If you’re reading this lesson, there’s a good chance you’re wondering if you are holding the guitar wrong. That’s good! Improper technique can lead to strain, injury and poor progression. Alternatively, learning how to hold the guitar correctly when you’re first starting out is a great way to ensure long term success with minimal discomfort.
Whatever your reason may be, in this lesson you will know the right way to hold your guitar.
How to Hold A Guitar Correctly While Sitting
Sitting down is how most guitarists first start. Sitting allows you to look down at the fretboard easily with little other variables to worry about. However, there are many things to check off on your checklist to ensure your seated practice isn’t holding you back.
First, let’s start with the chair you're sitting in. Here there are a few features you want to look out for or avoid:
Look, Ma: No Arms!: Having arms on your chair will get in the way of your elbows and force you into an unnatural practice position. This is the most important factor.
Don’t Be a Couch Potato: Sitting on the couch may be comfortable at first, but over time leads to slouched shoulders, a hunched back - just bad posture in general. The cushy seats under you also causes you to sink down below your knees. This position can cause lower back strain.
High Stools: Like couches, high stools will cause you to slouch down over time. You also want to make sure your feet can rest comfortably on the ground (or platform if you’re shorter). Lastly, they offer very low stability, so unless you’re looking to get an ab workout while learning your major scale, ditch the high chair.
Desk chairs: Most desk chairs have arms, which we already know makes them suck. However, if you can find a decent one without arms, you may be in luck. Just watch out for how much cushion is on the seat. While you obviously want to make sure it’s comfortable, make sure you don’t sink down like on a couch cushion when you sit on it.
Bottom Line: Find a chair that is low enough to the ground for your feet to comfortably touch, that also lacks arms.
Okay, you’ve got the perfect throne for your ass, now what?
Once your chair is dialed in you want to make sure your posture doesn’t suck. After all, you went through all the trouble of getting a chair that won’t hurt your posture, why give up there?
When seated, you want to make sure that the guitar is below your chest, if possible.
Bend your knees at about 90 degrees with your thighs level with the ground
Righties, rest the guitar on your right knee. Lefties, on your left.
Watch your posture:
How to Hold A Guitar Correctly While Standing
When playing standing there are a few new variables to consider:
- Use an adjustable guitar strap
- Adjustable straps allow you to set the height of the guitar to a comfortable spot
- Find the right height for you. Too high can be exhausting on your arms and uncomfortable. Too low will make it hard to strum and pick in general.
- If you're playing on electric, loop your cable through the strap before you plug it in. This will keep the cable behind you and out of the way.
- Tilt the neck upward slightly
- This will allow you to fret chords and strings easier.
- Avoid too extreme of an angle:
- If you tilt the neck too high up your picking arm will get tired fast
- If you tilt the neck too low you will find yourself stretching just to play some chords.
- Find the happy medium
- Watch Your Posture
- Keep back straight
- Fretting arm elbow bent at 90
- Feet at least shoulder width apart
- Tip: Stand slightly off center to improve your balance.
Holding a pick correctly is pretty straight forward:
Start by curling your index finger so the pad of your finger tip touches the base of the finger, making a C shape:
Place the pick on the corner of the C:
Press your thumb down firmly on top of the pick (not too hard, don’t strain or hurt yourself. You just want to have a decent grip on the pick)
Additional Picking Hand Tips:
- Rest bicep/upper arm on the upper corner of the guitar
- Practice anchoring pinky on pickguard
- This one is tough but you’ll thank yourself if you can master it. Keeping your pinky anchored minimizes the amount of movement your right hand has to make so play any given string. Over time, this will help improve your speed and dexterity since your hand has to do less work.
Proper fretting hand technique will make playing chords (especially barre chords) and songs much easier. Luckily there are only a few things to watch out for:
Holding the guitar neck:
- You want your thumb to be close to the middle of the neck vertically
- Your thumb should also be as close to centered between your 4 fretting fingers as possible
- Create some pressure with your thumb but try to use your triceps to create more pressure when fretting
Let’s Talk Fingers!
Your fingers are numbered 1-4 starting at your Index (1st finger), Middle (2nd Finger), Ring (3rd) and Pinky (4th). This is important to know once you start learning guitar chords and reading chord diagrams.
When playing guitar you want to try and keep all 4 fingers bent slightly. This will help train your fingers to be in the correct position when playing and reduce the travel distance required to press down on a string.
HUGE WARNING: Watch that pinky! A struggle just about every guitar player faces in the beginning. Your pinky is by far the weakest on your hand. It also is the least used finger in most songs (almost as if by design...). For this reason, it is very easy to find yourself “curling” your pinky when playing.
Fight this habit as hard as you can! I found it helpful to just stick my pinky out straight while playing to break the habit of curling it. Then, over time, it is easier to keep it hovered like the rest of your fingers.
When pressing down on the strings it is important to use the very tips of your fingers, not the pads. Over time the tips of your fingers will toughen up and develop calluses, making guitar and much more comfortable experience.
Tip: Keeping your fingernails short on your fretting hand can both make fretting easier and reduce the risk of fretboard damage.
Keep your elbow out slightly. Don't hold it tight to your body or try resting your fretting arm on an arm rest (you shouldn’t have an arm rest anyway, right?).
I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice. That’s what your real doctor is for. That said, I can tell you a few tips and tricks I have found to be helpful in staying healthy and progressing consistently:
- Take stretch breaks: If your fingers feel a little tired after absolutely CRUSHING that new song you’ve been learning, take a quick minute or two to stretch your fingers, do some starbursts. Get the blood flowing and loosen up again.
- Mind your posture every ~30 min: Over time, we naturally start to slouch. It is worth stopping and noting your posture from time to time to check if you need to sit back up.
- Keep shoulders relaxed while playing (avoid raising them up to ears)
- Stay healthy, diet, exercise, sleep. All the staples you already know about. Living a healthy lifestyle is important for many things when it comes to learning guitar:
- Your bodies ability to heal and recover as you build new muscles in your fingers
- Callus formation
- Ability to learn and retain information improve
- Energy increases
- If you start to feel strained or uncomfortable - stop and take a break. Listen to your body.
Congrats! You now know how to hold a guitar correctly. It’s important to really get comfortable with proper playing technique early on. Did I miss anything? Leave any tips on how to hold a guitar or questions you may have in the comments section below!
Additional Helpful Resources:
GuitarHabits How to properly Hold a Guitar
A very thorough post. There is plenty of detail for beginners and more experienced players in here. I have not picked up a guitar since 1979 or 1980 and I am unlikely to start again soon, but you never know.
My son-in-law plays and performs here in Thailand and on YouTube. He is basically a country singer but sung in the Thai language.
Unfortunately, he does not read English (which is ok, because I do not read Thai), so I cannot pass along your excellent site to him.
Thanks for the comment Alex! I believe most modern web browsers have a translation feature built in so your brother may still be able to get some benefit from the lesson. Either way, appreciate the thought and comment! Cheers
I never really thought about all of these details of positioning one’s body when playing the guitar. Granted I only played for a very short period of time when I was young, but never became very proficient. This is a very informative post as I do love music and have friends and family members who do play the guitar. This gives me a topic to discuss with them.
Hi Joseph, thanks for the comment!
Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us. I love music and I love listening to the guitar but unfortunately I can’t play. Anyway, I think that this information is very useful for everyone who plays the guitar. A friend of mine recently went to guitar lessons so I will share this post with him.
Thanks for the comment and the referral! I'd be happy to help your friend out.