In Part one of this series on how to sit with a guitar properly, I explained why good, solid and consistent posture is critical for you as a guitarist – mainly because good posture can save a huge amount of time and frustration.
In this part, we are getting right into the meat and potatoes of the series where I’ll show you what I have found to be by far the most optimal playing position for guitarists.
If you missed it, check out part 1 where I explained:
- Why your posture is so important for your long-term health as a guitarist
- How being inconsistent with your posture is a one-way ticket to the land of being a frustrated guitar player
- A simple chord based test to see if your posture is indeed consistent
- How just being aware of your posture can be very beneficial
Okay, so hopefully you read part 1, now let’s get right into it. How do I recommend you should sit with the guitar?
How to actually sit with the guitar
These days I teach something called ‘Classical With A Strap’ posture.
Classical with a strap posture (or CWAS for short) simply means you sit like a classical guitarist but you also use a strap to secure the guitar in this optimal position.
Sitting properly and with good posture is one of the most important things you can do to help your overall playing technique.
It will help with faster chord changes, better barre chords, better tone and a more professional strumming sound as well as lots of other key aspects of your playing. These things as well as all of the above you can learn from in my book bundle.
Classical with a strap (CWAS)
Let’s take a look at what the classical playing position with a strap looks like from two angles.
The 7 Steps for ‘Classical With A Strap’ posture
The following 7 points are integral to the CWAS position.
The numbers in the above images highlight what these 7 points are…
- My left leg is raised on a footstool (see below for more on this) and this allows me to raise the neck side of the guitar higher
- The curved base of the body of the guitar is on my left leg NOT my right as in the more common ‘rock’ position
- The neck of the guitar is angled up and NOT in a horizontal plane
- The headstock is above shoulder level NOT below
- My back is straight and NOT hunched over
- The strap is tight but not too tight
- The bottom of the body of the guitar is tight against my body
Why use a strap and not just go ‘old school’ classical?
The old school classical position is great and clearly, the CWAS method takes a lot from that. The downside to not having a strap is the guitarist cannot get up and move around.
That is okay in classical music but what about if you are in a pub band jamming some ZZ Top number – do you want to be the dork sitting down while everyone else is a groovin’?
…Or you may not be able to get into a Fleetwood Mac tune while jamming with friends without fear of the guitar sliding out of your lap and shattering into pieces.
Getting up and moving around with the guitar is rock ‘n’ roll, is good for keeping the blood flowing and gives you a bit more freedom as a guitarist to enjoy your playing without the restriction of the old school classical way.
The strap can be a lifesaver for your guitar too
A hugely important point that is missed by people who teach the classical method but don’t fully understand it is….
Having the guitar secured by the strap is a great thing as it allows both of your hands to be truly free and that means that neither hand has to hold any part of the guitar to keep it into position.
As long as you keep the strap length the same and ensure it hasn’t slipped then it will help ensure you have the guitar in the same position each time you pick it up too.
Some people sit in the classical position but don’t quite get it right. They might be 90% in the ideal position but something is not quite aligned so the guitar is unstable.
They then have to use either the fretting or strumming hand to stabilise the guitar as described below…
Two mistakes that show you haven’t secured the guitar…
These are the two common mistakes that many make when using either hand to secure the guitar in position. Ensure you don’t do either…
1) Are you resting your strumming hand on the body?
The amount of guitarists who have to rest their strumming hand on the body of the guitar to hold it in position is crazy.
Resting your strumming hand on the body to hold the guitar in position causes tension and rigidity throughout your body and stops real freedom of movement in the picking hand.
This means when it comes to picking and strumming there is often a much more restricted feeling and a more robotic tone.
2) Holding up the neck with your fretting hand?
Having the fretting hand hold the weight of the guitar is an awful thing to do as it restricts movement massively and slows down everything you do with that fretting hand.
These things include relaxed and faster chords changes, better legato, faster movement up and down the fretboard – not to mention it massively stops you from playing in a relaxed manner.
Ensure you don’t do it!
Both of the above stop you from being relaxed when playing.
It is super important to keep your whole body relaxed when playing – for you ultra chilled players, that means relaxed in a good position and not slouched like you have just come back from a bar after 10 beers/wines/whiskeys!
Sit in the classical position AND use a strap to avoid the above errors.
The importance of playing standing up
I definitely recommend you play standing up too. Having a strap allows this to happen.
Playing standing up is good to stretch out your muscles, relieve tension and is an important skill to master if you want to play in a band setting.
Also, sitting lots has proven to be detrimental to health so if you have a desk job or spend a lot of time sitting due to work then I advise you play a little more standing up.
It’s good for your guitar playing AND your health.
During most of my lessons, I will stand up for a little while these days and I encourage the student to do so too.
When we stand it changes the energy of the lesson slightly – making things just that little bit more lively and the music gets that little bit louder and more passionate too.
Sitting and standing aren’t two separate skills or techniques
Did you know that when you sit with the guitar, the aim with your sitting posture should be to replicate your standing posture and vice versa?
Most people forget or are unaware of the above point.
Now, take a look at the following image.
