Guitar Technique Tip of the Month
Your Personal Guitar Lesson
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Douglas Niedt is a successful concert and recording artist and highly respected master classical guitar teacher with 50 years of teaching experience. He is Associate Professor of Music (retired), at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City and a Fellow of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management—Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Doug studied with such diverse masters as Andrés Segovia, Pepe Romero, Christopher Parkening, Narciso Yepes, Oscar Ghiglia, and Jorge Morel. Therefore, Doug provides solutions for you from a variety of perspectives and schools of thought.
He gives accurate, reliable advice that has been tested in performance on the concert stage that will work for you at home.
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Classical Guitar Technique
LIST OF CLASSICAL GUITAR SUPPORTS AND STRAPS FOR CLASSICAL GUITARISTS
By Douglas Niedt
Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved.
This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.
This article is excerpted from my Technique Tip: How Classical Guitarists Can Alleviate, Treat, and Eliminate Low Back Pain.
USE A GOOD CHAIR
Selecting a good chair for playing the classical guitar is crucial. Comfort and correct posture will depend largely on the type of chair the guitarist uses. It can reduce or eliminate current pain, prevent future pain, reduce fatigue, and reduce the amount of work the body must expend to sit efficiently.
For the spine to be truly balanced over the "sit bones" that place the hip joint in its least stressful position, the seat needs to be tilted forward. Chairs that tilt forward usually have fixed or adjustable angles between 5 and 30 degrees. However, according to performance trials, angles greater than 15 degrees may feel unstable and difficult to adapt to.
If you cannot find or afford a chair with forward inclination, place a foam wedge or a sloped cushion on the chair to provide the necessary tilt. Or, set the rear legs of a standard chair on a piece of wood one to two inches high. Once you find an angle you like, if the chair is relatively inexpensive, you can saw off an inch or so off the front legs to produce a forward-sloped chair.
The height of the chair is also important. The ideal height will vary with the height and body characteristics of the player.
Another solution is to buy an inexpensive adjustable-height office chair. Don't install the wheels or backrest. If you sit on the chair (backwards) you have a forward-sloping chair. Plus, it is adjustable.
THE BEST GUITAR CHAIR I HAVE FOUND
The Adjustrite Folding Musician's Chair is an excellent chair. The height of all four legs is adjustable in one-inch increments. Therefore, you can use it as a horizontal chair, tilted forward (which is what we want), tilted back (not recommended), PLUS adjust the overall height! The standard model is for players six feet tall or shorter with a front-of-seat height of 15-20 inches. A model is also available for tall players over six feet tall with a front-of-seat-height of 21-26 inches.
The standard model is available on Amazon. Both models are available from Shar Music. Here is the standard version. And here is the tall version. It is 18 lbs and folds up so you take it on gigs. It isn't a "beautiful" chair but it is sturdy. The standard version is $179 USD and the tall version $209 USD. Not cheap, but well worth it.
I like more padding on my chair so I add a cushion on the seat: the I-PURE ITEMS Coccyx Orthopedic Comfortable Memory Foam Chair and Car Seat Cushion for Lower Back, Tailbone and Sciatica Pain Relief (Black) available on Amazon. I tested a dozen different cushions from Amazon and preferred this one. But there are many others from which to choose that you may like better.
Although the cushion is designed for the "Pure Items" logo to be at the rear of the seat, it is also comfortable the other way and even upside down. I find it very helpful to change the position of the cushion frequently. Your body and back appreciate change rather than a static state.
Those of us classical players who use footstools (I have used one for over 50 years) or flamenco players who sit cross-legged, use asymmetrical sitting positions. If we choose to use a footstool, we accept the asymmetry of the positioning of our legs and feet, but we can still maintain symmetry in the torso and shoulders.
However, if you are experiencing low back pain, it is certainly worth trying a guitar support at least during practice if not during performances. While it is difficult to achieve perfect symmetry even with a guitar support, you will get a lot closer than when using a foot stool.
For a detailed discussion of sitting position, have a look at Nitin Arora's humaneguitarist.org.
