by Scott Zimmerman

This article is about which leg is best to rest your guitar on when playing. If you need information about how to learn the guitar from home, see our article here. If you want to know how long it will take to learn the guitar, see our article here.

If you are just beginning to play guitar, you may be asking the question: Which leg should the guitar rest on?, or What is the best leg to rest my guitar on?

So, which leg should you place your guitar on when playing? The guitar can be played on either the left or right leg, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both positions. Many guitar players use both legs, depending on the style of music they are playing.

Let’s explore this topic and unpack the advantages and disadvantages of each position. Also, we will explain which position works best for specific playing situations.

Right Leg Positioning – Pros

Positioning the guitar on the right leg is the most common because it is the most natural way to hold the guitar. In this position, typically, both feet are resting on the ground, which is the normal way that we sit in a chair, and therefore, the most natural. This position also places the guitar in a good position for strumming the guitar, which is also the most common way of playing, i.e. playing chords.

Furthermore, the left hand is also in a good position for forming open chords in the first three frets of the guitar. If your guitar playing consists mainly of open position chords, this is the goto position.

Right Leg Positioning – Cons

When using the right leg, the neck of the guitar will be close to parallel with the floor. Let’s do a little experiment to see how the left hand reacts to this neck position. With your left hand elbow comfortably at your side, raise your forearm and rotate your arm so that your palm is up and your hand is parallel to the floor, e.g. your thumb will be at the nine o’clock position and your pinky will be at the three o’clock position.

Now, rotate your arm clockwise so that your thumb is in the eleven o’clock position and your pinky is in the five o’clock position. Move back and forth between these to positions: What do you notice?

When you are in the first position, you should notice some tension in your forearm as your muscles activate to hold that position. In the second position, there will be less tension because the arm is in a neutral or natural position. Why is this important? When muscles are activated in one position for an extended period of time, they will become fatigued. We experience this in the feeling of soreness. This is our body’s mechanism for giving us information.

Under normal circumstances we adjust our body to alleviate the tension and all is well. Under abnormal circumstances, such as playing the guitar, sometimes we ignore these signals in order to accomplish some task, and this is where injuries to the arm and hand can occur. If you are a casual player, and play for short periods of time, your body will naturally recover; most likely, you will not be in danger of developing long term health issues related to your hands and arms.

However, if you start practicing more frequently and for longer periods of time, this may become an issue. We’ll address some solutions for this potential problem in the next section.

Left Leg Positioning – Pros  

When positioning the guitar on the left leg, it is necessary to either elevate the left leg with a foot stool or use some other positioning device. (We will discuss these devices later.) By elevating the guitar, either through raising the leg with a footstool, or by raising the guitar with a positioning device, the neck of the guitar can be positioned more closely to a forty-five degree angle, (relative to the floor), rather than parallel.

This position conforms to the natural position of the arm and hands, as we saw in the above experiment. In other words, in terms of our hands and arms, when positioning the guitar on the right leg, we, in a sense, work for the guitar; and, when the guitar is positioned on the left leg, it works for us. Now, playing healthy is by itself a good thing and stands on its own merit; however, there is also a musical advantage to this position.

If the body’s muscle resources are completely focused and activated solely for playing music, and not in working against itself, it stands to reason that we will be able to play better. Not only does this position support healthy playing, but it also allows easier access to the higher positions of the guitar. This is why all classical guitar players use this position; they are trying to optimize their body mechanics for the difficult challenges of the music.

Furthermore, take note of the neck angel of professional rock and jazz guitarists when standing; you will notice a similar neck position as seated classical guitarists.

Left Leg Position – Cons

From a musical standpoint, using the left leg for support is superior to the right leg; there are negatives to using the left leg; however, from an ergonomic and comfort perspective, there are some things to consider. For the left arm and hand, this position is not only healthy, but allows for more technical accuracy because of the position of the neck; however, when the left foot is elevated on a foot stool, some leg and back discomfort can develop. Because, once again, this is not our normal body position.

The remedy for this problem is to take frequent breaks to stretch these muscles, e.g. standing up and walking around, stretching the leg muscles, etc. (Keep in mind, no matter what position you use, it is a good idea to take stretching breaks about every fifteen minutes when you are practicing.) 

Another issue that requires an adjustment period, if you are transitioning from playing on the right leg to playing on the left, is the position of the guitar’s body when using the left leg. In this position, the body of the guitar will rest between the legs, similar to a position a cello player uses. In addition, the neck of the guitar will be more to the left than when playing on the right leg.

This means the lower positions of the guitar will be farther away from you and your left hand will have to reach farther than when playing on the right leg. However, this brings the middle and upper frets in line with the natural position of your arm. For music that is more technically advanced and uses upper positions, this is an ideal setup. However, if you are primarily playing in the lower positions, e.g. open position chords, there is less benefit to this position, and using the right leg will be more practical.

Left Leg Positioning Options

The guitar footstool is the traditional method for elevating the left leg. It is inexpensive, reliable, and easily obtained from most guitar shops. It is a very stable platform for elevating the leg because the guitar is stabilized by the body at the three traditional contact points, i.e. leg, chest, and right forearm. It is also adjustable so that different chair heights can be accommodated.

There are two trade-offs for the superior stability that a footstool offers: 1) leg and back discomfort during prolonged practicing due to the unnatural left leg position, and 2) the changing position of the guitar relative to the body due to different chair heights. This second issue can be addressed by using the same chair and footstool height for practicing; however, in performance situations, where a different chair may be used, it is something to be aware of, so that it does not interfere with your ability to perform well.

Devices that are placed between the guitar and the left leg are another type of positioning option. They are typically called “guitar rests”. These devices can be further divided into two categories: adjustable and non-adjustable. Adjustable devices will not only allow the height of the guitar to be adjusted, but the angle of the neck as well; whereas, non-adjustable devices will elevate the guitar and position the neck at a predetermined position relative to your leg. 

These devices eliminate the issue of unnatural left leg elevation, and thus, tend to be more comfortable than footstools for extended periods of practicing. However, the inherent stability issues of having something in between your leg and the guitar, can be an issue. Many of the adjustable devices use plastic suction cups to adhere to the guitar. These can give-way and pop off; obviously, this would be a disaster during a performance. However, by cleaning both surfaces well, i.e. the guitar and the suction cups, the potential for this to happen can be minimized.

Practical Application

It is useful to be able to play in both positions. As we stated above, each position has its own unique advantages. Depending on what you are playing, you will want to be able to use each position, e.g. a technically challenging piece can sometimes be played better on the left leg. It is also ergonomically beneficial to switch back and forth, even during a practice session, to allow your muscles to relax.

I often play less challenging music using my right leg, which is more comfortable for sitting, and when I need to play or practice something more challenging, I will switch to the left-leg elevated position. This allows me to play longer without fatiguing my arms, back, and legs because I am alternating frequently between positions. 

Conclusion

If you are just starting to play guitar, begin with the right leg and stay with it. After you become a more experienced player, try playing on the left leg and observe when and where musically it is beneficial for you to switch legs. Let your own experience and observations be your guide!

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.

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