Getting started – Basics on Guitar Playing
How to Sit Correctly
Posture with the guitar is often simply a matter of preference. However, some classical guitar teachers often have a strict specific way to sit while holding the guitar. Although one should strive for comfort while playing the guitar there are a few things one should keep in mind while playing the guitar.
- Sit up straight: Often overlooked and nagged by your mom while also proving incredibly beneficial.
- Use an armless chair: Arms on a chair will hinder your ability to move
- Rest guitar on thigh: Often placed on the leg farthest from the guitars headstock
(ie. if you’re right-handed, on your right thigh)
However, classical guitar theory prescribes the exact opposite.
- Footstools: You may not believe me now, but one day you might see the benefit of putting a footstool underneath the leg, which the guitar rests on. This elevates the position of the guitar and helps technique.
- Relax: Tension in your body translates to tension in your playing. You might even think about stretching before you play and stretching during a long-playing session.
How to Hold the Pick
Holding the pick may seem like a relatively small part of playing the guitar, however, it is actually an important piece of technique. Many guitarists grasp the pick in their dominant hand between the pads of their thumb and index finger. You will find many different ways to hold the pick, however here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Hold firmly: You do not want the pick to fall out of your hands (which it will frequently do while you are learning). It can also rotate so hold on tight. You do not want to squeeze it too hard either.
- Don’t use too much pick: The less pick you have protruding out from your fingers, the more control you will have. Try to allow only millimeters to poke out from your finger towards the string.
- Use the tip of the pick: As much a control issue as a tone issue.
- Experiment: Try to find a grip, which is most comfortable to you. This way you can pay attention to playing and not your fingers.
- 45° angle: Some teachers claim that this helps to slice through the strings as well as aides in rounding out tone.
- Hard vs. Thin: Choose a pick gauge based on preference. A hard pick generally preferred by many seasoned guitarists for its greater control and superior tone. However, thinner picks are certainly more forgiving to a beginner or anyone who often strums.
How to Tune the Guitar
A well-tuned guitar is necessary for any guitar player of any skill level. The best way to ensure that your guitar tuned correctly is to use an electronic tuner. If a tuner is not available, you can tune your guitar using a pitch pipe, tuning fork or any reliable tone source. You can also tune your guitar to relative pitch, which means your guitar is in tune with itself, yet not necessarily in tune with any other instruments. To tune your guitar to relative pitch, it is necessary to use your ear to discern the difference between 2 notes on a guitar. It can help to hum the note between the two string picks. This method will increase your listening skills. You will also need to use harmonics. To achieve the harmonic sound necessary, gently place the pad of a finger against the string on the 12th fret. Does not press the string so that it touches the fret; instead, rest the pad of your finger directly over the 12th fret. Pick the string and you should hear a clear tone.
- Step 1 – 6th string (thickest): Traditionally tuned to ‘E’. You can use a tuning fork or other devices to achieve the correct pitch or you can simply choose a deep tone, which suits your needs. Make sure that the guitar string is not too loose (buzzes against frets) and not too tight (extremely difficult to press).
- Step 2 – 5th string: Traditionally tuned to ‘A’. Play the harmonic of the 6th string on the 12th fret and then play the note of the 5th string on the 7th fret (no harmonic). Turn the tuning peg on the headstock for the 5th string until the two notes sound the same. Note: Do NOT turn the 6th string’s tuning peg.
Do not press too hard when playing a note. Your finger should be slightly behind the fret (towards the headstock).
- Step 3 – 4th string: Traditionally tuned to ‘D’. Play the harmonic of the 6th string on the 12th fret and then play the 4th string on the 2nd fret. Turn the tuning peg on the headstock for the 4th string until the two notes sound the same.
It is a good idea to tune up to the note from a lower out of tune note, rather than from a higher pitch out of tune note
- Step 4 – 3rd string: Traditionally tuned to ‘G’. Play the harmonic of the 4th string on the 12th fret and then play the 3rd string on the 7th fret. Turn the tuning peg on the headstock for the 3rd string until the two notes sound the same.
It is not a bad idea to go back through the strings again at this point to see if they are in tune This is especially true for brand new strings because they tend to go out of tune often.
- Step 5 – 2nd string Traditionally tuned to ‘B’. Play the harmonic of the 4th string on the 12th fret and then play the 2nd string on the 3rd fret. Turn the tuning peg on the headstock for the 2nd string until the two notes sound the same.
- Step 6 – 1st string (thinnest) traditionally tuned to ‘E’. Play the harmonic of the 6th string on the 5th fret and then play the 1st string open. Turn the tuning peg on the headstock for the 1st string until the two notes sound the same.
Left Hand Technique
The left-hand technique is another matter of preference. There is no correct way to place your fingers. In most cases, the style of playing dictates the position of the thumb and fingers. In all cases, it is best to have a qualified tutor examine your technique to suggest changes for improvement. The following is simply a set of basic guidelines compiled from researching many websites. It recommended that you conduct your own research to find a technique, which is both comfortable and effective.
Keep fingertips close to freeboard
A good way to do this is to ensure that your pinky is very close to the freeboard, as your other fingers should then naturally do the same. The fingertips should be no farther than 50mm (1/2″) from the guitars fretboard.
Keep fingers hovering directly over frets
Each finger should stay directly over the fret, which it is responsible. This minimizes movement, which leads to greater speed. Try to use one finger per fret whenever possible.
Press close behind the fret
Keep your fingertips very close to (but not directly on) the fret. Your finger should be just behind the fret towards the headstock of the guitar.
Press using the tips of fingers
Apply an even pressure close behind the fret using your fingertips. You do not have to press extremely hard, in fact avoid doing so. You will eventually grow calluses on your fingertips helping decrease the initial discomfort you feel.
Minimize neck contact
Try and only have fingertips and the side of your thumb touching the guitar neck. This will allow freedom of movement (reduces friction) as you slide your arm from position to position horizontally.
Pay attention to the thumb
Keep your thumb near the middle of the neck approximately between the first (index) and second (middle) fingers. Do not press hard with your thumb, in fact the less the better. Avoid choking the neck with excessive fret pressure. The thumb should provide stability; the fingers should used to press the string. Keep your thumb straight but not rigid.
- Blues position In this position the thumb wrapped around the edge of the neck. This allows easier bending and vibrato as the thumb used as an anchor. The thumb can also can be used to mute or fret the 6th string. Try to use this only when necessary (during bending and vibrato) as it can limit horizontal movement along the neck.
- Palm and wrist placement
Keep the palm parallel to the neck, yet avoid touching the palm against the neck of the guitar whenever possible. Try to keep your wrist arched slightly, but not bent at all from side to side.
- Summary: Good technique comes only with practice.
So check the resource links for left-hand technique exercises, sometimes called warm-up exercises.
Most importantly, do not press too hard against the string and minimize pressure from the thumb. Keep your fingers close to the freeboard.