Sunday, April 12, 2009

Playing Position

Bill, a friend who plays tenor sax in the community band got a guitar from his son for Christmas and has been trying to learn how to play it without much success. He came out one afternoon last week and I ran him through the basics I've picked up over the years teaching guitar.

His main problem was that he has short, thick fingers and was not sitting in the correct position, with the left foot on a footrest and the guitar on the left thigh and the left elbow low and forward, all of which puts the left hand in the best position for fretting chords. It was a treat to see him realize he really could play an instrument I think he'd about given up on. (The book he had didn't mention playing position. It gave C, F and G7 as the initial chords, which is often the case. (The chords in A, D and G are much easier.) 

So the guitar footrest was out and I saw this post over on the Horn Notes blog. There's a video there that mesmerized me for a while because it's a wonderful clinic on a lot of the articulations and dynamics of the horn. But the thing that kept grabbing my attention was the gizmo the guy has to support his horn. He's sitting with the horn held up mostly by a stand that rests on his right thigh. What I especially noticed was the way he could completely release the keys with a quick flick of the finger(s), which you can't do if that hand is also having to hold the horn up.

All of which reminded me I'd been using the guitar footrest to elevate the right leg and then rest the horn on that. I stopped when the callus showed up, thinking that might have been a contributing factor, but if it was it was trivial compared to bad embouchure technique. So I tried that setup again and it's a great way to play the horn. Between restringing the F/Bb trigger and having that playing position allowing my hands to focus on playing the horn rather than holding it up, everything is much easier. And my upper back is way less sore from all the horn holding.

This all brought to mind that so often beginning music makers don't fully realize how their basic playing position has a lot to do with overall success. There's an odd psych component at play here. I think somehow they feel sitting in the proper position makes them look like they're "putting on airs". As I told Bill, once you get going you can sit however you want, but while getting started, give yourself all the help you can.

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