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Guide to posture for classical guitar

The classical guitar has a long history, with the instrument first being mentioned in literature in the 1300s. Before then, this instrument's forebears can be seen in such stringed instruments as the Ancient Greek lyre, the European and Middle-Eastern lutes, and vihuelas from Spain. Since the modern classical guitar took shape around the 16th century, there have been many iconic musicians that have played much beautiful music over the years. But they all had to start somewhere, and one of the first things that every classical guitarist will have had to get to grips with is their posture. This brief outline will give you some handy tips to help you learn how to adopt the most productive classical guitar stance. A good stance is the foundation of all that follows. Although there are a few different opinions on this, our explanation will give you what most consider to be the conventional posture.

Below you can see two great guitarists who are considered to hold excellent posture. We have John Williams and Francisco Tárrega, with the latter being considered the father of Classical guitar by some.

Francisco Tárrega - by Gabriel polímata (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
John Williams in performance Cordoba 1986
John Williams in performance, Cordoba 1986 by Kealow [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Why is posture important?

You may be wondering why posture even matters all that much. Well, it is actually a surprisingly significant part of the puzzle that makes up good classical guitar playing. When you are sitting in the right way and holding your instrument correctly, you are able to play in a manner that would otherwise be much more difficult. The main benefit, then, of good posture is the freedom it allows you to play with. If you are sitting in an awkward and strained way, then you will have to struggle through your playing, and it will feel like a real battle to maintain the correct technique with your fingers. If, however, you adopt the stance that we will describe below, you will more naturally tend towards the correct technique, and thus you will play with relative ease. In this way, with a good posture, you are essentially more free to focus on the fun part, which is the creation of beautiful sounds.

On top of all that, as with sitting at a desk, bad posture when you are playing your classical guitar can in fact lead to long-lasting damage to your back. As you will be getting the hours in when practicing, you will want to get into good habits so that you do not end up giving yourself back pain each time you play. In short, with a good posture, you will be minimising tension in your body, and maximising your potential range of motion in the fingers and arms whilst playing.

Step one: sit up straight

Although you do not want to strain your back so that it is dead straight, you will want to find a relaxed, upright posture. Achieve this by sitting on a surface that is not too soft or bouncy. This means that sofas and beds are usually not the best choices, as you will bounce into them and have to make an extra effort to hold your upright position steadily. Once you have found the right seat which is firm enough, you will want to sit towards its edge. If you sit back into the seat, then you will be encouraging your shoulders to hunch over. You will also not have enough space between your legs to rest the guitar properly, and so the guitar might end up resting on the seat itself. The key to this part of the stance is to find that position that feels relaxed and upright at the same time. As mentioned above, it's all about keeping tension to a minimum.

Step two: angle the guitar at 45 degrees

Most classical guitarists agree that it is best to angle your guitar at 45 degrees. To achieve this angle, you will need to get yourself a classical guitar support or a footstool. With a footstool, your left foot will be placed on it, thus raising the height of the guitar along the neck as it rests down on your slightly raised leg. Alternatively, you can also choose to purchase a guitar support. This attaches to your guitar so as to create the 45-degree angle without you needing to have one foot raised on a stool. This can be a good choice for anyone worried about back pain, as it means that you can have both feet on the floor and thus retain a more symmetrical stance.

With both options, you should have your legs placed wide enough apart so that the guitar can rest comfortably between your legs without it feeling like it will slide. Your left leg which is raised up with the stool should be facing forwards, and only slightly to the side. If it is angled leftwards away from the body too much, it will mean that the neck of the guitar will not be out in front of you, and instead will shift too far back, thus creating tension in your left arm.

Step three: rest guitar back onto the torso

Once your back and your leg position are correct, you should then tilt the guitar back slightly so that it rests on your torso. If you do this correctly, there should be an identifiable triangle that takes shape between the thigh of your left leg, your upright torso, and the back of your guitar as it angles back to connect with your torso.

Step four: relax the hands

As you progress with your classical guitar playing, your hand on the fret will be asked to make increasingly complex movements. It is important therefore that you are able to hold it in place with minimum stress and tension. To achieve this, you should practice pressing down the strings only as hard as is necessary, rather than exerting unnecessary force. You should also think of the left arm as being as relaxed a support for the hand as possible, as though it is a string that simply hangs loose without needing to be tensed as you move your hand along the neck. A similar thing can be said of the right hand. You should rest your right arm on the guitar somewhere between the wrist and elbow, and let the right hand hold its position in as relaxed and mobile a state as possible.


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