Classical Guitar Playing Posture

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.

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Aim to keep the left hand, wrist and arm more or less in alignment whilst playing

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.

 

My top three post-practice stretches for guitarists

I thought I’d share with you today the three stretches that I now do after each and every practice session. Well, after most sessions anyway. Those sessions where I don’t do these stretches after I tend to notice a higher degree of tension in the time post-practice. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), those times when I do do the following stretches I feel marvellous! All stretched out, tension released, refreshed and re-energised. They’re good for getting the oxygenated blood flowing to the parts again after sitting down, focusing and concentrating, during your practice.

I’m sharing these exercises as they work for me – whether you choose to do these for yourself is entirely up to you, but please take account of your own physical condition and health before commencing them. If unsure don’t do them and/ or consult your doctor. Always consult a health professional if you have any lingering aches and pains or any unduly sharp pains during or after playing guitar.

Stretch #1 – The Back Roll

OK, so this first one isn’t really a stretch after all. It is a tension-reliever though and involves a the use of a hard foam roller to effectively crack your own back. It feels great!

I could try and explain the technique here (and thought better of filming myself lumbering around on the floor!), but check out this video instead – this chap demonstrates the technique very neatly, although I would recommend rolling a little more slowly perhaps than he is doing.

Stretch #2 – The Lumbar Twist

This one was inspired by my forays in to the world of yoga. Don’t worry it’s not some crazy, one-legged, balancing act. It’s actually a very gentle posture, that promotes release of tension in the spine through a gentle, supported twisting – lying down on your back on the floor your head and neck move one way, whilst the legs move the other with the position held for 10 – 30 seconds to really let the tension melt away.

Again, rather than me trying to explain further and/ or clamber around ungracefully for your viewing displeasure, check out this YouTube clip. The posture I’m on about starts around 1 minute 10 seconds in.

Stretch #3 – The Shoulder and Chest Stretch

This is a good one to round off a wee stretching session, as it brings you back up to standing and focuses on chest and shoulders. Standing with feet about hip width apart, put your hands behind your back, palms facing each other and interlock your fingers. Raise your interlocked hands up (not too far) and stretch – you should feel a nice gentle stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders. You can choose to put you head slightly forward as well to increase the stretch and stretch the back of the neck. You can also then gently tilt the head back to gently stretch the muscles in the front of the neck. This stretch, because of the interlocked hands, can also help with stretching out the wrists. If you want to stretch the wrists a little more turn your interlocked hands so your palms are facing outward. You’ll also get a nice wee stretch in the forearms with this too.

Another option is to stretch the chest and shoulders like so…