Discover How to Hold a Guitar…Don’t Limit Your Playing Ability

Do you know that how to hold a guitar the right way will make playing much easier. Good playing form is essential to good guitar playing.

The sitting position is the first position that you learn when first starting to play guitar, everybody sits including the teacher.

Your teacher might not even recommend a way to sit or hold the guitar unless you are taking classical guitar lessons.

When you first start playing guitar it’s very important that you find the right sitting position because it will affect everything you try to play.

Everyone’s body is different so there isn’t an exact position but there is a basic set of guidelines that will work for most people.

How “Not” to Hold a Guitar

You may see players in concert or in a video holding their guitars below their waist. This is for show. These players did not learn to play guitar this way.

This position limits your playing. They may not be playing anything at all if it’s a video. The music is playing in the background and they just fake it. Just like a Hollywood movie.

Learn the right way before going “hollywood” on everyone.

Also don’t practice sitting on a bed or any place where you are not sitting properly. It will give you bad form and mistakes.

Your Chair or Bench
How to Hold a Guitar

There are two basic sitting positions, one is the classical, here you place the guitar on the left leg. The other is more casual and you place the guitar on your right leg. In both classical and casual positions your chair or bench should be the same except for the stool position.

These are the two basic ways of how to hold a guitar.

How to Hold a Guitar – Seat Height

Measure the height of the back of your knee where it bends. This is the height your seat should be. Your lap should be level.

It should not slope back, this will give you back problems. If you are young you will probably ignore this tip. Don’t.

The Seat should be firm and not over-padded.

This is an important factor in how to hold a guitar. You will spend a lot of time in this position.

You might have a hard time finding a chair that meets all these requirements, get as close as you can until you find one or make one

You can check out different keyboard/piano seats or benches, these are usually higher than guitar players need. You may have to improvise by cutting the chair or table legs, make sure it’s safe to sit on.

I use a little table, 16 by 16 inches, I bought at a yard sale for two dollars. The important thing is getting your lap level so the guitar isn’t sliding off your lap. If your lap isn’t level your left hand and right arm will try to keep the guitar from sliding making playing the guitar very hard.

How to Hold a Guitar – Sitting Down

The Classical Guitar Position

This is the best way to hold a guitar for stability, the body holds the guitar in place and not your arms.

In this position a foot stool or a couple of thick books are used under the left foot.

1) Sit towards the front of the chair with your back straight.

2) The bottom guitar curve should rest on your left elevated leg.

3) You should raise your left foot with a footstool or books.

4) The end of the guitar body should rest against your right leg.

5) The back of the guitar should rest on your chest without leaning back, that will make things harder to reach.

6) Rest your right forearm on top of the guitar letting your hand hang freely over the sound hole or middle pickup if using an electric.

7) Your elbow should be about two inches back from the face of the guitar-This is just an average starting point, everyone’s different.

8) The 12th fret should line up with your nose approximately.

9) The head or tuning keys should be about eye-level.

10) Both hands should be able to move freely without the guitar moving around. Your legs and body should do most of the holding.

These are basic guidelines and can be adjusted to your body and guitar type. You don’t have to play a classical guitar to take advantage of this position, any type guitar can be used with a little adjustment to your position.

This might seem like a lot of trouble for sitting but it will pay off in the near future when you start to learn more complicated moves on the guitar.

About the Classical Position

If you learn how to hold a guitar in the classical position first you can switch between the casual and the classical position.

However if you learn the casual position first it will be harder to switch back and forth. Some songs will be easier to play in one or the other positions.

Unless you are a devout classical guitarist or want to be you should try these other positions.

You may find them useful for certain songs or just for a change once in a while or sometimes you have no choice, like when playing at someone else’s place and you don’t have a chair the right height.

It’s good to know both because sometimes you may not be able to sit like you do at home, both have merit.

Casual Guitar Playing Positions

How to hold a guitar in the casual playing positions.

There are a few of ways to play in the casual guitar position.

The first way you hold the guitar is in the crossed leg position.

Crossed Leg Position
How to Hold a Guitar

1- First cross your right leg onto your left knee

2- Next hold the bottom curve of your guitar on your right leg

3- Place your right arm over the body with your elbow at the edge of the face of the guitar. The upper right arm will hold the guitar

4- Sit up straight and towards the front of your chair or bench

You might like this position if you can keep your leg crossed without moving for a while. You may have to try different leg positions to get comfortable, I could never stay in this position for long but I had a teacher who did.

This way eliminates the need for a foot stool or something to raise your right leg. It’s good to know in case you forget to bring a footstool

Raised Right Leg
How to Hold a Guitar

This is probably how most people hold the guitar for the first time but without knowing about the raised leg.

However your body knows your leg is too low and you will find yourself raising your right leg up with your toes.

This can cause your muscles to tighten up which is very bad for guitar playing, use a footstool.

