About the " -classical" - posture

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...
Dual Trace

About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Dual Trace » Fri Jan 02, 2009 4:37 am

Happy New Year! All the best in 2009!

So far I did not care much about posture and my teacher was kind enough to let me keep old habits: both feet on the floor and guitar on right foot. Another bad habit I have is I curl the thumb around the neck.
Our first priority was reading notes and using four fingers (right hand). Now, after 9 months, he said I should try to adopt the correct posture for the well known reasons. I tried it few times in the past, but never insisted for more than 1-2 minutes. Everything felt so awkward that I used to quickly return to my way of doing things.
The teacher said I should try it for a couple of weeks and then I will see it’s not that bad. Well, I am willing to work on it, but it’s not easy at all. My main fear was that I need to get used to a new feeling of the notes position, but something much worse is happening. Being a beginner, my pieces mostly use first position, so the left hand needs to stay kind of high and after 5 minutes it gets so tired it hurts. My lower back is not happy either. Before, I was leaning on the back of the chair and was able to practice for an hour without any physical trouble. Occasionally I was using Paco de Lucia’s position, which also works fine for me. So, before being able to appreciate any technical benefits, I can tell that the classical position feels far from being relaxing for me.

Has anybody gone through the same problems? What’s your advice?

Dual Trace

Alan Green
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Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Alan Green » Fri Jan 02, 2009 10:14 am

I review my sitting position fairly regularly, too long in one position isn't good for anyone.

As having both feet on the floor is something you're used to, why not try a guitar rest to support your guitar instead of crossing your legs or using a footstool? A number of us here use the Ergoplay, and there are other guitar supports available which are more discreet.

For your fretting hand, the problem with playing with your guitar on your right leg (assuming you're right-handed) is that you're reaching across your body to get to the neck. Playing the guitar is hard enough without adding to the workload, so it's worth trying to stick with the idea of placing it on your left leg. It's not that far removed from playing standing up.

Take it slowly, it will feel awkward and even uncomfortable at times, but you'll be surprised at how quickly it becomes second nature.



Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by ksjazzguitar » Fri Jan 02, 2009 5:50 pm

I've found that getting into a good posture is VERY helpful.

The problem is that you've trained your body that the "wrong" is "right" so now when you sit in the "right" posture it is going to feel "wrong". Perseverance will allow you to retrain it. You need to force yourself to sit "correctly" for 1 month. Don't allow yourself to play in your old posture.

Like Alan suggests, a guitar rest may be a good compromise. (Some say it is preferable to a foot rest.) In any case, most would agree that good posture means sitting forward in your chair, back straight, head and neck erect (like a string pulling up on the top of your head, and shoulders and arms relaxed. There should be no tension anywhere. Tension is the enemy. If you find your good posture, you should be able to hold that position for hours.


Dual Trace

Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Dual Trace » Fri Jan 02, 2009 7:15 pm

Since posting this, I struggled more with it and the main problem seems to be keeping the left hand high (in order to reach first position). Right now I can’t do this for much more than 5 minutes because the left hand hurts. So I take a couple of minutes break and do it again, but now I can hold it even less.
I looked at the Ergoplay and my guess is it would lead to the same problem.
The back is almost OK, but I feel the pre-pain sensation developing. I assume that after overcoming the left hand problem, the back pain will become the main one.
I go regularly to the gym with my son and I consider myself reasonably fit, but now it looks like some guitar oriented exercises might be needed. That’s funny…

Thanks for the replies.

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Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by TomPage » Fri Jan 02, 2009 7:30 pm

First let me assure you that you are doing the right thing by making this switch. This puts your left hand fingers into optimal position. I can play my easier repertoire in casual position, but as soon as the fingerings get awkward or the reaches bigger, I have to be in good classical position. I guess it should not be too surprising that a new position uses new muscles in new ways and these will take a while to be trained. I would just start out in your new position for a few minutes a day and gradually increase from there. Also, be very alert for there being more than just muscle fatigue going on in your left arm. You should not allow unnecessary tension to creep in there. Your arm should be "floating" in air with the exact amount of muscle tension required to counteract gravity. And you can reduce that effort with a bit of sensation of "hanging" the arm from the fingerboard. One thing that will definitely require strengthening is your left thumb. If you are used to playing in thumb-over position, the muscles in your thumb will surely require some development. But that will happen with the gradually increasing length of time each day you commit to perfect position. Start out with a few minutes and increase by about 10% per week. In several months you should be comfortable in classical position. However, your old position will probably still feel like an old friend. You can go back to that for some casual messing around, but never for serious practice.
Good luck from someone who went through exactly this on the switch from jazz to classicl,

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Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by remmus » Fri Jan 02, 2009 11:57 pm

Hi Dual Trace,

I totally empathize with your situation. I suffered from the same thing when I crossed over from steel-string to classical. I thought it would be impossible for me to get used to the classical positioning. But, I kept at it and in only about 2 weeks I became used to it. When I sat in my old position it felt awkward instead.

