Hold the guitar correctly, don’t just pose

Sure, you look cool playing the guitar behind your head but know there are several other ways to hold the guitar. Besides, “Blowing in the Wind” sounds stupid played behind your head.

The easiest way is to sit down. You don’t need a strap although some like to use one. Place the curve of the guitar on your right thigh.  The neck should be approximately parallel to the floor. Your right arm should feel relaxed draped around the guitar with your right hand over the sound hole, like this

You can cross your legs like she’s doing – it’ll bring the guitar up a little – or put your feet flat on the ground like this:

Be sure to sit up straight and use a chair without arms, like the people in these photos.

Beginners always want to tilt the guitar so they can see the fretboard and while you may need to do that initially, you want to get out of that habit because forces you to bend your wrists more. It also puts your neck in an awkward position:

You could also use the same position that a classical player uses, with the neck angled up (no longer parallel with the floor) and your left foot on a stool:

Everything is reversed, of course, for a left handed player:

BTW, if you’ve never played the guitar before, I strongly recommend learning to play “right handed” even if you’re left handed, in spite of wonderful players like Hendrix and Elizabeth Cotten. The reason? You’re demanding a lot of both hands – it’s not like writing, where you’re only using one hand. Down the line, you’ll find it easier to find instruments and instruction materials. (And no, you cannot simply restring a guitar. Most aren’t designed for that – the bracing isn’t sufficient and the pick guard will be on the wrong side. Electric players will find that the knobs are in the way.) All righty, enough of my lecture and back to regularly scheduled programming.

You can also play standing up. You’ll need a strap. Adjust it so the guitar hangs just below chest level.

Don’t play like some country singers – my apologies to Buck Owens – and wrap your arm around the end, like this:

Maybe he just had extra long arms, I dunno.

And I know you rockers like to look hip with your guitar hanging below your waist, but guitars, like pants, are not meant to ride below your, um, private parts. I know, I know, everyone does it but unless you have knuckles that scrape on the ground, it forces you to severely bend your wrists:

Besides, not all rockers play that way. Here’s one of my favorite guitar players, Bonnie Raitt. She holds the guitar low but not down around her knees:

Here’s one of my classes showing the various ways one should not hold a guitar.  I had just finished showing them my play-behind-the-head trick.  Not a Good Idea for a room full of ten year olds:

This cat is holding the guitar wrong but when you’re lacking opposable thumbs, it can be excused.

Did you find this post helpful? Please consider keeping me in coffee and my cats in kibble. And it’s only $2.

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If you’re not a cat and want guitar lessons via Skype, contact me. I have a home studio in Ottawa, Ontario, too. I also teach mandolin, ukulele and songwriting.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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7 Responses to Hold the guitar correctly, don’t just pose

  1. Jamie- after years of dismissing the footstool as a tool for classical players, i’ve discovered the value of a footstool stool under the RIGHT foot. Like crossing the legs it raises the neck of the guitar a bit but without cutting off circulation. My back, neck, and shoulders also thank me for the improvement in posture it almost automatically induces. First time I used one my body released a gigantic “Ahhhh, thank you!” I recommend footstools now to all my students.

  2. Jim McKee says:

    The cat bit was AWESOME !!! 🙂

  3. My cat favors the “pounce and swipe” approach to guitar playing. Very cute but terribly hard on the guitar (not so easy on my hands either).

  4. Sandy Andina says:

    If you’re somewhat vertically challenged, like me, a PAIR of those folding stools comes in handy if you must sit to play. (I prefer to stand if possible, because sitting compromises vocal support). And if playing a lap dulcimer, those footstools allow you to keep the instrument level if you can’t play standing up with a keyboard stand, lessening the need for a strap or a rubber lap pad. What drives me crazier than the low-slung punk rock position, though, are those folks who shorten their straps so much that they seem to be channeling Johnny Cash. On those occasions when I’m invited to sit in and play a tune or two, the possibility of having the guitar so close to my chin that I fear inadvertently drooling on it makes me choose the seated option. (Note to “guitar-chair” makers–yeah, I actually own a “SoundSeat”–offer an extra-wide foot ring so that we shorties don’t have to either dangle our legs, bend our knees drastically, or even hook our toes behind the foot ring. Bugs me that I can’t use my SoundSeat for dulcimer)!

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