The ‘I can’t play guitar standing up’ problem
“I can’t play guitar standing up” is something I’ve heard many aspiring guitarists say, much like the statement ‘I can’t play guitar and sing at the same time‘.
This article looks at what the causes are of this problem and how to fix them.
Two potential solutions to playing the guitar standing up
Over the years, this is something that I have heard from some guitarists. The only reason a person feels that they can’t play guitar standing up is that their guitar is in a significantly different position when standing as it is when sitting.
There are two solutions to this:
- Spend time developing two different guitar techniques: one for when standing; one for when sitting.
- Change the way you play so that the guitar is in the same position regardless of whether you are sitting or standing up.
The preferred solution
There is so much to do in the world of guitar playing that I strongly advise against the first of these. Repeating work is a poor use of time that takes away from other areas of your playing that you could be working on.
The second solution can be done it two ways, either you change the way you play whilst standing up or you change the way you play whilst sitting down.
The most common issue in playing whilst standing is to have the strap set too long. This positions the guitar much lower than how most people play when seated. The solution to this is of course to shorten the strap length.
Improvements to playing guitar sitting down
Less obviously, part of the problem could actually be how you play guitar when seated. The typical position for a (right handed) guitarist is to have the guitar on the right leg. There’s nothing wrong with this but I’ve seen many guitarists play hunched severely over a guitar that is rigidly clamped between their body, arm and leg.
Even though these guitarists may play wonderfully in this way, it’s not transferrable to playing guitar standing up and it’s certainly not good for long-term health. This kind of posture can lead to back or shoulder pain, and tensing up muscles for hundreds of hours a year can result in nerve damage – the last thing a guitarist needs.
If you play the guitar sat down in the way described above, I urge you to try a modified approach.
Try raising the right leg a couple of inches using a footstool or a thick book.
Alternatively, try using the strap whilst sitting, and set the strap so that the guitar is slightly raised above the right leg. Both of these steps allow you to sit with your body more upright and more like how we need to play whilst standing.
If possible, film yourself playing whilst seated and see how you really position your body and the guitar whilst playing; it’s often not how we think we play. Are you holding your right shoulder up in the air or leaning to one side?
If so, this needs to change.
Learning to play guitar standing up
As with changing any technique, it can be a frustrating experience (see There is nothing natural about playing guitar) but ultimately should be well worth the time invested. With the changes described above you will achieve a more consistent approach to playing whilst seating and standing, and will be less likely to develop painful symptoms.
There is no single universal approach to positioning the guitar and you will always find exceptions.
Ultimately though, it is very sensible to adopt a posture that works in the way our bodies are designed to operate. This means no extreme tension or contorting of our limbs. If you can’t play guitar standing up, realise that this is only a temporary state.
Make a few basic changes and the words “I can’t play guitar standing up” will seem a distant memory, and you will find yourself in a healthier and more productive era of your guitar playing.
If you liked this article ‘I can’t play guitar standing up’ please share it with others.