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Up/down thumb plucking technique (not Vic Wooten slap)


Gruuve

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Ok, so one of the things on my list to work toward learning and applying is thumb picking technique. I slap with my thumb, and mute lower pick pitch strings with my thumb while finger-picking, but I've never really put any serious effort into thumb picking. My goal is to learn to thumb pick using both up and down motions, and to combine thumb with other picking fingers. I'm after the ability to do riffs similar to what I could do with a guitar pick (I occasionally play with a pick), but a darker, warmer sound rather than a bright sound.

 

So, a few questions for some of you folks who regularly use thumb picking (Jeremy? Dave Brown? Others?). Do you normally plant one or more of your other fingers (assuming you're not palm-muting)? Do you pick with the tip of your thumb or the side of your thumb? I'd assume you keep your fingernails trimmed short to prevent the up-stroke from sounding brighter than the down stroke? Any tips on what exercises to do to get started?

 

I've tried thumb picking a few times...it feels really awkward to me, but practice will fix that I'd assume. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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I use the side of my thumb. No fingers are anchored. Sometimes the right side of my palm is sitting on the strings when I want a muted sound.

 

I occasionally use up and down strokes with my thumb when slapping, not otherwise.

 

And once in a while I will use my thumb and fingers the same way I would do it if I were fingerpicking on a guitar (which I know how to do.)

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I don't do the double thumb Vic Wooten thing, if I ever do slap.

 

I do the fingerstyle guitar thing from time to time.

 

I did develop for myself a picking stroke involving the second finger and thumb, each held rigidly in the same shape as if I were holding a pick. Then I move my hand just as if I were picking, but I catch the string with the flesh of both digits.

 

It seems to clean up rapid triplet and sixteenth repeated notes.

Yep. I'm the other voice in the head of davebrownbass.
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I've done some thumb picking. Sometimes I might actually anchor my index finger on the lower edge of one of the pickups. I tend to use the heel of my hand for muting when I thumbpick.

 

As for some highly visible players who use this technique a lot, check out some video of Sting. He's been using the thumb picking technique for quite some time. He's gotten pretty fast at it. Speed tends to be one of the chief drawbacks of this technique, but obviously with more practice you're going to get faster.

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I have seen a video with Larry Graham doing this thumb technique. I bet if you just watch T.V. or listen to some tunes with practicing scales using the thumb style it will help you improve quite a bit. That being said - I should take some of my own advice.

Mike

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Thanks guys. Motion-wise, are you moving your whole hand, or just moving the thumb and keeping the hand rigid? (I gather moving the whole hand, just as if using a pick.)

 

The speed comment is interesting...I would think that if you can get consistent sound on the up and down strokes that you ought to be able to work this up to some pretty fast flurries of notes, again similar to playing with a pick. I'll definitely try your "virtual pick" technique, DB...

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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How about placement? Do you generally thumb pick closer to the bridge or closer to the neck? Seems like picking closer to the bridge is giving me a more consistent sound between up and down...however, I've just started working on this, so I should be able to get it more consistent closer to the neck with practice, I'd think.

 

Thanks for all the answers guys!

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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I fell into the trap of only using my thumb. Worked my way out of that. I would usually place my middle or ring finger on the bottom corner of the fingerboard for an anchor. Side of thumb. I'm still in the "how would I play this on upright" mode, so no "pick" movement.

 

Now I'm back to using thumb, first, and middle finger. And I find it interesting that the fingers I use on one hand will usually match the fingers on the other hand for that note. Except for the thumb, of course. Fingernails short, for consistancy without those "unrehearsed" accents.

 

ATM

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I just got home from my Halloween gig and noticed that I don't let my hand float when I play with my thumb. My right hand fingers are very loosely holding the D and G strings. I am plucking just above the neck pickup on my Jazz bass. I have a reasonably long thumbnail but the nail never touches the string.
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My style is similar to Jeremy's. again left-over from fingerpicking the guitar.

I usally pick at the neck pickup or between the neck and pickup. I dont use the meaty part of my thumb but its about at a 45deg angle. I tend to pick with my fingers perpendicular so its a natural position for my thumb. I cant pick upwards with my thumb very well tho.

