Ergonomics of holding the instrument question

MichaelEMichaelE New
edited March 2013 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 3
I've just started playing this style, and I'm having some serious discomfort with the standard position for holding and playing the instrument (re: page 11 in Mr. Horowitz' "Gypsy Rhythm" book). I've been playing the guitar for 47 years, most classical and jazz, with a short stint training with the Guitar Craft folks here in Seattle working on body alignment (Alexander Technique) and picking technique. I have a Gitane D-500 guitar.

I'm long-waisted and short-legged, with back and knee problems that I alleviated by using a Dynarest leg prop for playing classical, and a guitar strap for playing everything else - anything to keep both feet on the ground, the upper legs parallel to the ground, and the back/torso untwisted.

The position shown in Mr. Horowitz' book (and in observing the positions of other players) feels too low and twisted off to the right side - I have to hunch over, and that lasts only about 10 minutes. I've found that the only position that seems comfortable is a flamenco guitar position, with the instrument resting on the right leg, but with the fretboard and head held much higher than what is apparently the norm. This is ok, but I'm having to work too hard with the right arm to hold it in that position for long.

Has anyone else had to deal with physical issues like this, and how did you adjust? I'd hate to have to give it up just when I've started because of this.

Michael E.


  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,858
    Well, Michael, I'm far from being an expert, but I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say,:

    "Any position that is comfortable and allows your right hand to successfully execute the rest stroke is a good one."
    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • MichaelEMichaelE New
    Posts: 3
    Ok, thanks, but I was hoping for something more along the lines of, "oh yeah, I had that problem, too, but here's what I did...." or "Yes, I used the Handy-Dandy Leg Propper-Upper, and it worked great, and here's the URL." That sort of thing....

  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    Michael, you may be looking for a fast cure that just isn't there, although if you keep experimenting, you will eventually solve it. I have long arms, and when I first started playing, I posted a thread asking for a fix to my problem, which was that my hand was playing over the soundhole. The best advice I got was from Michael Horowitz, who said essentially that if I kept experimenting things would eventually find themselves where they should be. At the time, I thought that was no solution at all, but it worked. Of course, taking a class with Michael at Django in June 2006 helped polish things up!

    I don't see why you don't just play off your left leg, semi-classical style (but a little lower angle). There are a few guys who do, and I tried it tonight to see and I thought it was fine. My rest stroke worked, but rhythm required changing my wrist angle. It would be easier and probably work better on the right leg, but don't quit over it. Experiment a few minutes each day with different right-leg positions until you gradually find what works for you, and in the meantime, play your longer stints either on the left leg alone, or with crossed legs.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • JonJon melbourne, australiaProdigy Dupont MD50B, '79 Favino
    Posts: 391
    I don't know if it'll suit you, but if I get any back pain during a gig (doesn't happen often, but it can if there's a loud audience and the gig is dragging on - I think back pain is probably psychological more than anything for me) I find that sitting cross legged ala Romane really helps. Normally I play with both feet on the ground - the right one on its toes pushing the guitar a little higher, and the left heel tapping hard into the floor, and tell students to do the same to get a real solid attachment to the time (like Tchavolo). Nonetheless, if my back is hurting, crossed legs and spine up against the back of the seat fixes the problem most times. And you can rest assured that one of the top players shares your playing position.

    If you just want to get the guitar elevated a bit while keeping both feet on the ground, what about one of these ? You might have to adjust your right hand a bit though, as most people naturally hit the guitar in the right spot for the style sitting it the normal position, hunched a little, with the right wrist at an angle.

    Hope that's somewhat helpful,

  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    Hi Michael,
    I use a similar device to that Gitano thing Jon posted above and it has really helped me be comfortable and play for long periods.... The dinarette cushion basically does the same thing, raise the guitar, but it feels less secure because it isn't attached to the guitar
    I also rest on the edge of my right leg so the guitar's headstock is sort of pointing forward and up...

