If you've just started learning or playing guitar, you might have dreams of moving effortlessly down the fretboard, writing captivating rhythms, or playing flawless leads. But in order to do that, you first need to master the basics. And perhaps the most basic skill is learning how to hold a guitar.
Table of Contents
How to Hold a Guitar: a Guide
1. Choose A Comfortable Instrument
Before trying to hold a guitar, you'll want to choose an instrument that is comfortable to hold. If you're shopping for an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar, this is something to keep in mind as you look. Obviously, if you've already purchased a guitar, you can disregard this section.
If you have short arms or small hands, a short scale guitar may be more comfortable to learn on. Some smaller people may have trouble reaching the frets closer to the neck on a full-scale guitar. If you also have shorter fingers, you may find fretting to be difficult on a full-size guitar.
Similarly, if you can't get your fretting hand comfortably around the neck, playing any guitar is going to be somewhat uncomfortable. But if you have larger hands and longer fingers, a thicker neck may be better -- thinner necks may not feel substantial enough.
The next consideration is the body. Electric guitars tend to be very comfortable to play with, thanks to their thinner bodies. On an acoustic guitar, your arm will need to rest on the lower bout (the wider part of the body closer to the back). Some players may find this uncomfortable, but some acoustic come with comfort features with built-in armrests. This isn't to say that any acoustic without an armrest will be uncomfortable to play, but if you're looking for extra comfort, an armrest might help.
If you're interested in learning more about armrests on acoustic guitars, check out this interesting video on the armrests offered on Taylor guitars.
2. Playing An Acoustic Guitar Sitting Down
When you're first learning to play guitar, experts recommend practicing sitting down. This makes playing a lot easier. Of course, playing standing up is useful if you are getting ready to play on stage, but we'll get to playing while standing up later.
Before you begin, make sure you have the right kind of chair for playing. Ideally, you'll choose a seat with no arms. Arms will get in the way of holding the guitar properly, which we don't want. Practicing in an overly squishy seat like a couch cushion can also lead to poor form over time. Be sure to use good posture when you practice -- keep your back straight and try not to lean on the back of the chair.
While seated, pick up your guitar and balance the lower bout (the back of the body) on your thigh. If you are right-handed, place the guitar on your right thigh. If you're left-handed, it will be on your left thigh. You may find that it's easier to play with a strap to help hold the guitar body in place, but this isn't entirely necessary.
If you're playing an acoustic guitar, make sure your dominant hand is in front of the sound hole. On an electric, it should be over the body of the guitar. An electric guitar won't have a sound hole, but you want your hand to be roughly in the middle of the pickups. If you don't know what pickups are, they are magnets on the body that pick up string vibrations. They often have gold or silver metal covers.
Your dominant arm will be your strumming arm (so if you are right-handed, your right arm is your dominant arm), so you'll need to grip the neck with your non-dominant hand. This is your fretting hand, which means that this hand will press down notes and chord shapes on the fretboard as you play the guitar.
Now, we get to the question of the neck. Some instructors recommend that beginners hold a guitar so the neck is at a 45-degree angle to the ground. This position is very similar to that of a classical player, but it can make fretting easier at first. However, some instructors recommend holding the neck parallel to the ground. If you don't have an instructor, it may be worthwhile to try both methods and see which ones make it easier to play. If you'd like a visual to demonstrate how to hold an acoustic guitar while sitting down, check out this brief but helpful video lesson.
3. Playing A Classical Guitar Sitting Down
Now if you're learning on a classical guitar, holding the guitar correctly looks a little different. To play classical guitar and hold your guitar properly, you will need a special footstool for classical guitar players. Sit down to play using good posture. Place the foot on the side of your non-dominant hand on the stool. (If you're right-handed, the stool will be on your left side.) This will lift up your thigh. Rest the upper bout (the top part of the guitar body) on this thigh. The lower bout should be supported by your other thigh.
Then, the neck should be at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. The headstock should be at about the level of your head. Holding a guitar this way will make fretting notes and chords easier, and it also makes it easier to see what you're doing, which can be very helpful for beginners. Keep in mind that classical guitar is typically played without a guitar strap, so you shouldn't need one for this. To see a visual demonstration of how to hold a classical guitar, check out this helpful video.
