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I just began playing, and after watching some beginner videos, everyone seems to advocate for the thumb being placed firmly on the back of the neck, while keeping some moderate space between the palm and the guitar. This is referred to the classical way of holding the guitar.

Now, I don't plan on playing classical (maybe in the future) and I keep my guitar in a very standard, modern way. Right leg, low neck position and all that.

In the course that I'm following, I'm told to learn a simpler version of the A minor chord, using only two fingers. I find this chord extremely awkward to play if I were to keep my thumb in the "correct" position while keeping some space between the palm and the guitar. It's much easier for me if the guitar neck touches the root of the index finger, as this let me angle my fingers more comfortably, and lets me make chord changes quicker and more consistently. Same with playing melodies.

Am I shooting myself in the foot by playing this way? Should I buckle up and just learn (what's for the the harder) the correct way? I maybe default to this position because it's easier, but I truly wonder if it's just my individuality also.

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    Are you playing electric? – topo morto Mar 20 '18 at 15:10
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    "I keep my guitar in a very standard, modern way. Right leg, low neck position and all that." Nothing wrong or anti-modern with how classical players hold their guitars. You don't need to adopt their technique, but it is worth paying attention to. I would suggest avoiding "low neck position," though. It seems better to hold the guitar so that your elbow is lower than the neck. If you look at a lot of players who wear their guitars low, they have sharply bent wrists; this is a recipe for injury. Reducing tension in the hands and increasing mobility are the things to look for. – David Bowling Mar 20 '18 at 15:19
  • @DavidBowling The fix for that is a wrist high grip with the thumb over the top. I agree that having a low neck and trying to put the wrist below the neck is a recipe for injury. Anyone wanting a low neck should keep their wrist high. – Todd Wilcox Mar 20 '18 at 16:49
  • @ToddWilcox -- that's a good observation; still, I see lots of players with low-slung guitars and cranked wrists. I was first taught thumb-behind the neck, then gradually changed to palm-behind the neck as it seemed more comfortable at the time, then consciously went back to thumb-behind the neck when I began to feel "flat-footed" on the fretboard. Now I play mostly thumb-behind the neck, but will alter position when it feels right, if I want to use my thumb on the bottom string, etc. Your answer focuses on awareness of body mechanics, which is why you got a +1 from me. – David Bowling Mar 20 '18 at 17:03
  • "I don't plan on playing classical" But you are nevertheless playing a classical guitar, right? – leonbloy Mar 20 '18 at 20:03
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There is no one correct way to position your fretting hand, but there are many wrong ways.

Playing in the classical style, with the thumb more or less centered on the back of the neck, allows for the fingers to most easily reach up to the low E string and also allows for maximum stretch from index to pinkie finger across the frets, but it also requires a fairly high neck and ideally having the neck at an angle. It also is most ergonomic with lighter strings and lower actions since you want to use the bare minimum amount of finger pressure.

The classical hand position is well suited to fast, light playing and you'll see a lot of highly technical guitarists use this or some variation on it.

What I will call the "rock" hand position is pretty much the opposite. The wrist is much higher on the neck and the thumb is usually wrapped around the top touching the low E string and maybe the A string. There is no gap between the neck and the palm - or maybe more accurately the web between the thumb and index fingers. The neck is more or less gripped with the thumb and fingers wrapped around.

The rock hand position allows a much lower neck and works well for standing up and wearing a guitar low on a strap. It also allows better ergonomics for string bending since you can squeeze the string(s) between the fingers and the thumb and use all of your hand strength to bend. It also allows effective muting of the lower strings while playing single notes and chords on the higher strings. It is better suited to power chords, harder playing, higher actions, and heavier strings than the classical hand position.

The downsides of the rock grip are that it's harder to fret the low strings with the fingers and you don't get nearly as wide a stretch across the frets. One mitigating technique used by many rock grip players is to fret the low E string with the thumb as it's wrapped around the top. The first knuckle of the thumb can be used to fret the low E string.

With either hand position, using light pressure and paying attention to ergonomics is critical to avoiding injury. Generally you want your wrist to be fairly straight or cocked back, not bent upwards. This prevents the tendons for the flexor digitalis muscles from as they go through the carpal tunnel.

There are many positions that are variations of the two above. Those two are sort of the archetypal positions. What you want to do is figure out the hand position that best suits your playing style, your guitar, and your body geometry. It may take trial and error and each hand position makes some things harder and other things easier. Eventually you will want to work on changing hand positions for different needs while still being able to position your hand for maximum comfort.

If you experience any pain or discomfort in your wrist or muscles, take and break (maybe for the rest of the day) and look at your ergonomics when you get back to it. If your hand gets tired, rest and work on perfect finger placement and lightest possible pressure. As you play more and more, look at making sure you have a quality guitar with a good setup and a comfortable action.

  • Just a thought. If one practises sitting down, but plays standing, the angles of guitar, wrist, arm,etc. Change critically, unless the guitar is strapped fairly high, to be at the same height for both. Even then, the left/right position will not be the same, – Tim Mar 20 '18 at 16:38
  • @Tim That's why I practice standing up. That said, I use the same hand position when sitting down, the angle of my elbow is different but the line of the wrist stays almost exactly the same. – Todd Wilcox Mar 20 '18 at 16:48
  • I've played that way for 60 yrs. Seemed to make sense as a kid too lazy to practise while standing... No position change means no re-learning, or wondering why it doesn't work any more, on stage! – Tim Mar 20 '18 at 16:51
  • Why do people like justinguitar (whom is frequently mentioned as an excellent beginner resource) recommend a thumb-behind-the-neck position and a low neck then? – CaptainBarefoot Mar 23 '18 at 6:43
  • @CaptainBarefoot I have no idea who that is, but I know who Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page are and they both put their thumbs over the top and fretted with their thumbs. To me that's plenty of endorsement. – Todd Wilcox Mar 23 '18 at 6:56

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