    I would advice against resting on the left leg.... I did it for a while and it can work but there's definitely a big advantage to resting your biceps on the side of your guitar, it frees your wrist up a lot and allows you to relax the shoulder. Plus your guitar should feel a lot more secure that way and your back gets less strain.
    You're right in keeping both feet on the floor and not hunching... I believe you just need to find the right height with one of those things that replace foot-stools and get used to playing that way while always keeping your biceps on the side.

    Best of luck!
  • Arturo AzcarragaArturo Azcarraga Lawrenceville, GA USANew
    Posts: 8
    I also find the standard position (over the right leg) uncomfortable. I installed guitar straps on both my Manouches (D-500 and GJ-0) and it helps weather I am standing or sitting. The strap button is installed at the bottom of the neck heal along the plane of the back of the guitar, just like on a Gibson ES-335. I am used to the guitar in this position from playing an ES-335 model for years, plus some classical guitar, so I have adopted that position for Manouche playing. I also wear the strap fairly short, like Steve Howe from Yes would. I find it keeps the guitar nicely positioned so I can sit up straight, both feet on the ground. Hope this helps.
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,471
    Michael, I feel for you, I really do. I've got some pretty substantial issues as well, and it's a constant struggle between loving to play and the pain that inevitably comes on. Just a few things, miscellaneous, so take it for what you will. I do raise my right leg with an guitar footrest. For me, both feet on the ground is actually not as good as my guitar leg raised a bit. Crossing the leg, as mentioned above, also helps - though I don't like playing like this, the attack just feels weak/weird. I also listen to my body...I have the rather stubborn habit of training through pain (long time habit - whether it's cooking, or martial arts, or this, playing the guitar), which inevitably flares up into something pretty I try to take a lot of breaks, bend over and let gravity open my spine a bit, and listen better. I don't always succeed, as I hate breaks when I'm deep into practice. During my conservatory (theater) days, I was introduced to Alexander Technique, which, agreed, is a great system for performers.

    I try to stretch every day. For me, it's a mixed bag because stretching helps ease immediate pain, but actually induces a flareup several hours later.

    Finally, like Michael Bauer, I've got long arms, disproportionate to the rest of my body. I, too, have struggled with playing in a "sweet spot" just behind the soundhole. Various things to work with it, including a more pronounced "broken wrist" angle, creeping further back on the guitar, even resting my forearm on the bout, and not the crook of my elbow. Ultimately, I decided I need a Favino-style guitar, so I placed an order with Rodrigo Shopis. :D

    I know I initially quit back in 2009 after just a few months in (and that was after 35 years away from playing altogether), but now, I'm absoutely "stuck" and in love with playing, so, probably like you, there's nothing that will keep me from doing this. I hope you find a means to ease your pain and allow you to play without the insistence of the demon.

    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • I play with my left leg crossed over my right wich puts the guitar bout the right place for ny shoulders and when I remember to arch my lower back then upper body is good. I am going to try one of those ortho cushions which I will get today and will report back.

    I go to a massage therapist once a week and she works on my piriformis and glutei medes which become unhappy at spending an hour a day in that position. Now that my sax playing is back to where it was when I was young I am able to spend more time on guitar....i have thought of a solution for sitting in an ergonomically correct way .... Have to as nice as massage is it gets expensive after a while.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Hah not bad for a one handed ipad shot. What you see is my left foot ..right arm rests on lower bout as soon as I put proper curve in wrist picking in a good position shoulder isnt too far out...

    Several years ago I ended up with acute sub achromial bursitus in the right shoulder after 10 days of many hours a day playing in florida with guitar on right leg. My shoulder doesnt like that traditional position. The fact that I spent years playing left leg classical may have something to do with ne sais pas.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320
    Hi Jay,

    What kind of 'ortho cushion'?

    I use the office chair that you suggested in another thread (with the arms removed) and a lumbar support to remind me to arch the small of my back and not to hunch over.

    If I hunch over, my lower back starts to get tired and sore.

    Also, I do piriformis stretch and some other stretches to keep the sacro-illiac joint in line.

    I get deep-tissue massage about once a month.

    I think posture is the biggest issue for me. Don't hunch over. Keep your lower back slightly arched and use a lumbar support if needed. I have one in my truck too.

    Sounds like an old man issue??? Are we all over 50?
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