Sitting in classical guitar

Sitting for classical

Some parents are rightly baffled by the classical guitar sitting position. We are used to seeing folk guitarists sitting with the guitar on their right knee, with the fretboard pretty much parallel to the floor: why do classical guitarists have to be different? Well, there is a long tradition in classical guitar of using some kind of support for the guitar which is placed on the left knee, not the right. The purpose of this is, primarily, to bring the guitar into more of a ’45 degree’ position which has the effect of bringing the fingerboard closer to the body and allows the fingers to be more parallel with the frets. However, it also makes the guitar much more stable because the back of the guitar is supported by the chest. This means we can push against the neck without movement – and more pushing is necessary on the classical guitar because the action (the distance between the strings and the fingerboard) is higher. The need for parallel fingers is considered desirable on classical guitar because of the sometimes virtuosic nature of the left hand fingering and the corresponding need for equity between the fingers (it’s a generalisation, but the fourth finger is used much more in classical guitar than in other types of guitar playing).

So here’s a run through of what we’re looking for …

As in any guitar-playing stance, the sitting position should be relaxed and comfortable. Choose a chair which, when you are sitting close to the front of the seat, allows your thighs to be roughly parallel to the floor. It’s important to be on the forward part of the chair because otherwise the guitar will knock against the chair.

There are a number of guitar supports and these have various merits but I am not going to review these here. The footstool is the mainstay and most performers still find that this is the most stable support in performance (even players who use alternative guitar supports to practice tend to use a footstool in performance). The left foot goes on the footstool and the guitar rests on the thigh and against the chest. The back of the guitar is, therefore, not flat against the body, which would reduce vibration and the subsequent volume of the acoustic instrument.

Young guitarists often want to ‘turn’ the guitar so they can see the fingerboard more but this should be discouraged. It’s important to be able to play without looking at the fingers (sight-reading becomes much more difficult if you do), although using a music stand placed strategically on the left side means that both the music can be read and the fingers can be seen in peripheral vision.

With the guitar on the left knee, it should be possible to hold the guitar comfortably with the right arm only, resting lightly on the instrument. The arm should be free to move as the effect of this movement, and the subsequent change of tone, is vital in classical guitar.

Here’s my checklist:

  1. Find a suitable chair with no arms and a good height for you
  2. Relax the body
  3. Take your sitting position and check that your shoulders are relaxed and your back is straight
  4. Move forward on the chair and put your left foot on the footstool so the left leg is sloped at a slight angle
  5. Rest the guitar on your thigh, check that the angle of the guitar neck is around 45% from horizontal
  6. Rest your right arm lightly on the guitar, making sure it is free to move
  7. Think, ‘tall’ so the crown of your head is reaching up to the ceiling

It is important to add that if you have any pain, in the back or shoulders or elsewhere, you should consult a good teacher, physician or specialist in posture.