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You Are Playing Guitar Wrong! Finding Your Optimal Guitar Position

     We have all seen it before – the guitar slung so low it could kill ants or the laid back singer-songwriter leaning so close to the guitar you think she just might kiss it. You might even be guilty of it yourself. What you might not know is your playing position is probably the most important way to either enhance or kill your technique.
     When I first started playing guitar at age 11, it was in the midst of the grunge era  – you know, baggy pants, flannels, thermal shirts. Playing loud and heavy was the order of the day, and all the cool guys were slinging guitars down to their knees. After trying to play like that for a little while and struggling to get some of the riffs sounding smooth, I realized that there was a difference in my playing when I practiced while sitting versus playing while standing. So, I decided to try to mimic my sitting-style playing and one of the first steps was to bring the guitar up closer to my chest. And voila! Suddenly, those transitions and “difficult” riffs I was hacking through became smooth and almost seamless. You might have had a similar epiphany at some point and just took it and ran with it. What you might not know, is that is just the beginning of your improvement with guitar positioning.
     The absolute first thing to learn and use every time you pick up your instrument and no matter how advanced you are, is to stay relaxed while playing and release any unnecessary tension. There are more specific techniques with which to do this as you progress but it all starts with your playing position and understanding of a few key principles.
The Classical Position
    For a well-thought out guide on classical guitar sitting position, check out ThisisClassicalGuitar.com by Bradford Werner. (Basic Posture and Sitting Position)
    The best playing position for each individual will vary slightly but the core principles remain the same. Keep your shoulders relaxed (not hunched) and pulled back (slightly extended chest); the back should be straight and feet planted – you should be able to let your arms hang and feel the weight of gravity. The optimal guitar position is at a range of 30 degrees to about 45 degrees angled up. Place the guitar on your left leg – the idea is to give your left hand (fretting hand) easy access to the guitar neck without bending at the wrist. Any wrist bending will create tension with your tendons and interfere with the movements of your fingers. (to demonstrate try bending your wrist forward and making a fist. You will feel the tension in your forearm and wrist and it will eventually travel up your arm to your shoulder.) This is why when you are hanging low with your guitar, you find it difficult to move your fingers smoothly.
     Breathing regularly and through your diaphragm will help keep you in a relaxed state (plus it is important to life!) and I suggest starting an almost meditative practice of bringing attention back to your breathing while playing – when you notice yourself holding your breath, then release it and focus on breathing regularly again – do this every time you notice holding your breath. Holding in your breath creates a lot of tension in your shoulders, which travels down your arm and to your fingers. The mindful attention to your breathing should then journey to any tension you feel in your shoulders and back – breathe consciously and release any tension.
The Casual Position
     I recommend only going to the casual position after you have experimented with and understood the principles behind the classical sitting position. You can transfer some of those ideas to the casual position but you will be limited by a few factors. Gravity and weight of your fingers and hands should still be a central focus, though you might have to play around with your position to approximate a similar feeling. Notice the left arm and hand will not be able to access the entire fretboard as easily. You will have to bend your wrist a bit more and apply more squeezing pressure rather than relying on the weight of your arm. You will also have to struggle more to reach the higher frets. Your right hand will most likely rest a little higher on the body and moving the right arm to reach different timbres and sound colors will be more difficult. That being said, the casual position can be used to great affect once thought through. Finding the balance between the classical position’s effectiveness and the casual position’s ease and comfort is a personal journey for every guitarist. Trust your body’s instincts and keep the idea of minimal tension with quick release in mind at all times – and remember to breathe!

Why Every Guitarist Should Learn Classical Guitar

         Classical guitarists are some of the most, if not, the most technically and musically accomplished guitarists out there. Though, they are almost always relegated to a dark, mysterious corner of the guitar world. Guitarists in the know might revere these technical wizards and stand in awe at the almost incomprehensible ability to play full solo works with their fingers. The general public, however, has mostly never heard of classical guitar or think of guitarists playing Mozart or Bach. Most guitarists see the word “classical” and immediately think “boring!” They might think that they could never learn to play like a classical guitarist and that it requires years of practice and study. My goal is to take the art of playing classical guitar out of the realm of the esoteric and put the useful knowledge into the hands of every guitarist. Once a player has the technical tools and knowledge available to a classical guitarist, then a whole world of possibility opens and almost any guitar challenge can be conquered. If you have a strong foundation of techniques and knowledge from the classical guitar, then you will be able to play and understand almost any music.
The idea of classical guitar is not to play classical music but to approach the playing of any piece with a full range of knowledge and techniques of the fretboard and fingers.
    The term “classical guitar” encompasses much more than a guitarists who plays classical music. It is more accurate to describe it as a certain approach to playing and learning music for the guitar. The classical guitar repertoire has grown to include all sorts of styles from straight classical to jazz, Brazilian, Flamenco, African, and modern pop music. The idea of classical guitar is not to play classical music but to approach the playing of any piece with a full range of knowledge and techniques of the fretboard and fingers. Songs of the Beatles or even Adele are not off limits and the classical guitarist will often arrange and play these tunes for various occasions. What the classical guitarists does with these tunes is where they differentiate themselves and shine. Chords, harmonies, and self-accompaniment fill out the sound for a soloist, and the techniques to play multiple parts at the same time give the classical guitarist the self-sufficiency that almost no other style enjoys.
     This blog will go over various techniques and knowledge parsed from the classical guitar literature to give you the strong foundation from which to tackle any guitar challenge from any style of playing. You will not become a classical guitarist from these lessons, but you will learn the essentials from the classical guitar and be able to apply them to any style and genre of your choosing (including classical, if you wish).
Skills you will learn from the classical guitar method:
  • how to practice
  • sight reading
  • fretboard knowledge
  • music reading
  • unique chord voicings
  • how to accompany yourself
  • playing multiple parts at the same time
  • good tone production
  • fingerstyle right hand technique
  • ergonomic playing
  • how to play musically
  • theory applied to the fretboard
  • music history and style
  • expanded repertoire
  • how to bring out a multitude of different sounds and timbres from the instrument