Many physical therapists, physicians, and researchers see the foot stool as a major villain in guitarists' injuries and playing discomfort. The raising of the left foot causes several musculoskeletal adjustments and imbalances affecting numerous parts of the body. Alternative guitar supports are highly recommended by health professionals. It is best to try different models to see which is best for you. They can be expensive, ranging from $25-100, but it will be worth spending a bit of money on a device that just might prevent, eliminate, or reduce your low back pain now and in the years to come.
I have used a foot stool my entire career. However, I think the guitar supports are wonderful. The only reason I continue to use a footstool is that I like the looks of it better on the concert stage.
I should also point out that many pros admit to worrying whether the suction cups on their support are going to hold during a concert performance. This is especially true of supports such as the Gitano which only have one suction cup. That is why some players prefer the magnet solution of the Barnett (Sageworks) guitar support.
Here is a fairly complete list of guitar supports available today:
A-Frame: Made in USA. Suction cup based. Spring steel, Velcro, suction cups, and PVC tubing. Widely available. Available at Strings by Mail.
Barnett Guitar Support: Made in USA. Magnet based. Wood, leather. The Barnett support is now manufactured by Sagework Guitar Supports, LLC and has been renamed the Atlas Guitar Support (wooden model) and the Umbra Guitar Support (molded plastic model). Sagework Guitar Supports Website.
Boston playing position stand: Guitar Holder, modern version of Aguado's Tripodium. Metal. Available from Maison Casset.
Dynarette: Made in Sweden. Cushion. Widely available. Website.
Efel: Made in Czech Republic. Endorsed by Stephen Rak. Suction cup based. Plastic. Widely available. Available at Strings by Mail.
Ergoplay: Made in Germany. Suction cup based. Metal. Widely available. Several models are available at Strings by Mail.
Gitano: Made in Germany. Metal frame with two suckers and slip-resistant material. Widely available. Available at Strings by Mail.
GuitaRest: Made in Canada. Suction cup based. Metal. Available from De Oro Guitar Supports.
König & Meyer Guitar Performer Stand: Guitar Holder. Made in Germany. Metal. Available from manufacturer.
Lap-Strap: This is an alternative to suction-cup based supports. The idea is the brainchild of Thomas F. Heck. Read about it here. For those who don't want to put a strap button on their guitar, one could attach the strap to a 3-inch suction cup with hook attached instead (available on Amazon and in craft stores and some hardware/home supply stores).
Leg rest (Janssen Guitarest): Suction cup based. Stainless steel, wood and brass. See website.
Liikanen Classical Guitar Knee Support, Tukeva: Made in Finland. Suction cup based. Wood. Available at Classical Guitars Plus.
Litchfield Guitar Support: Made in Australia. Suction cup based. Wood. Available from Litchfield Guitars.
Murata GR-1: Made in Japan. Suction cup based. Metal, plastic. Available at Strings by Mail.
Murata GR 2 and GR-2B: Made in Japan. Without suction cups, attaches to the base of the instrument with four rubber feet. Metal, plastic. Available at Strings by Mail.
Neck Up: Made in USA. Suction cup based. Leather. Available at Strings by Mail. Manufacturer's website.
Oasis Guitar Support Cushion: Available at Strings by Mail.
Ponticello: Made in Germany. Suction cup based. Wood. Available from manufacturer.
Sagework Guitar Supports: Previously Barnett Guitar Supports. The Barnett support is now manufactured by Sagework Guitar Supports, LLC and has been renamed the Atlas Guitar Support (wooden model) and the Umbra Guitar Support (molded plastic model). Made in USA. Magnet based. Wood, leather. Sagework Guitar Supports. Also, available at Strings by Mail.
Tenuto: Made in Canada. Suction cup based. Metal. Available from manufacturer.
Woodside Guitars "The Last Guitar Support": No suction cups. Grippers firmly grasp the edge of the instrument. The pivoting system compensates for any guitar body depth variation, and grips at all four points equally. The WS-GS1 utilizes a locking ball and socket mechanism to attach the support pillar to the clamping cradle. This gives the player the freedom to set up whatever angle they choose between the clamping cradle and the leg rest. Manufacturer website: Woodside Guitars—Classical Guitars and Accesories. Available from Strings by Mail.
