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Where's your left thumb?


Groove Mama

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(And knowing this group, I can envision all manner of smart-alecky answers to that question.)

 

But seriously, folks, generally speaking, where is your left thumb positioned on the back of the neck in relation to the rest of your fingers when you play? Behind 1? Behind 2? On the middle of the back of the neck (the nape, so to speak :-) or above or below that? I'm having a heckuva time trying to find a good spot for it.

 

I'm already suffering from what I call clawhand syndrome (non-playing fingers curled up in the air, rather than poised close to the neck), a result, perhaps, of too many years of piano lessons, where flat fingers are a no-no.

 

I also wonder if I'm pressing way too hard. My guitar-playing son seems to think so. But I don't know how to relax my hand and still get a decent tone. Aargh. Help me, friends, help me!

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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Well, I'm also a keyboard player first, who picked up bass later, but my thumb is all over depending on what I'm playing, what kind of reach I need, etc. Sometimes it's muting the E string. Generally it's somewhere in the middle of my playing position (up & down the neck), and rotates around the neck depending on what strings I'm playing or having to reach for.

 

Don't know if that's correct, as I've never had a lesson, but it seems to work.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Since you are a female, your hands are probably smaller than mine.

I encourage you to try and use you thumb on the back of the neck as a pivot point, it really does make a difference in changing fingering positions, and in moving up and down the neck. You should not be using your thumb like a clamp to hold onto the neck, so it shouldn't get tired.

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.'-Hamlet

 

Guitar solos last 30 seconds, the bass line lasts for the whole song.

 

 

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I'm a fine one to give advice after my left hand problems but I definitely practise the one people describe - centre of back of neck behind index finger.

 

However, whenever I see photos of me playing live, my thumb is quite often near the E string or even curling over the fingerboard.

 

To salve my conscience I looked through back copies of Bas Player magazine and, you know what, the majority of pro bass players use incorrect thumb positioning. So I'll rest easy.

 

Regarding thumb pressure, it's good to keep that as minimum as possible - gripping the neck in a vice-like fashion is a bad idea. Gary Willis advises occasionally practising without the thumb touching the neck and I've used that method to lighten my touch.

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Like others, generally somewhere around the middle of the neck but known to be al over at times.

 

You mention pushing hard- there are several factors that play into that. One is hand and finger muscle development. The more you play and develop the muscles used to play, the easier it will be to hold down the string. Another big factor is the action adjustment (height of the strings off the fretboard). Higher action will cause more fatigue on your left hand. If your bass hasn't been set up properly, have it done (and learn how to do it yourself). Another thing that might help is using a light gauge string. The lower tension on a light gauge string should make fretting easier.

 

With a proper hardware set up and practice, you will be less prone to death-grip the neck. It just takes time.

 

Good luck

"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind"- George Orwell
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Jeremy is showing the correct way to do it. unfortunately I don't always do that. my thumb can be all over the place depending on what I'm playing including wrapped over the top of the fingerboard to mute the low strings. I also have a bad habit of pressing too hard on the strings at times but I'm trying to break that habit.

Lydian mode? The only mode I know has the words "pie ala" in front of it.

http://www.myspace.com/theeldoradosband

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I grab the neck in the time-honored "cxhicken-choke" hold, right thumb - I play lefty - proudly sticking up. I've tried the other, thumb-behind, thing; it doesn't work for me.

 

"Doc, it hurts when I do this."

"Don't do that."

 

Having to have CT release surgery a while back reinforced my belief that I should use the technique that's most comfortable for me, and the "experts" can all go hang.

 

 

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I tend to keep it behind the one finger, resting, not gripping, on the neck. I read an article about Chris Squire--in Bass Player--in which he admitted to wrapping his thumb over the E string and using it to fret the string. Technically a no-no, but when you are Chris Squire you are allowed. He has HUGE hands.
"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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Hmmm...You know...I've been concentrating on my right hand technique and never bothered to even look at my left thumb until reading this thread.