This is me standing and sitting – notice how the guitar is in the same position in relation to my body for both.
Think of the golfing analogy from part 1. I am now in a consistent position when sitting or standing and this position is ideal for my back, arms, shoulders, hands and fingers.
I can now give my best to my playing without any part of my body being in a weird or offset position.
It is important to be consistent with your posture.
There is no point in getting the ideal posture if you don’t use it every time. You need to get in the right position, constantly remind yourself to do so, and regularly check this position.
Remember both playing and standing are two things that should be aligned.
Most guitarists stand totally different to how they sit with the guitar so they literally have to retrain the movements they have spent months or years on from when seated.
Don’t make learning the guitar any harder than it needs to be.
Also, use a mirror and/or film yourself playing. (You should be doing both anyway to spot for technical issues).
Two things that will help with your posture
As a guitarist, I’m sure you love an accessory, (don’t we all), but to make the most of this method you don’t need a lot, just two things:
Let’s take a look in detail at how they can both make a difference to your playing…
Make sure the strap you get is comfortable and of decent quality. It should be sturdy and have a nice fairly wide padding.
I have multiple straps which are simple but sturdy and not too dissimilar to this.
You can, of course, buy straps that match the brand of your guitar but you will usually pay a premium for doing so.
Oh, and if you care about your guitar get some strap locks – always get strap locks. Don’t be this guy (watch the video at about 1.18!)
To raise my left leg as shown in the image from earlier (point 1) I use a footstool. These are simple accessories that can do wonders for your playing.
I wish I had got one when I started out. I would be a better player for it now without a doubt.
Again, you can spend a lot of money on a footstool but unless it gives you a foot massage and pedicure while you are playing there is no real need to.
I have a simple footstool like this and it more than does the job.
If you want to be a cheapskate you can always use a couple of books to raise your foot, but a decent footstool is well worth the investment, and taking your Ronnie Wood autobiography to a gig to rest your foot on would turn a few eyebrows (not as many as if it was the Def Leppard biography but I digress).
Anyway, get a footstool, it is simply one of the best and most underrated investments you can make.
A story of why it sucks to not practice standing up
When I first joined a band at 17 (I use the word ‘band’ loosely here!) I had no idea how to play standing up as I had never done it, so when we got into the studio I looked like a right chump.
I had practised the songs for ages (Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Californication’ was one of them) but I really struggled with them when standing. Sitting was no problem.
Luckily for my playing (but not my ego), there was a stool in the studio so I could sit down and play the songs – NOT very rock ‘n’ roll.
What to do if you have developed a bad playing position with the guitar
Some of you will no doubt have developed the habit of sitting in the typical ‘rock’ position of the guitar on your right leg (if you are a right-hander) and it might well be ingrained in your playing as a habit.
See the image below.
You can change it though.
Remind yourself constantly.
If this is the case and you want to change your technique for the better, read this…
How I deal with students stuck in a rut…
When I get a student who struggles to get out of the habit of sitting in the rock position I now put a little sticky ‘post-it note’ on a student’s guitar, saying the words….
‘CLASSICAL WITH A STRAP’
…..in big, bright letters.
Recently I did this for my student, Steve, and I told him to leave it on the guitar all week.
Every time he slipped back into old habits the little note would remind him.
I have a couple of students this has worked really well with lately.
Classical posture works for all styles – not just classical music!
An important point to remember for all you naysayers out there is that the classical guitar position, and particularly, the classical with a strap (CWAS) position works for everyone single style of music out there.
Just because you play rock, pop, blues, country or folk doesn’t mean that the classical position is somehow invalid.
Classical music is much harder for the most part and more technically demanding than a lot of rock, pop and blues (not always, just more often than not), therefore classical guitarists do what makes it easier for them and so they play in an optimal playing position.
I believe it is called using their brains!
Rock and pop players are generally much more laid back which is good for learning and enjoyment but not for technique.
Aim to be a laid player who enjoys the guitar and doesn’t take it too seriously, but also aim to always use good technique while doing so.
The funny thing is, being precise about technique allows you to actually enjoy your playing even more and will massively help in getting rid of your frustrations as a beginner or struggling guitarist.
Now, go get a strap, purchase a footstool, and ensure you get your playing position sorted once and for all, then regularly check it is consistent and enjoy the benefits of doing so.
I’ll have to buy a strap it seems :). And get a footstool. I struggle with holding the guitar in a classical position so this is something I’ll need to work and practice with.
Thanks, Richie. Yeah, it is well worth the effort and both the strap and footstool will make it much easier, leaving you to get on with focusing on your guitar playing and playing it well!
Justin Levitt says
Hi Dan , what are your thoughts on getting a chair specifically designed for guitar to improve posture and position. I saw something here that says an adjustable guitar chair can be set up in an ergonomical way. Just wanted to hear your thoughts as I’m considering getting one.
Thanks so much!
Hi Justin, although not totally necessary these look like they can be very useful. If you find an ideal position where you practice and keep it consistent you might not need one.
However, if you find you sit in different places and find it hard to be consistent, (which many do), one of these could be the ideal solution.
Great question, thanks for getting in touch.