There have been lots of books and articles written about “Technique” for the guitar. That is, the best way to actually hold and play the instrument in different situations. The best technique can be a bit of a personal thing and different players may have their own ways of doing things. In the next few posts I’ll give some of my thoughts on what I think about when I’m playing and when I’m teaching my students.
There are different things to think about on this depending on if you are a beginner guitarist or if you are an intermediate to advanced player. I’ll start with some of the tips I give to beginner acoustic guitar students.
All of these examples are the fundamentals of good guitar playing technique and they should apply to all musical genres and styles of playing.
Acoustic Guitar Technique for beginners
The guitar can be held in a few different places. The most common way for the guitar to be held for a beginner guitarist is to rest it on the right leg. The elbow of the strumming arm should be close to the highest point of the main body of the guitar. It should be held almost straight across the body.
It should be possible for the guitar to be balanced like this without holding it at all with the left hand. If this is not possible then a smaller chair may be needed or a strap can be used around your neck; again this to allow the instrument to be balanced without needing to grip it with your left hand.
From this image you can see too that the right hand will now be picking or strumming the strings above the sound-hole which will create the best sound.
3 rules for the fretting hand
The aim of these three rules is to make sure that the fingers are used to play chords and notes as cleanly and effectively as possible. If the hand is used to grip the neck and hold it in place too much then the sound created will be affected. In these images you can see a G chord being held showing good fretting hand technique.
1) - Fingers on their tips, allowing open strings to ring out.
2) - Thumb at the middle or lower on the back of the neck, in general aiming to be behind the second finger
3) - There should be a gap between the palm and the neck of the guitar.
Bad Habits to Avoid
These bad habits are ones to avoid both because they may affect the sound being created and also that they may cause strain in joints and muscles which can cause pain in the short term and can cause serious, lasting injury in the long term.
Make sure to hold the guitar quite straight across the body. This is to avoid the fretting arm elbow moving in across the stomach. This in turn forces the wrist to move forward causing a severe angle which will strain the muscle and tendons there.
The guitar held straight across the body with the fretting arm elbow to the side of the body and little angle in the wrist.
The guitar held forward at an angle and the elbow in across the stomach which creates a severe angle in the wrist.
Other bad habits to avoid are in the fretting hand when holding down the strings. These are the opposite of the 3 rules for the left hand given earlier.
The thumb held over the top of the neck, causing the fingers to not be on their tip which in turn causes the notes to be badly played and open strings to be blocked. This is usually caused by the guitar being badly balanced. The player is trying to grip the guitar and hold the instrument in place instead of being able to concentrate on playing the notes as well as possible.
Here again the thumb is in the wrong position along the back of the guitar with the palm is held against the neck. As in all of the other examples this causes the fingers to hold down the strings badly and so notes not to sound clearly. Also in this position it will be impossible to move effectively from one chord to the next.