Wolf guitar rest: Made in the Netherlands. No suction cups. Attaches to the base of the instrument with four rubber feet. Metal. Manufacturer website. Available from Strings by Mail.
For more information on guitar supports, see Strings by Mail's Best Guitar Support Guide.
STAND UP AND USE A STRAP
For those guitarists who are experiencing severe low back pain and sitting is not an option, using a guitar strap is a great solution. However, it is also a fascinating solution even for players with minimal or no pain. It is a lot of fun to be able to stand and walk around as you play!
David Stevenson, developer and patent holder of the groundbreaking A-Frame Guitar Support in the early 1990's and now a partner in the manufacture by Sageworks of the Barnett Guitar Support (the one that uses magnets to adhere the support to the guitar), is also the developer of the new X-Strap which he believes is a potential game changer for the classical guitar.
He mentions that he saw a chamber string ensemble where the entire group including the cellos performed standing up. I too, have seen a few baroque chamber ensembles do the same thing. He and I (and many others) share the feeling that these groups project a joyous and energizing expressiveness largely because they are standing, moving about, and can connect with each other and the audience far more effectively than sitting musicians.
As a solo artist, I have come up against a wall where many performing arts series tend not to book classical guitarists because it is hard for them to sell a guy sitting stationary in a chair playing relatively quietly, for two hours to their audiences. Concert series gravitate towards hiring ensembles (more bodies onstage), dance ensembles (movement on stage), or singers and violinists (again people who move). "Stationary artists" such as pianists and cellists sell, but only if they are very famous, have recently won a major prize, or are very good-looking. Sorry folks, that's showbiz.
Understand, as Stevenson said, we aren't talking about being Eddie Van Halen or the late, great Chuck Berry! But by using a strap, the classical guitarist can move more freely and be more expressive and engaging in their stage presence. Plus, it allows the player to feel free and relieve tension in the body. For some players, that might even have a positive effect on lessening performance anxiety.
But back to our focus on low back pain, famed guitar pedagogue Aaron Shearer explains that "using a strap promotes back and shoulder alignment, avoids lower back pain associated with the elevated left thigh and provides maximum freedom for both hands in playing the guitar."
Guitarist Joseph Pecoraro at the North Carolina School of the Arts has an excellent video explaining the advantages of using a strap and how to use a standard guitar strap and the X-Strap on a classical guitar.
In my opinion, the best standard straps for a classical guitarist are those made with a suede finish. The suede prevents movement and slippage of the strap and guitar on your shoulders, keeping the instrument in a surprisingly stable position.
As Pecoraro mentions, for those who don't want to put a strap button on their guitar, one could instead attach the strap to a 3-inch suction cup with hook attached (available on Amazon, in craft stores, and some hardware/home supply stores). It is also an easy and inexpensive way to try out a strap solution.
This suction cup has a plastic hook.
They are also available with metal hooks. As shown in Pecoraro's video, two cups may be used, one large and one small. Or, one large one could be used at the bottom of the guitar and the other end of the strap tied to the head of the guitar. The X-Strap is available with its own custom suction-cup adapter (see below).
Here are a few straps for or adaptable to the classical guitar:
BG GCL classical guitar strap: Available on Amazon. Distributor website. These have been used by folk, pop, and mariachi players for many years but in my opinion, are very unstable.
Shearer Classic Guitar Strap: Website.
Standard Guitar Straps: Use with strap buttons or with suction cups with hooks as explained in Pecoraro video. Suede are best. Widely available.
X-Strap. Shown in Pecoraro's video: Available on Amazon. More info here.
Suction-cup adapter (instead of drilling strap buttons) for the X-Strap also available on Amazon.
This month's Technique Tip of the Month is available as a PDF download. You can download it from Dropbox. NOTE: You do NOT need a Dropbox account and don't have to sign up for Dropbox to access the files.