All I can suggest is keep at it. I agree that you now have some new guitar muscles to develop and you will. If your left arm gets tired drop it down by your side and let it rest a moment then try again. Eventually, and probably sooner than you think, it will stop getting so tired. There is a great picture of some sitting posture no-no's (imho) but it does demonstrate the perfect place to put your butt in the chair, in F. Noad's book one, page one. It's the girl in black sitting on a dining room chair. What I like about it is that she is sitting on the very edge of her seat. This forces your back to remain straight which reduces stress. If you sit further back into the chair in a classical position, your back will hunch over and become very tired rather quickly. What I don't like about the picture is that her guitar is leaning forward a little instead of back and is too close to her body, and her footstool is too low, causing her guitar neck not to be high enough. She is watching her right-hand which is good. But compare it to the picture F. Noad sitting on the piano bench. I think he's sitting way too far back and not nearly on the edge enough. But everything else looks fairly good except his left shoulder is dropped. Maybe he should have taken another picture and sat in the chair instead. I don't think piano benches are very good chairs for classical guitarists because they are usually too high. I use these two pictures to help my students differentiate between what is good and what is not good sitting posture. They both basically suck so why am I spending so much time yakking about them? :lol:

Keep trying, it will get better. Try to avoid crossing back and forth between styles and stick with the classical style, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel for now. If thousands upon thousands of others can do it, so can you!

"...it is awfully easy to become content with a level below what one is actually capable of." - Carl Peter


Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Azalais » Sat Jan 03, 2009 1:36 am

It sounds very counter-intuitive, but you can't really SEE the surface of the fretboard in the "correct" position. The face of the guitar should be facing the audience, not the ceiling... in the correct position (with your back straight and your head up) you will be seeing the side of the neck, NOT the fretboard... Your wrist will be straight, with your left elbow hanging freely, and your LH fingers will be well curled. If you have the face of the guitar facing the ceiling, (so you can watch your fingers) your wrist will end up being bent in an awkward position, the back of your hand and your palm will be tense, and your thumb will be all crunched up... Learn to trust your LH without watching it... learn to feel where you are without looking, so you can focus on reading the music. If you want to put a few drops of Wite-Out (office correction fluid) on the side of the neck, maybe at the 5th fret, you'll be able to glance over and gauge your distance when you shift positions.

The older method books show a position with the foot stool and the torso twisted to the left, but most people would agree that will probably lead to upper and lower back pain, if not now, then later. The more recent trend is to use a guitar support, and to try to keep your shoulders level and lined up over your hips, so your torso isn't twisted. The guitar can cross you lap at an angle, with the neck slightly forward and the guitar body slightly closer in on the right side, so you aren't straining your right shoulder or your right forearm too far forward.


Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by kevsavor » Thu Jan 08, 2009 3:36 am

Yes, as a matter of fact, I've been using the "classical"posture for 36 years and have found it to be more ergonomically correct. Just recently I have raised my footstool to actually raise the guitar higher so that the weight of my left arm more effectively holds the strings against the fret. This has made it much easier to play more challenging pieces-ie-Bach BWV 998 Prelude and Allegro. Ultimately I find that I have to acheive a certain amount of pain to have effective gain. Some pain is good and some I've found to be destructive.


Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by nylonthanh » Fri Jan 09, 2009 7:44 am

Classical position is one of optimal playing... look up flight of the bumblebee world book record on you dot tube and you will see a Brazilian Shredder playing Rimsky-Korsokov's Flight of the BUmblebee on an electric guitar with a pic... in classical position (for the most part). I think many people can learn about left hand and efficiency watching him!!! 320 bpm ... incredible!

In turns of using the classical position in the left hand BE CAREFUL!!! Just having your thumb in the back is the idiot's way of doing classical position. It is the POSITION. If it feels uncomfortable, it may be incorrect. Your wrists should more close to being straight. If it isn't and that's where you're having pain, your wrist is bent too far of an angle! Make sure the wrist is more straight... this may mean you need to raise the level of your guitar up (say 45 degrees -- Scott Tennant has his really high) and finally as someone mentioned earlier do not pull the neck behind you causing a twisting action (the way Parkening's method does it is ergonomically incorrect) but if anything more forward. This is more or less like a jazz guitarist's position, but it works wonders for us as well.

You tube Scott Tennant, Angel Romero, David Taunenbaum to see examples of this. Parkening, Segovia were bad examples of this (not their music... that was phenomenal!) good luck! shoot me an email if you need pics or I can sketch it out.

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Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by pmiklitz » Fri Jan 09, 2009 8:06 am

Dual Trace wrote:Being a beginner, my pieces mostly use first position, so the left hand needs to stay kind of high and after 5 minutes it gets so tired it hurts. My lower back is not happy either.
Hi Dual Trace,

Having been taught differently (I started in the seventh position) and having taught my own students accordingly, I think it's a mistake to start beginners in the first position for several reasons:

1.) the frets are much wider so the LH is stressed right from the beginning
2.) as you observed yourself, the left arm has to stretch considerably to reach the first position, which leads to an unbalanced upper body and lower back pain
3.) the neck is much wider in the higher positions, which makes it almost impossible to get your left thumb to reach over the neck
4.) you start learning notes on ledger lines, thereby avoiding the fear of reading notes in high positions right from the start

This approach avoids many of the problems most beginners have in my opinion and I have used it successfully with my students.