 

Last night, with a rock oriented band, I noticed that when I'd "dig in" on my skinny necked Ibanez, I was gripping the neck like a baseball bat and my thumb was pointed toward the ceiling.

 

Tonight, playing my wide necked 6-string with an acoustic band, my thumb was in the "technically correct" position.

 

I guess it depends on the instrument and music I'm playing.

 

Thanks for making me aware of my left thumb position.

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I just looked at a couple of pictures of myself playing, and in one it looks as though I am using something similar to the technique jeremy showed, and in the other I am actually fretting the E (D for me) string with my thumb... so I guess I do both. Or the other pic was probably an accident.

My Aerodyne has a super slim Jazz neck so it is easier to use my thumb that way, like I do on a guitar...

DX

Aerodyne Jazz Deluxe

Pod X3 Live

Roland Bolt-60 (modified)

Genz Benz GBE250-C 2x10

Acoustic 2x12 cab

 

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I tend to keep it center of the back of the neck, though I've been known to let it slide up and over the top at times. I especially do it when playing long runs on a single note to release tension. I also have been known to use that thumb to hit notes on the low E or B string while my fingers are busy on the higher strings. I don't do that very much, and it's usually not for long as it does tend to strain my hand over long periods.

 

Short answer is primarily what Jeremy posted.

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Delusional Mind

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Since you are a female, your hands are probably smaller than mine.

 

Maybe; maybe not. I'm 5'10", so I've got fairly long arms, legs and fingers. But, that said, stretching my hand across 4 frets, especially up near the nut, is still a struggle for me.

 

Yeah, the thumb position gets particularly problematic when moving up and down the neck. It's like my fingers move, but my thumb lags behind. Nothing feels really natural yet. I also need to work on easing up on my death grip. So much to learn...

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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That's where practicing scales and box patterns comes in handy; unlike trying to play along with a song, you can take it at the speed you are comfortable with. At teh same time you are getting used to the unnatural position of fretting (when else do you hold your hand and wrist so?), as well as when to strtch you figure and when to move the thumb and whole hand.

At know time should you have a death grip on the neck, that's why you have a strap, the only thing your hand is doing is fretting.

If anything, puting your plucking hand and forearm on the bass body helps you control the bass, while your other hand does the fretting. You might have to adjust the strap ( I have a shortened one for when I'm sitting and practicing, a longer one for standing up).

There's big thread on bass position, down around your knees looks really cool, but somewhere around the belt line gives you more control and it's less like you have to grab at the neck to fret near the nut.

"Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.'-Hamlet

 

Guitar solos last 30 seconds, the bass line lasts for the whole song.

 

 

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Wow, thanks for the pix, Jeremy. Those are great. So it looks like your thumb is generally between 2 and 3, no?

 

I am currently working hard on my 1-3 and 2-4 stretches. It ain't pretty, but I'm hoping it will all pay off eventually.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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At know time should you have a death grip on the neck, that's why you have a strap, the only thing your hand is doing is fretting.

 

There's a big thread on bass position, down around your knees looks really cool, but somewhere around the belt line gives you more control and it's less like you have to grab at the neck to fret near the nut.

 

Well, Bottom, maybe my bridge is too high or something. I feel the need to grip really hard to be able to get a good tone.

 

My teacher suggested I raise my strap so my bass sits higher on my body, and that turned out to be a great idea.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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You mention pushing hard- there are several factors that play into that. One is hand and finger muscle development. The more you play and develop the muscles used to play, the easier it will be to hold down the string.

 

Oh, I'm sure this is true. It's just taking way longer than I want it to. LOL

 

I used to think that the action on my bass was too high. Then I played a friend's Warwick, which was even harder. Interestingly, though, my Fat Beams seem easier to work than my old coated lighter-gauge Elixirs. Not sure why that is.

 

Anyway, Mike, thanks for the great suggestions and encouragement.

