I have a guitar, now what?
It’s probably a good idea to sit down with it and get a feel for it.
First, as much as I’d hate to sound like your mother – SIT UP STRAIGHT! Yes, posture is very important. Good posture will keep you playing pain free for years to come. By holding the guitar properly and using proper technique, you’ll help to alleviate or completely avoid many of the repetitive motion stress that can come from playing an instrument.
There are basically three ways to properly hold the guitar. First, and I believe most correctly, is what I will call the “classical grip.”
Grab yourself a stool or a chair with no arms. Slide forward on the chair. You still want to be comfortable, but you’ll need the extra space for the guitar.
Assuming you’re right-handed, you’ll want a footrest under the left leg. I used to have my footrest set about 6” high, but you can decide what’s comfortable for you.
Now it’s time to grab the guitar. The waist of the guitar (the curved part of the body) should rest on the left leg (or right, if you’re a lefty) with the head stock at eye level.
Your right leg will hold the guitar steady. Rest your right arm on the lower bout (the bigger end of the body) and leave your forearm slightly arched.
For a less formal setting or if you find the classical grip too restricting, try this: Rest the waist of the guitar on your right leg (or left if you’re left-handed). You should still have your right leg raised slightly off the floor.
Why? Easy. With your leg raised up, the guitar falls back slightly into your body, eliminating the need to struggle to hold onto the instrument.
Before you stand up, make sure you have attached your strap. A good general rule is that your guitar should be in the exact same position whether you’re sitting or standing.
Now that you’re comfortably sitting with your guitar, it’s time to get your hands on it.
For the ladies in the audience, you may be a tad dismayed to know that you’ll have to trim your left hand fingernails. The rule I use is if you put your fingertips on a flat surface, like a table, you should be able to feel that surface under your fingertips. If you can’t feel the surface, your fingernails need to be trimmed.
The left hand (or right hand for you lefties out there) should always hit the strings on the very tips of the fingers. Your fingers should be curved. Always aim to hit the strings just behind the fret and use just enough pressure to get a clean sound.
The left thumb should almost always stay behind the neck and it will act as a counter-balance to the fingers pressing down on the strings.
And now for the tricky part – the right hand. You have several options for the right hand. Most beginners do best with a pick, so we’ll start there.
The pick should be held between the index finger and thumb on the right hand. Ideally, there will be very little pick sticking out between the fingers. You want just enough pick showing to hit the strings without your fingers interfering. Holding the pick like this will prevent you from having to grip too tightly.
Option number two for the right hand is finger-style. You can go the more traditional classical finger-style or the more contemporary Travis Picking finger-style. I prefer classical, as I feel it’s more adaptable and more versatile.
You can combine picking with classical finger style and use hybrid-picking, but that’s just throwing in needless complications.
For now, we’ll stick with picking since that seems easiest for most beginners.
Grab the pick just like we described earlier. Starting with the skinniest string on the guitar, rest the pick on top of the string and move it down toward the floor. Once you feel you have this string under control, move to the second skinniest string.
If you find yourself hitting 2 strings, shorten that pick stroke!
Got it? Good. Now try moving between the strings.
You can take this little exercise to all six strings. Add one string at a time and keep moving between the strings until you’re moving between all six strings.
Play in the Key of YOU!