“Guitar is the best form of self-expression I know. Everything else, and I'm just sort of tripping around, trying to figure my way through life.” - Slash
It’s impossible to master music theory and play guitar solos and chords if you don’t practise. There are an estimated 50 million guitarists in the world of which 16% are professionals. That said, 43% of these musicians want to become professional. Sadly, the road is long with many a winding turn.
Would you like to start playing the guitar?
Here’s a question that many new guitarists ask...
Which Position Should You Adopt to Play the Guitar?
Knowing how to hold a guitar is an essential part of learning how to play it. You need to stabilise the instrument and allow your left and right hands to move freely as you play.
You can adopt different positions when you play the guitar depending on whether you’re playing a classical guitar, folk guitar, or flamenco music, for example.
What about sitting or standing?
Generally, guitarists will learn how to play while seated. Once they get better, they’ll feel comfortable standing up to play on stage, for example.
There are a few benefits to sitting down:
- Limiting muscle strain: back pain, tendinitis in the wrists, etc.
- Adjusting your position to match the music you’re playing.
- Greater dexterity with your left hand (for right-handed guitarists) or right hand (for left-handed guitarists).
- Being able to play for longer without tiring.
A quick tip for beginners: in the beginning, it will hurt pressing down on the strings. When you’re first learning chords, you need to build up some callouses on your fingers.
When sitting down, there are a few positions you could adopt including the classical position and the standard position (also known as a “relaxed” position).
In the “classical” position, the right-handed guitar is positioned between the player's legs with the guitar resting on their left leg. The neck is pointed upwards. This position allows you to play without bending your back. But this position requires you to pull your neck back to see where you’ve placed your fingers.
In the standard position, the guitar sits on your right thigh and the neck is at around 45° towards the ceiling. This is the most common position guitarists use to play folk, jazz, and rock music when sitting. This is useful for improvisation, fingerpicking arpeggios and chords and strumming with your right hand.
Learn more about the different types of guitar.
Holding a Guitar in the Classical Position
Playing while seated allows you to read tablature or sheet music without your legs getting tired.
Ideally, you want to be sitting up straight with your elbows out. Some players will put their left foot onto a small stool or footrest. The guitar will rest against your stomach between your two legs while resting on your left thigh. Your left wrist will be curved under the neck. It’s said that this position makes accessing the strings much easier since the guitar is tilted upwards towards your shoulder. This position is very common among classical guitar players as it facilitates the placement of the left hand.
On the other hand, it’s far less common amongst players of electric guitars. The classical position is usually for those who play a classical, flamenco, acoustic, or electro-acoustic guitar.
Because this is the position that strains your muscles the least, allowing you to play in a relaxed way. Classical guitars are designed with this posture in mind, especially if you’ve raised your left leg with a footrest. The guitar sits on the left thigh.
Now you just need to learn how to read tablature or sheet music, learn the main chords, especially barre chords.
Don't forget to keep your guitar clean!
Holding a Guitar in the “Relaxed” Position
The “relaxed” position is the most common guitar-playing position and much easier to start learning how to play the guitar.
Keep in mind that the “relaxed” position will make you feel like a beginner again if you move onto the classical position. Practising the guitar in a relaxed position means that you’ll need to elevate your right foot on a footrest, for example. You can always fold your left foot under your right foot but this can result in muscular tension.
The main difference between the two positions is the orientation of the guitar’s neck relative to the guitarist. In the relaxed position, the guitar won’t be as stable but you will have more freedom to move it around.
Make sure that you sit in a suitable chair. Choose a chair without armrests, a firm sofa, or a stool. Make sure that your back and shoulders are straight.
The dominant hand is the one that you use to strum, pluck, or pick, the strings. While left-handed guitarists sometimes use right-handed guitars, they’ll use their left hand to press down on the frets. After placing your guitar on your right thigh, tilt the neck upwards and play around until you’re comfortable.
Remember one thing: The less you have to hold the guitar, the better.
You’ll have to learn how to play with the back of the guitar against your torso. Place the neck between your thumb and index finger; your hand shouldn’t have to hold the guitar but rather should be able to press on the frets.
The guitar should be held by your thighs, elbow, and arm. The thumb of your non-dominant hand should sit behind the neck with the fingers curving round to press the strings down onto the fretboard. This will help you to play chords more easily.
Some guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Django Reinhardt played the guitar by using their thumb on the fretboard for certain chords. You’ll need it for some gipsy jazz songs.
Finally, the last tip: keep your back as straight as possible. If you slump over your guitar to look at the fretboard, you’ll pick up some bad habits.
Playing Guitar Standing Up
Here’s a very common position for playing the guitar: standing.
When it comes to blues, rock, etc., standing up is the best way to be seen when performing at a concert. Just look at how Mark Knopfler plays during a Dire Straits show.
Start with an adjustable strap. The strap will hold your instrument for you without having to rest it on your thighs. When choosing a guitar, make sure it has the parts to hook on a strap.
There are three main positions for where you wear your guitar:
- The high position
- The intermediate position
- The low position
The first position means that you’ll have the strap quite tight and the instrument will sit above your hips. This will give you great access to the higher notes on the neck. This isn’t the best-looking position but it’ll help you play better. From the second you start playing the guitar, play along with a metronome to improve your timing. Then choose if you’re going to play with a plectrum or your fingers. Every musical instrument needs to be played in time, after all.
The intermediate position is the most common. This is the compromise between the high and low positions with the guitar at hip-level. This allows you to swing your arm more when strumming but will limit your access to the neck.
Finally, there’s the low position. This is playing with the guitar below your hips. This pose isn’t very natural but there are plenty of guitarists like Slash, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, and Zack Wylde who adopt this position. The low position is very relaxed. That said, it can cause aches and pains in your wrists, back, arms, and shoulders playing like this for extended periods. The low position allows the weight of the guitar is to swing around. Learning to play in this position can be tiring and you’ll need to regularly relax.
Now you just need to learn about tuning, reading music, harmonies, and how to improvise. After a few months, you’ll be comfortable in your playing.
If you'd like to learn more about how to play the guitar, there are plenty of useful resources online. You can find tablature sites to show you how to play certain songs as well as video tutorials on sites like YouTube. However, if you prefer to be taught how to play, you should consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced guitar tutors on Superprof.
There are three types of guitar tutorial available: face-to-face, online, and group. Each of these come with their pros and cons and it's really up to you to choose which one works best with your learning style and your budget.