Oh yea, I only thumb pick the E and A string (dont own a 5 or 6 stringer) and have it resting on one of those 2 when not needed.

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  • 9 months later...

Bump. We did a song in church last Sunday that would have really benefitted from some up-and-down thumb picking. (By this I mean the warm-n-round thumb plucking, not the slap-oriented Vic Wooten technique.) I didn't do it that way though because I haven't worked on this technique enough to get my thumb up-stroke consistent. :freak: Time to fix that.

 

So, I'm spending some wood-shedding time on this technique this week. I'm finding that getting a consistent down-stroke and consistent up-stroke seems to be much easier if I actually do the thumb-plucking at the 23rd or 24th fret rather than between the end of the fretboard and the pickup. I'm also finding that the wider string spacing on the Tobias makes this MUCH easier than it is on the Stingray5, L-2500, and Dean fretless. However, I did try it on the L-2500 after a couple days practice on the Tobias, and I think once the technique "gels" for my right hand it'll be a little easier to do on the basses with narrower (ie. standard) string spacing. Regardless, it's coming along pretty well.

 

The toughest part to get consistent is still the thumb up-stroke. I have to consciously concentrate to move my thumb up far enough that I don't unintentionally mute the string I just up-plucked. I think that'll become 2nd nature after a couple weeks of practice at it though. I've learned from some of the other techniques that I've tackled that it just takes my hands a while to learn exactly what to do so I don't have to consiously think about it.

 

My thumb's a little sore at the moment, but hey...it's all in the name of progress. :thu:

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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I pretty much do what Jeremy said. I do 'down only'.

 

I started playing bass using thumb only as that's pretty much how it was done in the 60s (the last time I really played bass).

 

After a couple of months I taught myself to play finger-style. I combine them now, using thumb for the slower & bluesier pieces.

 

Geoff

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I would find a thumb upstroke awkward as well.

 

The technique I use (I will switch from fingerstyle to this in mid song) is to set thumb against second finger as if I'm holding a pick (I never play with a pick.)

 

The thumb and second finger act as a single unit. I hold them offset, the second finger crosses my thumb first joint. I'm not sure I actually allow my thumb and finger to touch. Then I play with my wrist in a swinging motion. The thumb does the downstroke and the second finger does the upstroke.

 

This is not my primary method of playing, but I do use it for fast passages.

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  • 2 weeks later...

OK, so I've spent about 2 weeks wood-sheddin' this technique. I've gotten it up to where I do some pretty grooves at decent tempo's fairly consistently. I played for a while through my rig today and I discovered...I don't like the sounds I'm producing. I'm thumb-picking essentially on top of the 22nd, 23rd, 24th fret or thereabouts. What comes out of the cab has got a little too much "clang" to it if I dig in just a bit, and if I don't dig in it doesn't have the thump that I'm after. It's a somewhat upright-ish sound (plus some clank), and that's actually not what I was specifically after (although I'll keep the idea in the back pocket for when I need an upright-ish sound).

 

I've tried thumbing it at the end of the fretboard so that I'm not playing on top of frets...that seems to be a really difficult spot to get the upstroke accurate.

 

So, I've moved my hand to where my thumb is essentially right over the neck pickup. I like how this sounds! On the Tobias bass for instance, that puts the bottom edge of my hand on the bridge, which is working out well in actuality. I've started practicing this variation of the technique essentially using the bridge as an anchor, and sort of pivoting my hand on the bridge.

 

A couple questions for anyone who thumb picks using up and down-strokes. It feels most natural to me to sort of pivot my whole wrist (just like you'd do with a guitar pick) rather than just moving my thumb to pick. Does anyone else pivot your wrist, and possibly even use the bridge as the pivot point? Does anyone here move only their thumb while doing up and down strokes (Jeremy maybe?). It seems like moving the whole wrist puts more force behind it, and the resulting sound has the almost compressed-sounding thump that I hear in my head.

 

Regardless, I'm going to continue down this route for a bit and see how it pans out. Using this over-the-neck-pickup thumb position feels awkward (particularly on the thumb up-stroke), so I'd imagine it's going to take another week or two to gel well enough to do more than slow scales.

 

Dave

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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