4. Playing An Electric Guitar Sitting Down
How easy it is to hold an electric guitar sitting down depends on the body shape. For instance, if you have a Les Paul, it will be easy to balance the guitar across your thighs because the body has a proportionate upper and lower bout like many acoustics. However, unusual body shapes like the Explorer can be a lot harder to manage sitting down.
That said, it's still possible to play an electric guitar sitting down. And in some cases, learning this way can also be beneficial. When you place the guitar in your lap to practice, the neck of the guitar stays more still, which makes learning easier.
It's important to note that electric guitars won't always have balanced bodies. Good-quality instruments tend to be more balanced, which means that the neck of the guitar doesn't swing up or down -- it stays about level with the body. Most guitar lesson instructors will advise you to also hold your electric guitar with the neck at a 45-degree angle.
Ultimately, holding an electric guitar isn't a whole lot different from holding an acoustic one. And thanks to the slimmer electric body, holding an electric may sometimes be even easier. This video lesson will help you make sure you're holding your guitar correctly.
5. Holding A Guitar While Standing Up
Lots of players typically hold the guitar while sitting down. This often ends up being more comfortable during long practice sessions. However, if you want to perform (or if you just want to get used to playing while standing), it's a good idea to get used to holding the guitar while you stand.
You will obviously need a guitar strap to do this. Before purchasing a strap, make sure that your guitar has strap buttons. These are small metal knobs -- one at the back of the body and one at the front. A strap will attach to each one.
Some acoustic guitars only have one strap button at the back of the body. If that is the case, you can attach a strap to that button and then attach the other end (with a thin rope or piece of leather) to the neck of the guitar by the headstock.
Before we get into how to hold the guitar while standing, we want to cover a few things to look for in a strap. One of the most important considerations is comfort. You can get budget straps that are typically made of nylon or a single strap of non-padded leather. If you don't play for longer periods of time or if you have a very light guitar, these might work fine. However, these lighter straps can become uncomfortable.
While they are more expensive, straps that are padded can be significantly more comfortable. Similarly, straps with a greater width usually are more comfortable because they don't "bite" into your shoulder.
Once you have a strap, you might be wondering how to adjust it in order to properly hold your guitar. After all, lots of famous rock guitarists wear their instruments almost impossibly low. But on the other hand, there are also plenty of renowned players who prefer to wear their guitars much higher up.
Neither of these methods is the "right" way to hold your guitar while standing (although having it slightly higher can make it easier to reach all frets). Most experts recommend that you try to get your guitar to be approximately the same height (relative to your body) as when you play sitting.
Take your time and figure out what feels best for you. Adjust your strap, try strumming a few chords, and if it doesn't feel quite right, make your strap shorter or longer until it does.
If you'd like some more guidance, this video takes you through some things to think about before you play the guitar standing up.
Of course, when you play standing, you'll still want to maintain good posture like you do when you sit. Be sure to stand straight, and keep your guitar close to your body. If the guitar tilts forward, it may cause stress on your back over time.
6. Holding The Neck
Now we've covered how to hold the body of a guitar. But if you're ready to play, it's a good idea to make sure you know how to hold the neck properly. It may seem like a small issue, but poor left hand position (if you're right-handed) can lead to fatigue and even wrist or finger injuries.
One of the most important things to remember when holding the neck is to not over-bend your wrist. Your wrist will need to be somewhat bent in order to properly fret chords, but having it at too sharp of an angle can become very uncomfortable (and even cause injuries).
The other concern is where to place your thumb. You might have seen some players who keep the thumb of their left hand (or right hand, if they're left-handed) over the back of the neck (like it's reaching around to the fretboard). This technique makes it harder for your fingers to stretch. This means that more complex chords and leads will end up being difficult to fret.
Instead, aim to have your thumb at about the center of the neck. This position gives your hand decent stability, but it still frees up your fingers to let them stretch as much as they need to. Sometimes you may need to switch chords frequently while strumming, and this positioning will help you do so.
In this video, one guitarist describes this position as being just like holding a cheeseburger. It's an unusual image, but it's definitely a good illustration.
Of course, just as when you're playing while sitting, make sure you aren't using your thumb or the rest of your hand to actually support the neck of the guitar. If you're using your left hand to hold up the neck, you won't have enough finger mobility to play properly.
Hopefully, our list has helped you gain a better understanding of how to hold the guitar. Did you enjoy it? Is there something we've left out? Please let us know in the comments, and don't forget to like and share if you found it helpful!