Letter to a Young Musician – 7

02010-08-19 | Letters to a Young Musician | 2 comments

Dear Friend,

How to produce a sound, draw a melody from the strings, is a constant question. You can hold a guitar comfortably, which may choke the sound a little, or you can hold it a little less comfortably and produce a finer tone. Somewhere in between those two extremes lies the perfect way to hold your instrument.

In Flamenco, when the guitar was mainly accompanying singers or dancers and when volume was an important concern in the days before amplification, people often balanced the bottom of the guitar on their right leg. The advantage of this position is that the guitar is loud and sings. Unfortunately the guitar isn’t very stable in this position and has to be held up by the left hand, which is not free to move about the neck.

In the last fifty years most guitarists favor this position: cross your right leg over your left leg. Rest the cut-out of the Flamenco guitar on your right thigh. Lean over so that your body is collapsing on the guitar to a degree. This will put your right hand in a good position to strum the strings and your left hand in a great position to play the neck.

Actually, I haven’t done that during concerts for a couple of years. I have been using a footstool, but while classical guitarists put their left foot on the stool and rest the guitar on their left thigh, I put my right foot on the stool and the guitar ends up in the same position as if I were to cross my right leg over my left leg.

The trick, then, lies is finding a balance between holding the guitar securely and thus enabling both of your hands to move freely, and holding the guitar lightly, so that the instrument isn’t choked and can sing. Similar to many relationships, isn’t it? Hold your lover tightly and set them free – at the same time. How do you do that? With care.

Don’t forget to practice.

2 Comments

  1. Panj

    Beautifully written Ottmar…

    Reply
  2. Adam Solomon

    There is one advantage to propping the guitar up slightly – not quite as much as the old flamencos did it, but still not entirely resting on the thigh – that I just learned recently. It allows more blood to flow to your hands, keeping the joints well-nourished. And as an added bonus it’s much easier to do some of those difficult left hand stretches that are so common in modern flamenco. But in the end it is, as you say, entirely personal, and part of learning to play is figuring out the best way for you to hold the guitar, play picado, strum rasgueos, and the rest.

    Reply

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