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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*sings* He's got the whoooole world... in his hands. */sings* Oh man now I got that song stuck in my head, thanks. Im slowly easing my hand to jeremy's position. I almost got it there. Though on the lower frets I have this habit of resting my entire thumb on the back on the neck, like your playing golf or fishing. Is that a bad habit?
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Though on the lower frets I have this habit of resting my entire thumb on the back on the neck, like your playing golf or fishing. Is that a bad habit?

It can be. Without your thumb providing that spacing, your other fingers have to flex more and can increase the risk of injury (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.). Plus it's just a good habit to get into and it can help build speed and endurance.

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Below is a cute set of pictures on how to hold a can of soup.

 

I often give beginning students a can of soda (or a can of beer for the adults) and have them hold it. Then I have them pick up one finger at a time.

 

If you don't have your thumb on the opposite side of the can from your fingers, you will drop it.

 

http://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/images/easyopen_howto_alt.jpg

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  • 1 year later...

Here's another 2 cents on the topic from Dr. D:

 

Left Hand Thumb: Position

 

by Donovan Stokes | Monday, January 2nd, 2012

 

For all instrumentalists, excess tension should be a source of concern. We should work to eliminate it as much as possible. For string players, and especially bassists, excess tension can not only lead to technical and musical inaccuracies, but also to physical discomfort and injury. Sometimes these injuries can be resolved or worked around, other times they cannot. When serious enough, it can end a career. Suffice it to say that for bassists, excess tension should be a source serious individual inquiry, especially when it occurs in their hands.

 

When there is excess tension in the hands, the source is often improper use of the thumb and its corresponding muscles. The thumbs of both hands, just like all the fingers, should use minimum effort and pressure to achieve any particular technical goal. For the next two installments, I would like to talk about the left hand thumb.

 

Left Hand Thumb Positioning

 

There are many pedagogues who have differing opinions on exactly where the thumb should be placed. People are unique, and hands are equally unique. There is no one size fits all approach. Great pedagogues understand this, and this is why one on one instruction is always best. Having said that, I would suggest the following when determining your thumb position.

 

1.Unless you are in action up and down a portion of the neck, (e.g. pivoting or using extensions) the thumb should, at a minimum, be placed opposite of the first finger. Opposite the second finger, or thereabouts, tends to work better with most hands. Often somewhere in between first and second finger provides the best balance greatest stretch. Even a thumb opposite the ring finger can work well depending on the hand and the action. a.Whatever its exact position, it should not be pointing toward the ceiling (upright players) or directly at the wall on your left (right handed-electric folks, reverse it for you lefties). In short, it should look like it does when you pick up a heavy glass full of your favorite beverage, not like a thumbs up. To my knowledge Fonzie was not a bass player.

 

2.The thumb should not be locked in and should constantly change its position, based on the movement of the other fingers of the hand. This is true even when you are not extending or pivoting. The changes may be obvious, or extremely slight, and they are almost always unconscious. Rather than thinking about how to move your thumb when in a single position, let your thumb move where it needs. Release it as much as possible. Dont try and keep it solidly in place. Let it move without restriction.

 

3.There are pictures and videos everywhere that tell you where your thumb should be on the neck. Take them as guides, not gospel. When using them as guides, make sure the hand you are looking at resembles your hand in size, width and finger length. Otherwise you may run into some frustration, and possibly injury. In general, smaller hands will require the thumb to be slightly more to the g side of the board than larger hands. The same holds true for shorter and longer thumbs.

 

4.If you are playing on the G string your thumb should be more on the E side of the neck, and vice versa. Let it move in a manner that keeps your hand shape consistent no matter what string you are playing on.

 

5.It is ideal to keep the second joint of the thumb straight or slightly bent inward, i.e. do not bend it outward.

 

Queen of the Quarter Note

"Think like a drummer, not like a singer, and play much less." -- Michele C.

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