Basic Guitar Technique

For one reason or another some guitar players don’t develop great technique. You can practice to your heart’s content but if your posture and hand positions are awkward it’s going to work against you, and take longer.

It is important to be comfortable when you are playing. And learning how to sit, how to finger a chord or note properly and how to hold a pick can go a long way into developing great guitar playing ability. Like my favorite uncle used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”.

Some guitarists are natural and develop their own technique; however this doesn’t work for everyone. Here are some loose guidelines that will help get you on the right track.

Your Strap

Don’t be holding the guitar up, that is the strap’s job. If you are sitting then it is the job of your knee. You want your hands to be free to fret and strum. Try and have your strap adjusted to the same height. Learning to play guitar in a consistent position will help a lot.

Some guitar teachers will tell you the guitar has to be in an exact certain position, I don’t completely agree with this maxim as everyone is different. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes and so do guitars. So experiment, and observe your body and position when you are playing. Pay attention to your arms and hands especially, but keep in mind your whole body plays a role.

Your Posture

Your body works better when your spine is straight so sit upright and slightly forward. Try to sit in the same chair every time you practice (or if you prefer to stand with a guitar strap, stand in the same position). Focus on what you are doing, and check your posture and body position. Here are some things you should avoid:

  • Try not to slouch.
  • Try not to develop any awkward habits.
  • Don’t lay the guitar flat on your lap.
  • Don’t rest your left forearm on your left knee.
  • Don’t push the neck way out in front of you.
  • Be conscious of the tension in your body, try to relax when you play. Being in a relaxed state will allow you to play naturally.

The Invisible Thumb

In most situations your thumb should be invisible to anyone standing in front of you. Check in a mirror if you are unsure if this is the case. Yes, some of the best guitar players in the world (Jimi Hendrix is one example) have used their thumbs in radical ways to great success, but you should probably leave advanced techniques like these until later in your development.

Generally keep your thumb in hitchhiking position, pointed away from you with the ball of the thumb in the center of the neck. Your thumb will more than likely move around when you play, especially if you are fretting awkwardly shaped guitar chords. But for the most part try to keep it in this center position.