by Scott Zimmerman

A lot of beginners try to stay away from this topic, but it’s an important one that deserves to be discussed, because it can help your playing in a very real way. In this article, let’s talk about the importance of standing up while practicing.

So, should you stand up while practicing the guitar? Practicing guitar while standing is necessary for most performance situations; therefore, it is necessary to develop the ability to play the guitar while standing. In addition, standing while playing allows for more movement of the body, which results in healthier body mechanics and increased musical expression.

However, standing while playing presents some unique challenges. Here are some tips on how to overcome these challenges in order to play effectively while standing.

Why is it more difficult to play while standing?

There are a couple factors that can make playing the guitar while standing more difficult. First, the way you see the fretboard will be different. Typically, while seated, the fretboard is slightly tilted which gives a better view of your hands. When standing the guitar will lose this tilt and you will not see as much of the fretboard. Secondly, the way the body is used to support your playing is different from sitting as compared to standing. When sitting, the body tends to contour around the guitar. The stability of the guitar is provided by the body and the right arm pushing down through the guitar into the leg. When standing, stability is provided by the strap and at times the right leg and torso of your body. And so, the mechanism for stability is different and needs to be learned and practiced before it is mastered.

What is the right strap length? 

A good way to find a starting position for your strap length is to adjust the strap while you are sitting. Sit as you normally would and adjust the strap so that it holds the guitar while you are sitting. Stand and see how it feels. It may seem a bit high if you are comparing yourself to famous players who carry their guitar low; however, you want the guitar to be where you can play it well.

What are some techniques for playing while standing?

Try standing with your legs comfortably apart and your right leg forward of your left. Don’t lock your knees but keep them slightly bent. Your right leg is now in a position to raise itself slightly which will tilt the guitar up. This will achieve the type of position used when sitting where the fretboard is more clearly viewed and the leg supports the guitar. Alternatively, instead of raising the guitar using your leg, you can also bend over the guitar from the waist. This provides a good view of the fretboard and allows for the left arm to reach the higher frets as well. Note: It is not necessary to maintain this position continuously but only when you are playing a challenging part, i.e.  during a solo or when you need to play higher frets. Otherwise, a more balanced stance is suitable for rhythm playing or less challenging repetitive riffs. Out of necessity, your body will naturally move into the position required to play the part well. Allow for some experimentation and make a note of which positions enable you to play the more challenging parts of the song well.

How will my guitar playing improve by standing up?

When standing up you will need to play more by feel than by sight. This type of playing really helps to improve the connection between what you are hearing and what your fingers are doing by taking some of the visual sense away. In short, you have to rely more on your ear to know if you are playing the right notes and chords. It is great ear training. Also, the freedom of movement creates a very strong connection to the rhythm of the music you are playing.

Is standing while playing beneficial for my body?

The body is designed for movement. That is why prolonged sitting or standing becomes uncomfortable. If you practice a lot, alternating between sitting and standing is a good way to play healthy and avoid over using muscle groups which can lead to more serious issues.

Why will my singing improve if I stand while playing?

You will have better breath support for singing when you stand. While sitting, it is more difficult for your diaphragm to expand and contract. The diaphragm is the muscle that allows your lungs to inhale and exhale. With good breath support you will sing on pitch better and be able to sustain notes longer.

Why does my arm hurt when I play standing?

It is always a good idea to be aware of any soreness during or after you play. The earlier you determine its cause the less likely you are to develop a longer term issue. If your left hand wrist or forearm is uncomfortable, it may mean that your strap is too long and your wrist is over extending. Try slightly shortening your strap. Neck or back soreness may be caused by the type of strap you are using in conjunction with the weight of your guitar. Try using a wider strap to spread out the weight over a larger area in addition to taking more frequent breaks. Certain guitars will be heavier than others and may cause fatigue more quickly, i.e. a Les Paul compared to a lighter Fender strat guitar.

What is the best guitar strap material?

Leather straps will provide the best overall support and comfort. They evenly distribute the weight and the underneath suede side or rough side helps the strap from sliding on your shoulder. Furthermore, most leather straps are only made of leather without any attached material. This means there are no pieces attached with stitching which can break down with use.

What is the best guitar strap size?

The length of a strap is usually a standard size; however, the width of straps come in varied sizes. Wider straps will spread the weight over a larger part of your shoulder and will not have the tendency to “dig” into your shoulder.

Should I get a padded strap?

A padded strap will most likely be more comfortable than a non-padded strap. The underneath will typically be smooth, unlike the rougher suede underneath of a non-padded leather strap. Therefore, it is important to consider whether you want the strap to freely move over your shoulder or remain more stationary. Be sure to try both types before making your decision.

How can I keep the neck and head from dipping down?

This is most common on acoustic guitars that have two strap buttons. When the strap is attached to the back button and the button near the heel of the neck, the head of the guitar may dip down due to its weight. First, try using a leather strap with an unfinished or suede underneath as this will grab onto your clothing and possibly keep the guitar from losing balance. If balance is still an issue, attach the strap to the head of the guitar using a strap string. 

How do I attach a strap to an acoustic guitar using a string?

A string can be looped underneath the strings of the guitar behind the nut and then tied into the hole of the strap. Sometimes straps will come with the tie string and sometimes not. A shoe string will work if you don’t have one with the strap. The round woven type strings work nicely, but any string will do. Allow for about four inches of total string length from the guitar to the strap as this will give your hand more room. If the strap is tied too closely it can interfere with your left hand.

Which way does the strap go?

Some straps have a wide end and a narrow end. Traditionally the wide end attaches to the strap button closest to the neck and the narrow end to the bottom of the guitar. Theoretically this arrangement will give you the most support because the widest part of the strap is dispersing the weight over your shoulder. However, it is also common to see players reversing this position. Experiment to see what works best for you. If you are using a nylon strap with an adjustable clip, position the strap so that the clip does not “dig” into your shoulder or back. When using this type of strap, I like to set my strap length and then have the clip between my back and the bottom strap button. Alternatively, some players like to have the clip in front so that the guitar can be adjusted while playing. 

What are some other types of straps?

Double shoulder straps are another option. This type of strap balances the weight across your body by using a two strap configuration. This is a good option if you are experiencing some discomfort in your neck or back or are looking for an alternative strap system.

What are strap locks and should I use them?

Strap locks are a good idea for a worry-free playing experience. Most guitarists have had the unfortunate occurrence of having their strap pop off with the guitar dropping to the floor. Unfortunately, over time the holes in a strap can stretch and if the strap is pulled at just the right angle the strap will come off the button. Strap locks solve this problem by using a specific strap button that locks into a receiving piece that is installed on the strap. If you want to take your hands off the guitar safely, then strap locks are a good investment. Keep in mind however, the strap with installed locks can only be used with the reciprocal buttons on the guitar. In other words, you can not use the strap on a non-strap lock equipped guitar.

What are strap blocks?

Strap blocks are round and made out of flexible synthetic material. They are similar to rubber washers. They are placed on the strap buttons over the strap and hold the strap in place. These are useful if you have a favorite strap with enlarged holes due to wear. They offer some security against the strap popping off but are not as secure as strap locks. However, they are considerably less expensive than strap locks and allow the strap to be used on any guitar.

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.