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4 Steps to Holding a Guitar for Kids and Parents 

 November 11, 2020

By  Kale Good

How should your child hold their guitar so that they have a stable instrument and a more accessible time learning? In this article, we'll talk about the basic posture guidelines and give you some games you can use to guide your child into the right position. 

Your child will perform music most comfortably when they have an appropriately sized chair, the guitar resting against both legs and chest, observe the "gears-to-ears" guidelines, and accurately place their left and right hands.

Guiding your child into position.

Through childhood, your child is learning how to position their body in space. This awareness of the position and movement of the body is called proprioception. Your child will need your help to develop this physical intelligence. 

Too often, parents will grab their children's arm, leg, or hand and move it to the appropriate spot. While this may teach your child where their body is supposed to be, it teaches them nothing about moving their body to get there. 

 Fortunately, you can use a few straightforward tools to guide your child's body and teach them to make proper adjustments. The most obvious one is to ask your child about the positioning of their hands. Simple questions can help your child recollect and appropriately guide their focus. Here are two examples: "Is your thumb in the middle of the soundhole" and "What is the guideline to help us make sure the angle of the neck is correct?" 

When subtle adjustments are needed, you can use a game I call "Finger Finder." There are two variations to this game's positioning portion and one variation you can use as an extra challenge. This game requires your child to use their muscles to position their body, thus helping them learn. 

Variation 1:

Place your finger on your child's body parts and ask them to press against it. When your child correctly positions their body, tell them to stop.  

For example, a common occurrence in young students is for the right knee to be too close to the left knee. To correct this, I put my finger on the outside of the student's right knee and ask them to press against my finger. Once the knee is in the appropriate place, I tell them to stop.

If your child struggles to activate the appropriate muscles, keep your finger in the same place and push against their body part with enough force to move it. Ask them to resist. 

Note that you will be moving your child's body part further away from the desired position. That movement is precisely what you want to do. Resisting your push away from the optimal position will require your child to use the same muscles needed to move the body part into the optimal position. Once your child develops this awareness, they will be more able to move their body part as required. 

 I struggle to think of a single instance where this has failed to achieve the desired result. 

Variation 2: 

This variation requires more proprioceptive awareness and is more complicated than Variation 1. You will get the best results from this if your child is older or has already developed some proprioceptive understanding.  

Place your finger in the proper position. Then, ask your child to move their body part so that it is touching your finger. 

Challenge Variation: 

Your child will probably be able to get into an excellent position but lose that position as they play through a piece. To help them maintain focus on posture and positioning, you can use the "Zap!" game. 

Once your child is in the appropriate position, place your finger gently against their body part. Have them play through the piece of music or another challenge. If their body part moves away from and loses contact with your finger at any point, yell "Zap!" and try to scare them a bit.  

Take note of two points. First, you need to position your finger opposite of the direction your child's body part tends to move. If your child's knee tends to move left, press against the right side of the knee. 

Second, you need to touch very, very lightly. If you press with a heavy hand, your finger will continue to push into your child's body part as it moves. This action would defeat the purpose of the exercise. 

Sitting Down

Having a proper seat height dramatically increases the guitar's stability and your child's comfort with the instrument. 

Often, children want the stool higher than is appropriate for them. However, an excessively high chair will leave the thighs sloped slightly downward, making the guitar less stable. Specifically, the lower bout of the guitar will more easily slide down the left leg, tilting the soundboard and fretboard. This position will make it easier to see the left and right hands playing. Unfortunately, it will also make it impossible to develop the proper technique (the technical issues it creates are often not immediately apparent). 

A chair of the correct height should leave your child's thighs parallel to the ground when seated. To test a chair's height, have your child stand next to it. The seat of the chair should reach the middle of their knee. Their thighs will be in the right position, approximately parallel to the floor, when they sit on such a chair. 

The chair's seat should also be firm and level. Soft, heavily cushioned seats like a sofa encourage poor posture. Cushioned seats allow the hips to tilt rearwards, which encourages the spine to round. This hip-tilt can exacerbate the issues of guitar-tilt that prevent proper technical development. 

Sitting on the front half of the chair encourages better posture. It allows the lower bout of the guitar to rest between and slightly below the legs. This maneuverability is necessary for optimal guitar positioning. 

Your child's right and left feet should rest flat on the floor and footstool, respectively. Their feet should be directly under their knee. 

The right heel tends to lift off the floor, and, occasionally, the entire foot will move back towards the chair. In this case, place a small, textured object, such as very coarse sandpaper, under their bare heel. The texture will help draw their awareness towards keeping the heel and foot in the correct location.

Less often, the left heel will also lift. Use the same method to remedy this issue. 

By playing with both feet flat on the floor, your child will be playing from a stable base. Note that this flat-footed position has only recently become convention; you will see older videos of excellent guitarists uploaded to YouTube with the right foot almost underneath their buttocks and resting only on the toes. This placement is generally avoided today due to potential hip and back issues. 

Guitar Position and Angle

The guitar's waist should rest comfortably on your child's left leg and lower bout on the right. This placement will help the guitar sit at approximately the correct angle, although you may need to make minor adjustments.  

The most common fundamental positioning issue is for children to place the upper bout on the left leg. This issue is easily corrected simply by showing children the proper placement, asking them to move the guitar, or using "Finger Finder" to encourage your child to move the guitar. 