Dringt durch des Aberglaubens Nacht, die Euch zu finstern Köpfen macht. Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715 - 1769)

Dual Trace

Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Dual Trace » Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:07 pm

nylonthanh wrote: Your wrist should more close to being straight. If it isn't and that's where you're having pain, your wrist is bent too far of an angle!
It’s not the wrist that causes pain. It’s the biceps or deltoid or more likely some stretched tendons involved in keeping my arm high up to reach first position. If I keep my arm in the 5-7th fret area it’s already much more relaxing.
Anyway, since I started this post, I kept working on it and it’s getting better. I intend to try the ergoplay too. My hope is to be able to also slightly rest my back on the back of the chair.
Thanks, for the replies,
Dual Trace


Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by nylonthanh » Fri Jan 09, 2009 7:33 pm

If it's the upper limb area, you might have a slight shoulder impingment. THe xrays would show that so that is unlikely. Carpal tunnel also can be caused in the shoulder region. If you stand with your side to the wall and put your left (if you're playing guitar right handed) hand fingers up against the wall with the palm flush. With your arm straight and you turn your head to the right, this is a stretch for carpal tunnel. Do this once to see if there is any pressure and if there is see your doc about it. I'm glad to hear about your wrist being ok. Check your tension as well while playing or when you do something often (say being on a computer at work or driving for hours). Good luck!

Dual Trace

Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Dual Trace » Sun Jan 11, 2009 4:38 am

nylonthanh , thank you for trying, but the pain I feel is between elbow and shoulder. Just sit in classical position without the guitar and hold some 6 pound weight on your left hand while holding it like you would fret something in first position. After 2 minutes (or more, depending on your strength) you will feel your hand getting tired and starting to hurt. This is what I am talking about.


Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by nylonthanh » Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:30 am

i'm trying :)

I used a 20lb weight and I didn't feel pain but I had some fatigue in areas and I could feel my shoulders tensing, my wrist/forearm fatiguing and bicep. Holding weight while in the first position I also felt my shoulder impinge by deltoid (maybe my unique problem).There is a tendon that goes from the shoulder to the elbow (hand actually) this is quite easily to get tight. If you put your hand in your armpit but near the bicep underside you will feel these (inside of shoulder) Try get in position or just straighten your arm to your side and a little front feel the inside of the shoulder and if you feel "string-like" tendons in the inside of the arm let me know. There are stretches that can help stretch those tendons out. They are weak so if you work them while playing guitar, you will not last long. Sound familiar?

Honestly, it's almost impossible for me to tell over email, but I can tell you the things I've been through. I'm a teacher with tons of students and deal with these things all the time... I wish I can see you! Can you video tape it or send pics? Show us where? Scott Tennant actually was the man that helped fix my position years ago that would have prevented my problems (note: when these elite players are in town, go see them or perform for them!). Maybe that is your cause...

Do you feel like your over extending to reach first position? Does it feel better to put the guitar on the your right leg? You said it's fine around the 5th position? All this leads to having the guitar most likely in the wrong position according to your body's mechanics... it's each to their own mile... I have LONG monkey arms and have a tough time with position.

Can you take a pic? Where's the sound hole of the guitar is you're holding it in classical position? Is it near the center of your body, slightly to the left (if you're a righty), or away from the body?

Is the angle of the guitar close to being 90 degrees? Is the left foot pointed straight? Where's the left food? Is it in line with the inside of your left shoulder?

How tall are you? What is your age? Any history of trauma / injury to the left side of your body?

Stretching helps but you will NOT get immediate results... well maybe not. Stretch your chest, shoulder (upper capsule, supra spinitus, lats), bicep, and shoulder to hand tendons. Do that by putting your hand flat against the wall with your side to the wall. Turn your head to the opposite direction and it should stretch. If you feel any stretch... that muscle group could be the problem. Upper limb/shoulder/neck problems are tough to diagnose and often times one pain in an area (say shoulder) is caused by something else (humorus pull).

It's worth a shot and I gave you a lot. I hope something in there helps. Worse case, just hold it on your right leg flamenco style and see if that works. Elliot Fisk does it all the time (and Paco De Lucia!).

Best of luck, I hate to see you stop guitar because of this.

Dual Trace

Re: About the " -classical" - posture

Post by Dual Trace » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:53 pm

Don’t worry, I won’t stop because of this. I can anytime go back to Paco’s position, but I trust my teacher that using the classical position has “musical” advantages, so I try to adopt it.
Also, now I think that using the word “pain” might be misleading. It’s not sharp pain what I am talking about, it’s just fatigue, but it appears in only few minutes and it gets painful if I continue. I guess my English is too poor to describe it. However, like I said, it’s getting better and I think the left hand fatigue will slowly go away in few more weeks. The guy from the guitar store in my neighborhood ordered an ergoplay for me and said I can return it if I don’t like it. I’ll see how it compares to the footstool.

Thanks again,
Dual Trace

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