Assume the Classical Playing Position

AG 193 January 2009 Cover

Posted by Patrick Francis

Classical seating traditionally involves propping the left foot on a footstool to lift the guitar into an efficient playing position. If you don't have a footstool, a guitar case or something else that raises your left foot six to seven inches off the ground will work. In the traditional playing position, the guitar should touch your body at three points: the left thigh, near the heart, and the inside of the right thigh. This "leg up" position has endured because it gets the guitar neck up into a comfortable playing position and affords optimal placement of both hands, facilitating precision and efficiency. This is important in part because the standard classical guitar neck is wider than other guitars and the string spacing is also wider.

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If you're used to playing a steel-string guitar with the typical method of propping the guitar on your right leg and letting your thumb hang over the top of the neck, classical playing position may feel downright wrong. Stick with it and the position starts to feel more natural. You can hold and play the guitar many ways, of course, but if you want to investigate classical guitar, it's worth giving the standard classical playing position a try. 

To find your left-hand position, let your left arm dangle toward the floor, fully relaxed. Holding the guitar in playing position, bring your arm up and cradle the guitar neck in your still-relaxed hand, placing all your fingers flat on the fretboard (barred, stretching from the first string to the sixth string) with your thumb gently touching the back of the neck, in the middle. Slowly slide your hand, still flat, up and down the neck while keeping the ball of your thumb flat and relaxed and lined up opposite your index and middle fingers. Your thumb should remain in the middle line of the neck or just slightly above the midline. After you've tried this shifting motion a few times, bring your hand to rest with your index at the fifth fret and all your fingers flat. 

Curl your fingers now, placing them all on the third string with your fingertips as the point of contact, and assign each finger to a fret, with your index finger on the fifth fret and your pinky on the eighth. Notice how the graceful arch of your fingers terminates at the string. This position results in the most efficient use of the left hand, optimal alignment of the tendons and joints, and allows a piston-like motion of the fingers that can give you a high degree of precision. 

Let's try out this left-hand position on an excerpt from Fernando Carulli's Andante (Example 1), a Classical-era study that addresses two important left-hand techniques: the pull-off and the hammer-on, known in the classical lexicon as ascending and descending slurs. To play a hammer-on, “slam” your finger down onto the string and into the fret. For the pull-off, pluck (pull) the string downward with your fingertip. Each slur should produce a clearly articulated note.

Excerpted from AG 193 January 2009

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