I’m going to introduce you to an interesting concept in this article. This is one I’ve seen countless students and even high-level guitarists fail to realize. This single idea caused most of those players to quit or suffer for their entire guitar-playing lives, at least until it got fixed.
Here it is:
Playing the guitar shouldn’t hurt!
Now, there will be some pain as you build up calluses on your fingers in the beginning. In fact, that is exactly why I recommend brand-new players don’t practice more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Too much pain will scare you off.
But in this case, I’m referring to holding the guitar. Using poor posture and position will limit your potential. Your body can only bend and twist so far. If you’re like me, it can barely bend or twist at all!
Even if you manage to play in a poor position, you’re setting yourself up for problems later on. In my 10+ years as a guitar teacher, I’ve worked with students young and old, new and experienced. I can’t tell you how many times a guitarist has been learning for a couple of years on their own and then they quit because of severe back, neck, and shoulder pain.
I only wish they had seen this article my friends because it would have saved them a ton of pain.
Have I convinced you, yet?
Let’s dig into some important things to remember as you get started playing guitar. For those who’ve been playing for a while, use this article as a checklist to make sure you’re not one of those clinging to painful habits.
People Came First
Too often we treat the guitar as this sacred object. I watch new players cradle the guitar on their laps or on their straps and wrap their body around it.
No. This isn’t good.
We came first. The guitar came second.
Why is this important?
The guitar was designed to fit around us!
With everything you do and as you go through the rest of these steps, ask yourself:
Am I comfortable? Is this close to how I sit or stand normally?
It should be. If you find yourself bent over, extended, or collapsed, you’re doing something wrong.
Start With Good Posture Without The Guitar
Of course, no amount of guitar talk will fix you if you start with a bad posture. You must sit or stand with proper posture in the first place. Let’s talk about sitting, since this is what I and most guitar experts recommend when learning at first.
Without the guitar, follow these steps:
- Sit centered on your chair with your back off the back of the chair (move forward don’t arch your back).
- Take one hand and place it on top of your head, the center of your crown.
- Imagine a string going through this spot through the middle of your skull, in your neck, down your spinal column, and into your pelvis.
- Pull the invisible string up and feel your spine, neck, and head stretch and fall in line.
- There should be no tension.
- Imagine you’re stacking blocks: to build the tallest tower every block needs to be perfectly centered on each other.
- Release the string and relax, but don’t let your body collapse. Keep it balanced.
- Let your arms naturally and comfortably rest on each leg.
- Take deep breaths and imagine your block tower held together by string becoming more dense and solid with each breath.
- You should now be sitting comfortably with good posture.
Bring The Guitar To You
There are many variations at this point on where exactly the guitar sits and rests. This is one way I recommend, but no matter what you choose, remember to bring the guitar to you.
- Place the waist of the guitar (the skinnier part near the sound hole) on your right leg (if right-handed).
- Let your right arm rest on the lower, top part of the guitar body.
- Bring your right hand around the guitar until it’s over the soundhole.
- Don’t pull or drop your shoulder. Your arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand should form a single, unbroken curve.
- Drop your left hand off your lap and let it hang next to your body.
- Feel how the arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand all feel like one device.
- Bring your limb up to the neck of the guitar without moving the shoulder at all.
- Keep the limb kink-free, think gentle curves.
You’re now holding the guitar in a way that’s posture-perfect and tension-free. This is a critical thing to check even if you’re an experienced guitar player. Perform these checks at least every time you pick up the guitar. Make good posture a habit, and it will improve your playing in the long run.