Classical Guitar Posture
Correct posture is an essential part of a classical guitarist’s overall technique. It forms the basis of all of the core movements. Posture may seem like a trivial thing to get right, but it is essential if you are to truly master the instrument.
Good classical guitar posture promotes free and unrestricted movements. It allows us to focus on creating music instead of struggling with our technique. It also means we can play for extended periods of time without pain in the back, shoulders or wrists.
Bad posture can cause all sorts of problems. Some are only temporary and disappear as soon as our posture is corrected. However bad posture can also lead to long lasting damage to our body if we do not rectify the issue swiftly.
There are two key principles I want you to keep in mind as you read through this lesson. Every aspect of good posture I cover in this lesson can be traced back to one or both of these key principles.
Key Principles of Classical Guitar Posture
- Minimise tension
- Maximise range of movement
By minimizing tension you will be able to play quickly and smoothly when required. This is because the fingers will not be fighting against tension in the shoulder, arm or wrist.
By maximizing your range of movement you will be able to perform all techniques without restriction. The right hand must be able to play from the bridge (ponticello) right through to the edge of the soundhole near the neck (tasto). The left hand must be able to comfortably reach the notes in the first position as well as fret notes way up on the 18th or 19th fret (see picture).
Good Classical Guitar Posture
Let’s take a look at the key aspects of good classical guitar posture. I will discuss the most important features of good posture, however you may wish to discuss some of the finer details with your guitar teacher.
Please note, the following directions are for a right handed guitarist. If you are a left handed guitarist, simply replace switch left for right and vice versa.
Sit Up Straight
You’ve heard it at school, at the dinner table and now you’ve heard it from me. The best classical guitar posture begins by sitting up straight in your chair. A hard chair or one with a lightly padded cushion works best. Sitting on the sofa or the edge of your bed is often too bouncy. This means you end up exerting extra effort (tension – see key principles) to keep yourself upright.
When sitting on your chair, keep your head up and don’t hunch your shoulders over the guitar. I refrain from saying ‘keep your back straight’ because this sometimes makes people tense their backs to be as straight as possible. Your back naturally has a curve. In fact the spine has several curves; Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral. To make it completely straight requires too much tension. So keep your head up and just relax your upper body.
Make sure you’re sitting on the edge of your chair. If you sit too far back, the guitar may end up balancing on the chair itself. By sitting on the edge of your chair your guitar will have enough room to rest between your legs.
Foot Stool or Guitar Support
To elevate the guitar into the correct position, you will need to use a foot stool or guitar support. The foot stool is a more traditional choice. You set the foot stool to the correct height and place your left foot on top of it. This raises the guitar up and also changes the angle of the guitar. You’ll notice that instead of the neck running parallel to the floor, it will be at an angle of approx. 45 degrees.
Many classical guitarists are now opting to use a guitar support instead of the traditional foot stool. A guitar support attaches to the side of the guitar and does the same job of raising the guitar and changing the angle. The main benefit of a guitar support is that it allows you to keep both feet on the floor which promotes good back health. Raising your foot on a stool for prolonged periods of time can result in back ache.
The left foot should be placed just in front of the body. The thigh should be facing forwards or pointing ever so slightly to the left hand side.
It’s important that the thigh doesn’t point too far out to the side, because this will cause the neck to be positioned behind the body. This position would introduce tension into the left arm, which is something to avoid.
The right leg should be positioned far enough to the side to allow the lower bout of the guitar to sit comfortably between your legs.
If the right leg is positioned too far to the side, the guitar will slide away from you. To correct the slide, you would have to grip onto the guitars neck with your left hand or clamp it with your right arm. Both of these would introduce more tension and restrict your movements.
If the right leg is positioned too close to the left leg, the guitar does not sit comfortably between the two. This can cause the angle of the neck to be too shallow/flat. This causes the guitarist to stretch in order to reach the lowest frets (near the head), restricting movement.
When you’ve found the best position for you legs, you should be able to rest the guitar against your torso. This creates a triangle, with it’s points where your guitar touches your torso, where the guitar touches your leg and the joint of your hip.
You should angle the guitar so that you just about see the 1st and 6th strings along the fret board and sound hole. If the guitar is very flat, you will have great visibility but limited left hand movement. If the guitar is closer to 90 degrees to the floor, you will have better left hand movement, but limited visibility. By positioning the guitar so that you can just about see the 1st and 6th strings, you find the optimum balance between movement and visibility.
The left hand fingers are used to push the strings down behind the frets. This effectively shortens and lengthens the string, creating different pitches.
As you progress onto more difficult music, the job of the left hand becomes more complex. You will need to hold down multiple strings, make big stretches and change from one fret to another very quickly. These complex and challenging movements require the left arm and hand to be as free from tension as possible.
Because we need to minimize tension, the left arm cannot be frozen in place by tensing the muscles. It must ‘hang’ with minimal tension. With practice, the fingers will become accustomed to exerting just enough pressure to fret the notes. Knowing exactly how little pressure to use helps to ease the amount of tension in the arm.
The best way to set up your left arm posture is to imagine it is a piece of string. The two ends of this ‘piece of string’ are attached at the shoulder and where the fingers meet the strings. Try to imagine that the left arm simply hangs between these points and does not influence the movement of the hand.
The right arm should contact the guitar somewhere between the wrist and the elbow. The exact point will depend on the length of your arm and size of your hand.
The arm should sit on the highest point of the lower bout. This stops it from sliding too far into the centre or towards to bottom of the guitar. If you place the arm anywhere but the highest point, it may require tension to keep it in place.
The fingers of the right hand should touch the strings around the edge of the sound hole (closest to the bridge). This is called ‘natural’ position. By placing the fingers on the edge of the sound hole you do not block the sound from being produced.
As an approximate guide, the knuckles of the right hand should be roughly hovering above the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings. There should also be plenty of space underneath the hand. This allows the fingers to push through the strings and move into that space.
There are two main types of right hand technique; Apoyando and Tirando. I won’t go into too much detail regarding right hand position at this stage, because it is different for each technique. You can find out more about these techniques in the following lessons:
If you’re a beginner, establishing the correct posture is the first thing you’ll need to do. As detailed as I’ve tried to make this lesson, it is impossible to establish the perfect posture from day one. It will take time, practice and experimentation to get it right.
This lesson should act as a guide to get you started with establishing your posture. Work with your guitar teacher to fine tune your posture where necessary. People come in all shapes and sizes, so a ‘one size fits all’ solution does not exist.
Whenever you change an aspect of your posture, be sure to bear in mind the two key principles; range of movement and tension.