Sitting Position When Playing Guitar: Classical Vs On The Right Leg?

In today’s article I would like to tell you about two positions of the guitar while playing sitting. I will do a quick review of them and then, describe their both advantages and disadvantages.

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Sitting Position When Playing Guitar: Classical Vs On The Right Leg?

In today’s article I would like to tell you about two positions of the guitar while playing sitting. I will do a quick review of them and then, describe their both advantages and disadvantages. So let’s get started.

There are two main ways to hold a guitar while sitting: first option is to place the instrument on your right knee and the second option – on the left knee, keeping the body of the guitar between your legs. The second option is called classical position. But keep in mind, that if your leading hand is left and you play a left handed guitar, you should mirror everything that I say in this article. And now, let’s look at them closer.

The Right knee position

As I said, in this position you place the guitar on your right knee. It is correct to turn it a bit from you, don’t try to put it parallel to your body. And also tilt it towards you to see what is actually happening on the fret board. This position gives you some freedom, meaning, that you don’t need any stand for your feet, you just grab the instrument, sit somewhere and start playing. So it may be more versatile from this point of view. And as an additional bonus, it looks a bit cooler :)

But there is the other side: when you play in right knee position, you are forced to twist your body towards the instrument, which causes tension in your back muscles. Also you have to move your right shoulder up to be comfortable with picking strings, so your right shoulder gets higher than the left one, which also causes muscle tension. Because of these things it is highly recommended to do breaks while you play, or otherwise you have a risk to get tired fast, or even to get it uncomfortable to play. Another thing to mention is, that the guitar will be placed in such a way, that it may be tough to reach some points on the neck. This can mess you when playing some difficult pieces, especially the ones with a lot of stretching or on the lower side of the neck, where frets are put wide enough. You can help you with this if you raise your right foot with a guitar a bit. This will put the instrument closer to your head, which makes it easier to stretch. But still, don’t be afraid, there are tons of guitarists out there, who prefers this position to a classical: Tommy Emmanuel, John Petrucci, Zakk Wylde, Marty Freedman are just a few of them.

The Classical position

Now, let’s move to a classical position. Here you put the guitar on your left knee and it’s body appears between your legs. Lean it against both of them as well as against your chest. The neck in this position will point up in about 45 degree angle. If we compare it to right knee position the angle would be significantly bigger. A placement like this in classical position gives the instrument more stability (three points of contact against two). It also allows you to put the guitar just in front of you instead of turning your body towards the guitar. Because of all these things, you sit straight by the instrument and your shoulders are relaxed and on the same height, which allows you to play for a long periods of time without getting tired and this is good for home practice. Also this position is the most similar to the one, that you have while playing standing, so it will prepare you better to stand with your guitar. Another thing in compare to the right knee position: because of the neck placed at some angle up, your left hand is in more natural position, which allows you to play stretchy things with more ease. The neck is closer to you, so it is also easier to play on the lower frets.

On the other hand, even though it allows you to stretch on the lower frets with some more ease, it may be sometimes harder to pick low chords in this position. And another disadvantage of classical position is that for a correct classical position you need to use a stand to rise your left foot.

But it is just a compare, don’t take this as a rule, choose whatever position you are comfortable with. The best option is to practice both of them, because you may need both depending on a situation. For example classical position can prepare you to playing in a stand, but if you are sitting near a camp fire, there are of course neither stands for your foot nor even a good chair, that is comfortable enough for playing, so there is no chance you can use classical position.

Also switching between positions may be a useful exercise in your practice as your fingers will get used to playing not in the only one comfortable position, which you have got used to, but in some various and later in the performance it will be easier for you to ignore some uncomfortable things, like a strap, that is a bit longer that you used to, or chair, that is higher than your home chair and so on.

Common mistakes

At the beginning it is important not to only choose which position fits better to you, but to carefully look if your position is right, because if it doesn’t it may leave you to some uncomfortable feelings or even impair like spinal curvature. So here are some mistakes, which are common to the both of the positions.

A mistake, that often happens with beginners – they pick the guitar for the first time and they are afraid to drop it and so at first they want to hold the guitar with the left hand. It is wrong, because your left hand should move freely along the neck. If you try to hold the neck, your hand will stuck. You should press the guitar against your body with the part of your right hand which lies on top of the guitar body - forearm.

Another mistake, that I already mentioned, is about the guitar position. Don’t try to keep it parallel to your body. Point the neck to about north-west from you and lean the instrument to you, because otherwise you will have to stretch to see the fret board.

If you are searching for a guitar instructor, you are welcome to my guitar lessons in Moscow. They are open to people of any age and skill. So if you want to make sure, that your position is correct, come and I will give you an advice if needed.


Pasha Bocharov - guitar instructor in Moscow and professional musician. Visit his guitar school in Moscow to improve your skills.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Do what's comfortable.
    The problem with problems is if you don't know you have a problem then you don't have a problem. Never do finger stretches and play in awkward positions wake up one day and you have carpal tunnel!
    I find it easier to play difficult stuff when I employ the classical position. But that's just me. 
    Because it's by far the more ergonomical position. It's been the position for classical guitarist for centuries for a reason, it works. Having the guitar on the right leg is cool when you're just chilling out, but when the pressure's on, the way the classical position puts your left hand and frees up your right shoulder is simply the better position.
    I wonder if this applies to electric guitar also.
    No reason why it wouldn't. You'll also notice that this position transitions to standing with a strap far better (almost the exact same posture, depending on how high you keep your strap), so for electric guitar it's still a better position not only for the ergonomic benefits, but it'll also make transitioning to playing standing up much easier.
    I used right knee starting out but as I got older and taller, I found Classical is the one that's actually more comfortable, though I switch between both a lot. An interesting fact, Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters were designed for right-knee position, the neck is supposed to be (ideally) level with the floor by design - there's a patent drawing from when the Jazzmaster was designed in 1957 showing why the body was like that.  Oddly, I play those classical position most of the time too....but then I do spent a good chunk of time in the upper registers, find that treble side "extended butt" works well for keeping the instrument very stable.
    I call the two main positions Traditional (Classical) and Lazy (right leg). Holding it on the left leg is like getting ready to attack the notes like a predator. Holding it on the right leg feels like I'm just not trying today and I should've just stayed in bed :p There are other ways to hold it as well. Some jazz guys do a combo of right leg edge of the bout but held up high in the front which harkens back the old school lute strap techniques of the Renaissance and Baroque lute traditions. 
    There is really no right or wrong. What works for  "you"   is whats right for "you"