Gibson App: How to Hold a Guitar
| June 7, 2024 |

Video: How to Hold a Guitar—What Are the Basics You Shouldn’t Skip?

Put posture in the right perspective and learn to love guitar playing from the start

How should you hold the guitar correctly as you begin your journey in playing guitar? Forming good posture habits with a guitar as a beginner is a wise investment in your music career and health. This video from the Gibson App illustrates the basic and most common way to hold a guitar for ensured success.

Health-related ergonomics and comfort are big deals for players in all stages of learning. The wise folks from the Gibson App aim to help you start on the right path. If you teach guitar, please share this article with your students to get them thinking about more than merely notes, chords, and budding stardom. You want them to get reinforcement on how to hold a guitar properly.

Properly holding a guitar can enhance your playing experience and help prevent injury over time. Because I’ve been to the emergency room with back issues related to poor guitar-playing posture, I learned to change my ways. Spending way too much time awkwardly holding a guitar while nestled on a couch is what eventually bit me, and it took months to get those awful back spasms under control.

Only people who have experienced uncontrollable back pain know what I’m saying, but it’s among the worst non-fatal things that can happen to you. Copious use of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit got me going again.

Ergonomics related to guitar playing is now a passion of mine (some call it “human factors”). These days, I even use weird little devices like this posture clamp to help with that, elevating the height and angle of the guitar to ensure my spine stays straight. It works for me, and I’ve stopped doing the couch routine so often unless both feet are on the floor. I also use a footstool sometimes (depending on the guitar) and want one of these Gibson bar stools because the way the lower half is designed allows you to prop up one leg.

Poor posture with your guitar might make you want to give up because it’s a lot of new information for your brain and new kinesthetic information to deal with all at once. Don’t quit! Many beginners abandon guitar because their instrument has high action or terrible fretbuzz, hurting their fingers or musical sensibilities. Others quit because they don’t learn how to tune a guitar on day one, so everything they attempt to play sounds like Arnold Schoenberg on six different drugs. Possibly cool in theory, but maybe not for a budding guitarist in their first few days of approaching the instrument. The Gibson App has a tuner that’ll help you with that front.

Choosing the best way to hold a guitar depends on your playing style, the shape/size of the guitar, and personal comfort. Practicing good posture can help prevent injuries and improve your overall playing experience. Don’t give up on guitar early on. Getting the basics under your belt takes a while, and you may want to experiment to discover what works best for you so that you can overcome the early roadblocks to your development.

The following is a list of the various postures commonly used by guitarists and electric bassists.

What is the classical position?

The guitar rests on the left leg (for right-handed players) with the neck angled upwards. The left foot is often elevated on a footstool to help position the guitar. Ensure your back is straight and shoulders are relaxed to avoid strain.

Common Use: Classical guitar playing and fingerstyle playing or maintaining good spine posture for a healthy career with guitar—most styles can be executed in this position. Still, it ultimately comes down to what you’re accustomed to.

What is the casual (or standard) position?

The guitar rests on the right leg (for right-handed players), with the neck angled slightly upwards or parallel to the ground. This is a more relaxed and common position. Avoid slouching; keep your back straight and ensure the guitar is at a comfortable height. The video from the Gibson App goes into more detail.

Common Use: Most genres, including rock, pop, and blues.

What is the standing position?

The guitar is held using a strap, allowing the player to stand. It should be positioned to be comfortable to play, usually with the neck angled slightly upwards. Adjust the strap so the guitar is not too low or high, keeping it at a comfortable height for both strumming and fingerpicking. Neck dive is a thing sometimes, and a wide strap made from suede or similar materials can help create a gripping effect on the shoulder.

Common Use: Live performances and rehearsals. Be careful not to trip over your guitar cables as you move around!

What is the crossed-leg position?

The player sits with their legs crossed, and the guitar rests on their lap. Make sure your back is supported, and avoid leaning forward excessively. This position can be comfortable for extended practice sessions, though there is a risk of a leg “going to sleep” due to constricted blood flow.

Common Use: Informal practice sessions and some acoustic performances.

What is the lap steel position?

The guitar is laid flat on the player’s lap, and the player uses a bar to play. Ensure the guitar is stable on your lap, and use a proper technique for smooth playing.

Common Use: Lap steel guitar playing, pedal steel situations, and some slide guitar techniques.

How do I use a footstool or the elevated leg position?

Similar to the classical position, a footstool or other object elevates one leg. This helps in achieving a comfortable angle for the guitar neck and it also impacts spinal factors—straighter is better. Adjust the footstool height so that the guitar is at a comfortable angle for your playing style. In a pinch, you can use a stack of books.

Common Use: Classical guitar playing and sometimes jazz or fingerstyle playing.

The entire playlist for this beginner series is here. Get the Gibson App, and for more detailed information on guitar setup and maintenance or more complicated DIY repairs, be sure to check out Gibson’s free Virtual Guitar Tech service.