinitely better alternative to slouching over your guitar to get a better look.
That’s a lot! Can we do a quick recap?
No problem: Holding a guitar properly can seem a bit overwhelming when you read about it in depth, but the key points are actually pretty simple!
- Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed
- Line the waist of the guitar up with your thigh on the side you pick/strum with
- Bend your fretting arm at a 90 degree angle
- Fret as lightly as you can get away with to reduce strain on your fingers and wrist
It might be frustrating to have to take note of your posture and adjust how you’re holding your guitar at first, but these tips will become second nature before you know it.
Just keep at it and check in with yourself every so often to ensure that your body feels good while you play. It’s all about reducing strain so that you can play better and longer!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.