1- Hold the bottom curve of your guitar on your right leg

2- Place your right arm over the body with your elbow at the edge of the face of the guitar

3- Raise the right leg with a foot stool or some books

4- The upper picking arm will keep the guitar from falling forward

Sitting on a Stool

This way might appeal to some guitar players. You need a stool without arms and it must have a middle rail on the legs.

Make sure the stool’s middle rail can handle the weight of your leg, some rails on stools are only meant to keep the legs from spreading out.

1- Sit on stool with left foot flat on floor

2- Place your right foot on the middle rail connecting the legs together

3- Set the middle curve of the guitar bottom side on your right thigh

4- Place your right arm over the top edge of the guitar so your hand is over the sound hole

Sitting Adjustment

The exact position and how to hold a guitar is up to you. Everyone’s body is shaped different and there are also differences in guitars.

How you place your right arm will change if you are using a pick or playing fingerstyle and the length of your arm and the size of the guitar will be factors also.

The main thing you must have in any position is free movement of your left arm and hand and free movement of your right forearm and hand. You should not be supporting the guitar with any part of your right or left arms that need to be free for playing.

How to Hold a Guitar
Standing Position

This position should be a standing up version of your sitting position. The guitar should still be very close to the way it was positioned when you were sitting. You will have to adjust your guitar strap until you find the right spot.

If you place a strap on the guitar and adjust it while you are sitting it will be close to what you want. You don’t want it too low or you won’t be able to reach your hand around the neck to play notes or chords.

Fingerstyle or Pick

How you position your picking hand will be different for fingerstyle than for playing with a pick also called a plectrum.

Picking Arm Fingerstyle

In the fingerstyle type of playing you will place the elbow of the picking hand about 2 inches behind the face of the guitar. This is a basic guideline for how to hold a guitar for this style

Your hand should hang relaxed over the sound hole or between the end of your fingerboard and the bridge if using an electric, again this will vary slightly with everyone.

Picking Arm – Pick Style

When you are using a pick you will place your arm so the elbow is right at or slightly over the edge of the face of the guitar.

This will allow more forearm movement for strumming chords.

How to Hold a Guitar – Foot Stools

Foot stools are sold in most music stores and usually cost about 15 to 20 dollars. A footstool is a much better way than using books, and you can use it for either classical or casual practice and playing. A footstool should be considered a basic of how to hold a guitar, it keeps you balanced

The Fretting Hand

The left or fretting hand should have the fingertips very close but not touching the strings unless you are playing something.

All single notes should be played using the very tip of the finger, the fingers must be arched so they won’t accidentally hit the other strings and deaden them.

The Fretting Hand Thumb

The thumb should be in the middle of the back of the neck for most playing positions. This will help keep the fingers arched.

This should be one of the most important things to check on as you play, it’s very easy to let the thumb come up over the top of the neck.

There are times when the thumb should come over the top as in bending notes or using your thumb on bass notes of chords but most of the time it should be in back of the neck keeping your fingers arched.

There are also times on certain chords when you will find that turning your thumb sideways toward the tuning keys will help you grip a particular chord better.

The Picking Hand


The picking hand should hang over the sound hole of the guitar. Only the thumb and fingers should touch the strings. The thumb and fingers should not touch the guitar body. All playing should be done with the thumb and fingers Do not use your wrist.

With your hand hanging over the strings your hand should look like it is holding a small ball, like a loose fist.

You should see a “V” when you look down between your thumb and index finger, this is the correct position for fingerpicking.

The thumb takes care of the upper bass note and the fingers take care of the melody notes.

The Finger letters for the picking hand

You may run across some tablature for a fingerpicking piece of music, These letters are how they would tell you what fingers to use.

I believe these letters come from medical terminology that’s why the thumb is P and not T also the A and S.

Plectrum Style
How to Hold a Guitar

In this style your arm is at or past the face of the guitar and the inside of your hand and forearm will be facing the guitar. Your hand should be over the sound hole or pickups.

Holding the Pick

If you look at the drawing above of the right hand for playing fingerstyle you will see an upside down V where the thumb and index finger intersect each other.

If you place a pick at a right angle with the point facing you on the bottom of your thumb and slide your index finger back so you have about 1/4 inch of the pick sticking past your thumb and index finger you will have your starting position for playing with a pick.

The pick should be at a right angle to the strings and be parallel, not tilted up or down.

If this is new to you be patient. Try to get into a comfortable position that also has the pick held in the right way. Again everyone will vary slightly because of body and guitar sizes.

Don’t hold the pick too tight or too loose, if the pick slips out of your hand a lot you have to tighten up a little.

If you hold the pick too tight it will make your single notes stiff sounding and your chords harsh sounding.

Also don’t let the pick stick out past your thumb and index finger too much, about a quarter of an inch is good. Too much makes you drop the pick

Foot Stools

Here’s a link for foot stools. They are good to have no matter what style of music you play. They put the guitar in a more stable position and free up your arms and hands.

Foot Stools

Thank you for reading about How to Hold a Guitar.