I realised the other day that I’d not written a piece on posture for a while, so I thought it was high time I touched on the subject again. Why? Well, it’s one of those things are so vitally important to players at every level – something that has the potential to create play-hindering issues in the short-term and pain-inducing, crippling problems in the longer term – that it deserves some specific focussed attention from time to time.
So, do we know what “good” posture is when playing classical guitar and how do we know when we’ve got it?
First and foremost a good classical guitar playing position is one that is relaxed (without being sloppy), but allowing yourself to hold your form without unnecessary tension (i.e. just the correct amount of tension that means you’re sitting up without turning into a jellyfish). I guess it’s kind of like the sitting equivalent of smart casual dress – you feel kind of good in it, ready for business, not too rigid, not too slouchy.
When seated make sure your legs are bent at roughly 90 degrees, with both feet flat on the ground. Then holding the guitar (using either your preference of foot stool or rest), make sure that your back is straight, using your stomach muscles to help keep that nice straight form.
Not ram rod straight though as that can bring problems of it’s own and certainly not beyond straight, chest puffed out (this is something I used to do and if not caught early can cause issues with compression in the spine). Instead think about lengthening your spine by imagining you’re a puppet with a string attached to the crown of your head keeping you upright.
Aim to sit towards the front of your seat; don’t sit too far back on the chair or lean on the back of the chair.
With your arms, the right arm (if right handed) should be soft and heavy, positioned over the bell of the body, with just the minimal amount of tension through it to hold that relaxed form.
For the left arm, be careful not to drop the shoulder, but also be be careful that it’s not creeping up around your ear, as this will create unnecessary tension (and thereby aches and pains) in the neck and shoulder itself. Ensure the wrist is nice and straight, more or less in line with the hand and arm most of the time, elbow pointing down towards the floor (a bit like this photo I took of one of my marvelous students). This will keep the wrist area nice and open, leaving all bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessel relatively unencumbered. Obviously we’re all physically made up differently, and biomechanically we all move in slightly different ways, but following these principles (with the help of your teacher and/ or health care professional such as an Alexander Technique teacher, physiotherapist or myotherapist) will set you on the right path.
Why is it so important to maintain good posture?
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that our lives are increasingly sedentary – many of us sitting in front of computers all day at work, sitting in front of computers at home, TV screens, in our cars and so on. And adding sitting on our bottoms to play guitar isn’t helping with any potential musculoskeletal issues associated with lots of sitting down!
If we’re not using the correct postural muscles we can come to rely on other muscles that aren’t really designed to hold us up long-term. This creates pain and soreness in those muscles, increasing weakness in the “proper” postural muscles too and decreasing ability for the body to share the stresses of stabilising us whilst playing.
And like any activity that we may do lots of in one sitting, so to speak, we need to break it up and do something else, change what we’re doing and move about. So every 30-45 minutes, or at least every 60 minutes make sure you’re moving or standing up and walking around to relieve any build up in tensions in the body.
So we need to make sure that we’re sitting and playing in the ways that are kindest to the body. That way we can ensure the longevity of our classical guitar playing too.
- Are you practicing your mistakes? (classicalguitarnstuff.com)