3.4 Guitar Ergonomics

Body position with and without instrument

Go to Exercise 8.2  to find a stable sitting position before taking your instrument. Sitting is demanding for the back, as we can only bend the hip joint up to 60 degrees; the rest of the curvature when sitting occurs in the lumbar spine/pelvis, which then becomes more rounded, making it more difficult for the pelvis to support the vertebral column in an upright position.

The goal is to keep the pelvis and lumbar spine in an upright position as well as avoiding unequal strain on the back and pelvis muscles, such as when using a supporting footstool under the left foot. When you use such a support, which entails the left foot being positioned higher than the right, the result is an imbalance of strain in the back. As you take the instrument, try to sit in front of a mirror, in order to see how you can avoid asymmetry with differently positioned shoulders, which can cause pain in the musculature of the shoulders and also in the shoulder joint itself if the weight becomes uneven for a long time.

When you go through the sitting exercise, notice what happens in the body and especially how the musculature feels around the pelvis/lumbar spine and up around the shoulders. The goal is to find stability in the various positions without locking the small joints, so that you can concentrate on the peripheral muscles and their important fine motor ability.

As you carry out these exercises be aware of your breathing, as it will let you know how relaxed you are.

Position of the instrument and hands

Your posture also affects the degree of inward bending of the left hand. The basic placement of the guitar affects the position of both left and right wrists.

Try to position the fingerboard more diagonally. Then try to find a position where the right hand will not constantly angle outwards from the wrist. When the right forearm rests against the edge of the guitar, this can press against the nerve that lies close to the crook of the arm. Try to find a position with the least possible pressure. When actually playing the instrument, try to direct the power of the fingers of the right hand in a 90-degree angle against the direction of the string. The touch on the string itself should be made between the nail and the edge of the pad of the finger.

Left hand: Try for a low level of activity in the left thumb, which should support the movements. Try to avoid pressing with the fingers and squeezing the thumb around the fingerboard. How we place and use the fingers on the fingerboard has consequences for how much strain is placed on the whole arm and shoulder. The hand and fingers function optimally when the pads of the fingers make contact with the strings so that the fingers have a slight curvature in all joints.

Illustration 3.4.1. Make sure that the grip between the thumb and fingers is relaxed. The thumb’s function is to support the hand. Notice how tense the muscle is around the base of the thumb. There should be some space around the fingers and palm when the fingers are placed on the fingerboard.

Illustration 3.4.2. In this position, the wrist finds itself in an extreme inward bend, which functions only if it is used for shorter periods. The exception to this rule is the barré grip, in which a straight finger is required for string contact. Be aware of your breathing, as this offers a good measure of how relaxed your torso is while playing. To achieve this, you need to be able to find an upright position without using a back support.

Electric guitar/bass guitar

When playing electric guitar or bass guitar, try to place the guitar horizontally and more diagonally out from the body. Alternatively, you can play standing up, as this makes it easier to direct the fingerboard diagonally upwards.

Illustration 3.4.3. In this position, with the guitar and fingerboard directed out from the body, both the left and right wrists find themselves in favourable positions. In this way you will largely avoid bending the left wrist while playing. Make sure that the guitar comes as far down as possible to the level of the pelvis, and that the right hand bends inwards as little as possible. Try to keep the right wrist straight.