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How Should I Hold the Neck?

This is a question that everybody should be asking when they learn, yet they never do. Most of the basics of guitar can be performed by holding the neck in any generic way, however, you must make an effort to start on the correct path to avoid undue difficulties further down the line.

Understand that this is not a blog post about overall posture, it is specifically aimed towards the fundamentals of gripping the neck, or at least my understanding of it. Different styles and versions of the guitar will require a different approach, but we will be focusing on the electric guitar. Each player also has their own personal preference that is slightly adapted from the positions we will discuss today, so make sure you follow these guidelines closely.

It is my opinion that there are two main ways of holding the neck. One is with the thumb around the top of the neck and leaving little space between the palm and the neck of the guitar itself. The other is with the thumb firmly placed in the middle of the neck, leaving more space between the palm of the hand and the neck. You may see some players floating their thumb off the neck entirely - whenever I have done this it has been for demonstration purposes and not an example of correct technique except in very extreme circumstances. 

Playing Chords

The whole world of chords is fascinating to me though, despite all of the different variations, voicings and extensions you can learn, the fact is that your hand will most likely remain in the same position in terms of grip. It is here that you will see the thumb reaching around the neck more prominently, allowing for an even pressure across all of the fingers.

You will see in Fig. 1 that I am playing a simple G chord, most players that have been learning for a few months should know this chord or at least a variation of it. The thumb comes up behind the neck to allow the whole hand to squeeze the chord and make each note ring out clearly. In Fig. 2 you will see the same chord, but with the picture taken from a different angle. Note how the palm of my left hand is close to the neck but not right up against it. Having the whole of the palm of your hand up against the neck will cause your wrist to be at an unnatural and uncomfortable angle - in this situation, many beginners believe that it is normal and could potentially cause further damage later on down the line. 

This position is the same whether or not you are playing barre chords, open chords and other similar iterations of harmony. However, you may find yourself switching if you play power chords or something higher up the neck.

Single Notes

Whilst not restricted to single notes, it is a great example for when and how you should place your thumb on the back of the neck. You should naturally feel when to switch to this grip, and as I mentioned before, you might find it naturally happening when you are playing power chords or something higher up the neck.

Fig. 3 is just an example fingering, but the idea of single notes is easily visible. This could be when you are playing a simple exercise, a scale, melodies, riffs or a guitar solo. Fig. 4 shows you the position of my thumb on the back of the neck - note the increased space between the palm and the neck here. Some guitarists have likened this to having a ping-pong ball in your hand as you play… not the most accurate simile but understandable; the curving of your fingers and position of your thumb gives the palm of your hand a concave surface. 

The benefit of having your thumb like this is that you have the ability to pinch the single notes in between your finger and thumb, pressing it against the fretboard efficiently whilst being slightly easier to achieve the sound you want. For less experienced students, imagining this as a pinching motion is a great way to understand how to operate our fingers. There is also an increased level of mobility with this grip, allowing the fingers to move up and down the strings with ease, stretch further, stretch for longer and for the hand to move up and down the neck at a higher rate of speed. 

Wrist Angle

Being careful to avoid playing with your wrists at an odd angle for prolonged periods of time is something you should take seriously. Your body is great at telling you when something is wrong, though we are great at ignoring the signals, unfortunately. Tension while you are playing should be limited. 

Your wrist should never really be raised towards the neck as this pulls your fingers down, meaning you have to overwork them by stretching them further. Pushing your forearm forwards and moving your wrist down too much can have the opposite effect. 

Final Thoughts

If you are using the correct grip and you feel some discomfort, or there is discomfort generally, you should have a lesson with one of the teachers at The American Guitar Academy. They will walk you through the process from the beginning and set you on the right path. Even experienced guitar players can be incorrect here and it takes a knowledgeable educator to fix any problems.

It would be a good idea to practice chords and single notes, as well as everything in between, using these methods of holding the neck whilst also trying out different levels of dynamic playing and various muting techniques. Make sure you work hard to try and make this concept second nature so that you should need to think about it when you play - much like how you don’t think about breathing or the mechanics of walking whilst you take a stroll.

I am sure you have this under control already, but you never know who might struggle to correct the issue or not realize that there is an issue in the first place. There is no such thing as a stupid question and if this blog post helped you in any way, then it has served its purpose. 

Good luck and happy strumming!



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