Guitar Fretting Hand Position: The Dos and the Don’ts

Guitar Fretting Hand Position: The Dos and the Don’ts

You will find a lot of resources on correct guitar hand positions when you scour the Internet.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation. Here is a list of guitar hand position dos and don’ts that will help your technique, improve your guitar playing and protect your physical wellbeing!

  1. Relax!

    Keep your fretting hand forearm and wrist in a straight line. Don’t bend your wrist! Having a bend in your fretting hand wrist puts strain on the tendons in your wrist, which can cause tendinitis when you practice a lot.

    You want to make sure you’re not putting any unnecessary strain on the muscles and tendons in your forearm. Tensing up while playing guitar will make you sound tiny, nasally, and cramped up. In addition: your fretting hand and arm will get tired faster. Loosen up! Holding a guitar is not a struggle.

  2. Perfect hand position: the straight wrist

  3. Stretch!

    All top players stretch when they are engaging in physically demanding practice activities, so why wouldn’t you? When you’re not used to playing bar chords and you feel like your arm is about to fall off, stretch! When you’re doing intense, repetitive technical exercises to improve speed, dexterity, and strength: stretch! Not a bad idea to stretch a bit before you practice intensely. You should surely stretch during those practices.

    Again: when you feel your hand and forearm getting really tired, stretch before you start feeling discomfort, then continue practicing or practice something else to give your handsome further rest. How do you stretch? Keep your (fretting hand) arm straight (don’t bend at the elbow) in front of you, your hand open, the inside of your hand facing forward: like you’re signaling “STOP!”

    Then with your picking hand: gently pull the fingertips of your fretting hand towards you. Keep that pull for about 30-40 seconds. Another really good stretch: keep the arm of your fretting hand straight without bending at the elbow.

    Rotate your forearm so the inside of your fretting hand is facing up. Close your fingers into a fist, without pressing hard: just simply close your fingers. Then reach over with your picking hand, grab your fretting hand fist, and gently and carefully pull your fist towards you, without bending at the elbow.

    These 2 stretches work on both sides of your arm. Do them often when you’re practicing physically demanding exercises.

  4. Always Play With a Strap

    Do you want to use your hands to play guitar with them, or do you want to use them to hold the guitar? That question pretty much sums it up: when you play without a strap, part of your hand energy and attention is directed towards having to hold your guitar.

    With a strap, your guitar holds itself and you can use your hands to actually play guitar. Not only that: you also don’t have to worry about your beautiful guitar dropping on the ground.

  5. Rest Your Thumb On The Back of The Guitar Neck.

    As opposed to pressing (really hard) against the back of the guitar neck. Try it out: play chords without your fretting hand thumb touching the back of the guitar neck!

    It’s usually pretty surprising for most people to found out that you don’t need your thumb to play guitar. This being the case: go figure how much energy you waste then if you press hard on the back of the neck with your thumb. You don’t even need your thumb to get the job done. Just rest your thumb against the neck. You’re only wasting your power and energy when you push against the back of the guitar neck.

  6. Keep Your Fretting Hand Rounded!

    Your fretting hand should always look as though you are holding a bubble or a baseball. The only exception to this might be if you’re playing a bar chord. Your fingers should be curved (exactly as your hand naturally is in a relaxed state) with your fingertips perpendicular on top of the guitar strings.

    There should be no “angles” or strain on any joints in your hand and fingers.
    Keep your thumb straight.

    Very often guitar players bend the thumb of their fretting hand behind the guitar neck. Don’t do it: keep your thumb straight. This is the fix for guitar students who complain that their forearm starts hurting after a while of fingering chords. More often than not, the solution is in straightening out the thumb.

    Your guitar is basically your “tool” that you pick up to create music with. You would never pick anything up with your thumb bent because your hand is not designed to function that way. So trying to play guitar with your thumb bent goes against the grain of how your hand is designed to function. The bent thumb results in added tension in the forearm muscles, which leads to the forearm pain guitarists feel after a while.


The position of your fretting hand is important for various reasons: better sound, better technique, less strain, better performance, more control and more endurance. It’s also an important physical & medical precaution preserving your hands, arms, and wrists. With proper technique: you’ll have more fun playing more at ease.

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  1. Justin Levitt Says:

    Great article with fantastic points! I also like to recomend getting an ergonomically designed guitar stool. especially for practicing guitar although it can definitely be used for live purposes and gigging. I invested in a guitar stool and am extremely happy with mine. I am able to set it up in no time at all and achieve the best possible playing position which allows me to practice for much longer than ever before in comfort and under the least possible physical stress.

    Thanks so much!


    November 27th, 2017 at 11:38 am
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