A more challenging positioning issue is getting the neck of the guitar at the right angle. First, the guitar's neck should be at approximately a 35-45 degree angle (relative to the ground). This angle will give your child's hands greater access to the full fretboard and allow for a more natural hand position. There's a simple saying to help you remember this: "Gears to Ears." The gears of the guitar tuner should be about at eye level. 

Holding the guitar at about a 20-degree angle is a widespread issue. The Suzuki method's earliest songs can be played like this reasonably easily. However, the limited fretboard access will hamper your child's development midway through Suzuki Book 1. 

To help your child find the proper position, use "Finger Finder." Place your finger above the headstock in approximately the correct position and ask them to make the headstock touch your finger. 

If your child still struggles to achieve the "Gears to Ears" position, you may need to address some fundamental posture issues. Adjusting the footstool height will increase the angle of the neck and location of the headstock. You may find that the footstool needs to be higher than expected for this positioning. 

Additionally, the lower bout can drop lower between the legs. Your child's right knee may need to move further to the right to accommodate this. As your child makes this adjustment, remember that the foot should be directly under the knee. Once your child finds the proper angle, have them adjust their foot to be under their knee. 

In both these areas, try to avoid extremes. Make a small adjustment, then return to the "Finger Finder" method and see if your child can comfortably achieve "Gears-to-Ears." 

Once your child establishes a good position, you can play "Animals" and "Fix-It Sandwich" to help it stick. 

The guitar's back must rest almost flat against your child's belly. In this position, the soundboard should be nearly perpendicular to the floor. 

As stated earlier, it is incredibly common for children to slide the lower bout out further on their right leg. This issue can be exacerbated by a right leg that is not parallel to the floor (either due to an inappropriate chair or a misplaced right foot). If this is an issue, try making the appropriate adjustments. Suppose your child's posture is otherwise proper and sliding is still happening. You can use a small square of Camco Slip-Stop Liner placed on the right leg in that case. The liner will help stabilize the guitar. 

You can also use the "Zap!" game to help your child maintain focus on guitar positioning while playing. Place your finger on the back part of the lower bout. If the guitar slides out along the leg while your child is playing, yell, "Zap!"

Hands

Both the left and right hands use the same basic resting posture. The palm should be slightly concave and the fingers gently curved, as if holding a small ball. I teach students "Floaty Egg Fingers" using an egg-shaker. To do this:

  1. Have your child gently hold an egg shaker in their hand.
  2. Tell them that you want to slide the egg in and out of their hand. Your child's fingers should stay as still as possible. You can tell them to hold an imaginary egg when you remove the actual egg from their hand.
  3. Slide the egg in and out of their hand, encouraging them to cradle the egg gently rather than hold it stiffly. 

Do this in both the left and right hands, palm up and palm down, respectively. These are the orientations of the hands when playing. 

Once that's done, you can play a game of "Fix-It Sandwich," alternating between Floaty, Stiff, and Straight egg fingers. 

Left Hand

The placement of the left-hand thumb is an essential element of proper left-hand placement. The thumb is placed approximately behind the first fret, on the lower 1/2 to 1/3 of the neck. Place a sticker in this location, so your child has an easy reference point. 

In this position, the thumb should be pointing towards the ceiling. The most common issues are the thumb 'falling asleep" (lying down, parallel to the neck and pointing towards the wall) and "throwing up" (thumb over the top of the fretboard). The first of these compromises the palm's position, and the latter the part of the finger knuckles. Both of these reduce the strength and agility that your child's fingers can achieve. 

One of the more delicate (and difficult to observe, from the teacher's seat) is the thumb's contact point. The thumb touches the neck slightly on its side, rather than pressing the thumbprint flat against the neck. Pressing the thumbprint flat against the neck will introduce unnecessary tension into the hand. The thumb's natural, relaxed orientation in "Floaty Egg Fingers" is a useful guide for this positioning. 

The first finger's knuckle joint should be almost entirely in front of the fretboard, while all the other knuckles should be entirely in front of the fretboard. The palm and knuckles should be approximately parallel to the neck. In this position, the floaty-egg fingers will be roughly parallel to the frets. This position will allow the ideal combination of agility and strength. 

Right Hand

When initially teaching proper posture to your child, their right elbow will rest on the lower bout. The right arm will rest on the top of the guitar, and the right fingers will gently cup the upper bout. Ensure that your child's elbow is resting ON the upper bout; the elbow should not slide onto the guitar's soundboard.

Once your child has mastered the essential positioning of legs, arms, and left hand, you can begin to teach the right hand it's playing position. You can teach the rudiments of this position by having your child move their right hand from its resting spot on top of the guitar. Your child will move their thumb touch the 6th string in the middle of the soundhole. 

In this position, your child's wrist should be slightly flexed about an inch above the fretboard. Avoid the right arm and wrist's tendency to "hug" the guitar and lay almost flat against the soundboard. Your child's right-hand fingers, if they were straightened out of the "floaty-egg" position, should run parallel to the forearm, creating one long, straight line from the tips of the fingers to the elbow. Your child's palm should be a flat "roof" above the soundboard so that the pinky knuckles and index knuckles are approximately equidistant from the soundboard. 

Conclusion

If you have any questions, leave a comment below!

Kale Good


Educator and Founder of Good Music Academy.

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