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Body Posture and Finger Placement

The Justinguitar.com Beginner's Course

Be comfortable, avoid back problems and get a great sound, all my learning how to sit and where 'exactly' to put your finger!

It is important to get into the habit of getting your body and finger positions right, which will help you play well. In this lesson we will talk about good posture and correct placement of your fretting fingers, which is REALLY important for beginners.

Watch The Video Lesson

Extra Info on Posture

Classical vs Rock posture
If you want to play classical guitar, then use the classical posture (put the guitar on the same leg as your fretting hand). If not then play the ‘normal' way and place it on the same leg as your strumming hand. For right-handed players this means placing your guitar on your right leg.

This will give you a better posture for playing and I think it looks kind of strange when people play rock or pop with the classical posture. It just looks weird! That said, there are some amazing guitarists who play this way.

Raising the right leg (and crossing your legs)
I find it easier to keep an electric guitar cosy and tight if I lift my right leg a little. That usually means lifting my right knee a bit by putting my toes on the floor instead of the heel, sometimes with the heel resting on the chair leg. I'm not saying that you should, or have to do this, but sometimes I do, and there were a few questions about it on the forum.

The other alternative that achieves the same thing is to cross your right leg over your left. This kind of makes a little ‘V' shape at your hip which helps hold the guitar securely; I like sitting like this, too!

Strap placement and standing up
Set your strap so that the guitar is roughly in the same place when you stand as when you sit. This will make it a lot easier to play, unless you want to play with the strap low, and plan to always practise standing up (which is not recommended!).

Keeping the neck still
Make sure that your fretting hand is not supporting the guitar neck at all and that the neck is stable when you are playing. The last thing you want is the neck wobbling about when you are trying to practise getting your fingers in the right position.

Using a mirror
If you have a bit of a belly, or find yourself straining your neck to see the fingerboard, you might consider using a mirror. I used my dad's shaving mirror when I first practised pretty much all of the time, so I could check the position of my fretting hand, but having a big mirror so you can see both hands and your posture is ideal.

Relax your shoulders
Many people develop tension in their shoulders when they play, especially when doing difficult things. Stay relaxed and you will make it easier for yourself. Imagine that your fretting hand is nailed to the neck and then just let the whole shoulder and elbow relax. It will help your fingers stretch as well: you will always get a better reach when you are relaxed.

Fretting Finger Position 
Making sure that you understand why it is important to put your fingers just behind the fret is vital – if you know why, you are more likely to do it the right way. You need to play as close to the frets as you can (without actually touching the fret). This means that you don't have to press down too hard and your fingers will hurt less (although all beginners get sore fingers – this is normal – don't worry about it!).

Pressing too hard will also make some notes go sharp, which will make your chords sound horrible, so really watch out for that.

Try pressing as lightly as you can near the fret while still getting a good, clear note. Then move your finger away from the fret, and notice how much more pressure you need to apply to get a good sound. As a beginner, you want to position your finger where you can get a good sound with the least pressure, which is next to the fret. 

You can see this exercise on the video. Do this exercise! Please. REALLY IMPORTANT!!

Thumb placement
Try and keep the thumb positioned behind the neck when you start. Later on you will probably bring it over to play particular chords, bass notes and all sorts of other tricks, but as a beginner, keep it behind the neck and it will help develop the muscles that you will need to play barre chords.

£10 music stand vs £1000 chiropractor bill...
Having your sheet music or book sitting next to you on the bed or sofa and twisting around to see it is a sure-fire way to give yourself neck and back problems later in life, and I can assure you that the small investment of a music stand is well worth it. You don't need a fancy one; just the basic fold-up type is fine. (If you've got excess cash to blow, check out RAT stands, they are super cool lookin').

Keep the nails short on your fretting hand
I already mentioned this, but you should make sure that you keep your nails nice and short, or the nail will dig into the wood of the fingerboard and make your fingers lie too flat. You should use the tips of your fingers to play the notes when you start. Later you might start to use them a little flatter, but learn to use the tips first.

Questions from the forum I think will help you too!

I started playing classical-style with the guitar on the left leg. I think I should switch but it's hard. Help!
If you started playing with a ‘classical' posture then your hands will be used to playing that way and making the switch will feel difficult, but not for long. As with most things, when you try something new it usually takes a little getting used to, and this is no exception. You should find that after a few weeks of playing it will feel better and you'll probably have a hard time going back to the old way.

That said, some people simply prefer playing with the classical posture, and that is fine too.

How does one go about holding top-heavy guitars?
Top heavy guitars (where the headstock is heavy and the neck pulls toward the ground) can be a pain. My Gibson Les Paul Gold Top is really top heavy and the only thing I have found to help is to use a strap and stand up. I don't practise a lot with Les Pauls for this reason, but I know other people who love the feel of them, so it's just a preference I guess.

When I place all four fingers on the fretboard, my index finger tilts inward towards/away from my other fingers. Is this bad?
Everybody's hands are a little different, don't worry about it! There are some guitar freaks out there that seem to have ‘guitar-shaped' hands with perfectly even finger lengths, that seem to be able to stretch to grab any chord with ease, but that's not the case for most players. I have a tiny little finger, but I don't find many chord grips I can't play... I've seen dudes with HUGE ‘farmer's fingers' that can still play intricate jazz grips and little kids playing amazingly difficult stretches with tiny hands... it just takes practice!

finger placement

How exactly should the tip of the finger be positioned on the string? How near or far from the nail must the string be?

The problem is that this changes depending on what you are playing.

As a beginner, you probably should be aiming to press the string at blue arrow; as you progress, you'll move a little bit more towards the yellow arrow (or past it) because you'll use the tip of the finger to mute other strings. DO NOT try this if you are a beginner, it'll screw up your technique!. If your finger is pressing the string at the red arrow it will hurt, and is not recommended!


My hand touches the neck just next to the high E string. Is this a really bad habit?
As a beginner, yes, you should avoid this. You will probably find that your hand will often mute the thin E string, and also hinder your chord change speed. Later on, you might find that it's O.K. to have the hand gripping there, but you are better off not learning that way. This is one of those things that will change as you develop your guitar playing, but you can't start like that.

You may also find that yoru hand is supporting the neck, which is bad as well.

Beginner products you may like from justinguitar.com
Justinguitar Beginner's Course DVD set
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Beginners Course Book
Practical Music Theory

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Lesson ID: BC-106