Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guitar Position Mechanics - Sitting

Look around next time you're at a Bluegrass jam in which most of the attendees are sitting. There's hardly ever a shortage of guitarists, and most (if not all) of them will be playing out of the casual position, with the guitar resting on their right leg. I'd say from an ongoing, informal study I've been conducting for years, about one in 25 of us use the "other" position, with the instrument resting on the left leg. This is known as the classical position. Perhaps in Bluegrass, it should be called the odball position, for one because I use it, and for another because, well, it's odd to see someone using it. I sometimes wonder if people even notice (not that it would make a difference), but some do, because I've been asked "why that way" on a number of occasions. A few of them probably got more than they bargained for, as they "set a spell", and got a demonstration.

Though I have always been an "off the beaten path" kind of guy, it's not the rebel in me which caused the conversion into the classical stance. There is about an ounce of practicality hiding somewhere within me, and that's the catalyst which brought the change to bear, about six years ago...Now that it's done, there's no looking back...Does that mean everyone should use it? Of course not. But I will suggest strongly, that you will never know whether or not it can improve your play unless you give it an honest try.

Who Can Benefit From The Switch:

  • Anyone experiencing ergonomic problems.
  • Those practicing a lot, but stagnating.
  • Someone who finds this is a more natural way to play, but never knew about it.
  • Old fogies like myself, with Arthritis and other old fogie ailments.
  • Those who would like to minimize excess wear and tear from picking.

It's not rocket science - you are making a simple, basic adjustment. You have nothing to lose but a little time, and a lot to gain if it works for you. Move the instrument from right leg to left, and rest it there. play a little, a song or two perhaps, but don't get comfortable just yet - there's a little more, and that's the elevation of your left leg. Much can be made of this, or very little, but you do have to try a few different heights to find your comfort level.

True classical guitarists use sturdy, small foot stands made especially for the task, which are angled up (picture your gas pedal at a less steep angle) and height adjustable. When I started, I used things lying around the house, the first being a stepstool. I've tried old shoes, overturned baskets, a can of paint, and yes, even our dog (no, not really). Experiment. Be creative...Find a comfort level. Me - I'm back to the footstool (yes, really) most often, but sometimes I just elevate by arching my foot up against the chair leg.

OK, now you're ready to play like Alan Shadd (hint - he uses the chair leg), or Jason Shaw. Who, you ask?...If you don't know them yet, you will soon, be patient.

It's awkward right? Of course it is - you've lost your anchor, or at least it feels like you have, and that can be disconcerting. Your right arm no longer has the support of the guitar to hang over (and on), and your left arm is now at a different angle to the neck. What you need to find out, is if these different basic angles of approach turn into strengths for you, or not. The rewards can be great if they do, and the only way to find out is to play. There are websites which explain the advantages of the method in technical terms. That's not within the scope of this article. My intent is just to open a door, and give you a rough idea of what you can find by going through it.

Just for the record, I switched back and forth for months before coming to the realization this method was superior for my style, and put less stress on my joints.

OK, back to Alan Shadd and Jason Shaw.

The National Flatpicking Championship has been held forty two times. Four wins and five second place finishes have been accounted for by performers playing out of the classical position.

Yeah you guessed it, but here are the particulars:

Jason Shaw is a three time national champion (one of only three players to accomplish that feat), along with the honorable Steve Kaufman, and the tasteful, talented Roy Curry.

Alan Shadd was the 1997 winner, and has also accumulated five second place finishes. needless to say, the players who won in those years weren't too bad.

Here's a YouTube Video of Alan playing in a small relaxed venue where he just lets go!

Jason Shaw and brother John Shaw, who's quite a flatpicker himself! Jason is in what is a perfect example of the classical position, special foot stand and all.

Jack Lawrence, who shared a stage with Doc Watson over a longer consecutive stretch than any other individual is another classical position player.

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