Anchored vs Floating right hand

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by 11guitarguy, Dec 10, 2014.

  1. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    If you're a professional or a teacher or anyone who makes a living playing bass don't bother reading this because it won't make a lot of sense to you. This is for the casual player who is learning and playing and loving the experience of playing the bass ... and possibly looking for opinions and answers.

    I do not read music but 50 years of playing has given me enough education to where I can comfortably play with most people by playing by ear. Recently a new bass student who'd had a few lessons told me I am playing wrong and I should rest my thumb on the strings instead of the pickups. (A few days later at his funeral I told his widow that he should have kept his opinions to himself.)

    Oh boy, I am not gonna be too popular here after reading about the floating thumb technique. With respect to those who use this method I say more power to you. Whatever works for you is the "right" way to play. After hearing so many espouse that the floating method is the "correct" way I want to vomit.

    In fact... I think I WILL vomit right now .... BLEECCHHHH!!!!!!! Ah that's better!

    I use the pickup(s) to anchor my thumb and it works perfectly for me and I will wager that there are others who also use this method. For me it's a matter of control and feel. As much as I have tried the floating thumb method I always gravitate back to the anchor. I use the alternating index and middle finger plucking and rest stop technique and anchoring my thumb feels solid and stationary like it's supporting my plucking hand.

    It just feels right to me and in my experience if it feels and sounds right ... it IS right!

    Now, as to muting; Between the rest stops and my left hand lightly resting on the fretboard I have no problems with other strings ringing. But I want to take it one step beyond this and apply it to a band situation. I understand the importance of muting unwanted strings and when I am playing bass in a quiet room with no accompaniment it helps to fine tune the muting technique. BUT..... fast forward to a band situation when all these other instruments and filling the room with their sounds. Even if I am not perfectly muting among the notes I am playing who's going to hear it? It's academic in my opinion.

    Come on, you're playing 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, 1/2 notes .. whatever and you are using rest stops. What's the big deal with muting with that "floating hand"? I say you're not gonna hear anything but the notes you play especially if there's a bunch of other instruments filling up the frequencies. I'm not lessening the importance of muting but sometimes perceived imperfections are what makes the music interesting. Sometimes the phrase, "Close enough for rock n roll" makes good sense.

    OK, I have opened a can of worms here and I expect a lot of negative comments from the floating hand technique users. That's fine with me. I'm not trying to win a popularity contest here. I am just expressing an opinion based upon what seems to be working just fine for me and others I have seen who also anchor their thumb on the pickup.

    I could not play the way I do using the floating method and I play very well or at least good enough to have other players tell me that I am a solid bass player. I consider my left hand as the mechanism that forms the "words" and my right as the mouth that speaks the words and gives them meaning. It's like my rhythm machine and I need that anchor for my thumb so that I can make the plucked notes generate rhythm and make it interesting.

    Whatever works for you IS the right way. I am not going to argue with those who float..hey live and let live. But if someone sees me play and tells me my right hand is incorrect .... they're stupid!

    I'd like to hear from others who also use the anchor method and get your take on it. I am open to learning just like anyone else but there is no right or wrong way to play. If it sounds good it is good!

    PS: I was just kidding about the funeral stuff above .... I didn't really kill him ... I just kicked him in the nuts!
    Bass Master General likes this.
  2. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I played for 27 years anchoring my thumb on the pickup. A little over a year ago, I picked up a six string and quickly realized that new issues arose that never presented themselves when playing a four string. The floating thumb technique addressed that remarkably well.

    So is anchoring on the pickup wrong? No, I was taught to do it that way, and I studied with some of the best in the business. A four-string bass does just fine that way, and muting is easily enough addressed by other means. If I were still playing a four exclusively, I'd anchor on the pickup until the day I die.

    But if someone were to say that floating thumb technique is wrong, I'd say that person was goofy.
    antonio_darko likes this.
  3. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    You are not going to get any abuse from me for resting your thumb on the pick up. It is all the same to me what method you use. There is no "right" or "wrong" method. There is however, a safe method. Unfortunately resting the thumb on the pick up is generally accepted not to be it. With this method the wrist is at a severe angle. When you move your fingers, the tendons have to pass through the carpel tunnel. Having the wrist angled causes a kind of friction between them because the tunnel is narrowed, kind of like cutting a piece of twine by rubbing it backwards and forwards over a sharp edge. After many years using this technique, injury can occur. With the method that your helpful.. ;).. student gave you, i.e. resting the thumb on the strings, the wrist is straight, therefore minimizing the risk of injury from constant use. IMO the only thing your student is guilty of is the label he attached to your technique. Instead of "wrong"..."potentially unsafe" might have been a better choice.

    So the "do what feels right" concept is OK up to a point. Problem is that what feels right now, has the potential to have you visiting the doctor or physiotherapist after prolonged use.

    IMO it would have been more admirable if first, you had checked out the validity of your student's suggestion before dissing it...and him.

    Fifty years playing or are never too old to learn something new.
    antonio_darko and DavidEdenAria like this.
  4. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA

    Thank you so much for your reply Lee. I appreciate your concise and intelligent words. I agree that anyone stating a particular technique is WRONG is Goofy. In fact I'd go as far as saying they are not only Goofy, but also Mickey, Minnie and Donald Duck!) If it sounds good it is good.

    I also use the anchored pickup approach on my 5 strings and it works fine. It's all what you get used to and what works for you.
  5. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    Wow! I love how quickly I got a response to my thread. Thank you fearceol! Your reply got me out of my chair and grabbing my bass to try both methods and observe my wrist angle. To tell you the truth there was a slight difference in angles but not very much in my case. I have never had any problems due to this angle of my wrist and frankly, at my advanced age I think it's likely I will need a mortician before I need to see a doctor. (but I hope I won't be seeing either for a long time)

    As to being too old to learn something new: According to the latest statistics released by AARP .... "When a person reaches the age of 82 he/she is too old to learn anything new!" (I just made that up for fun!) in fact, "I learned something new today ... now I know everything!" (just made that one up too!)

    Thanks again for your input. I appreciate it!
    antonio_darko and mindwell like this.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Well, I certainly hope you are going to be one of the lucky ones who manages to beat the odds and experience no problems. This does not mean that my point is not a valid one.

    Carry on as you were, or as you wish.....just be careful !!!! ;)
  7. dls119


    Jun 27, 2013
    Northern Virginia
    I anchor my thumb to a string or pickup sometimes and other times I let it float - you're all good as long as your wrist isn't at a freakish angle (to prevent damage, as noted above).

    Tools in the ol' toolbox - nothing more, nothing less.
  8. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Yes, there will be times when a situation causes you to use a certain technique. The point I was making above is that the more often you play with a bent wrist, the stronger the chances are of you experiencing injury problems.

    BTW OP, check out the "Floating Thumb" technique and see how straight the wrist is. The technique your student mentioned is called the "Floating Anchor".

    Here is the Floating Thumb demonstrated :

    Last edited: Dec 10, 2014
    antonio_darko likes this.
  9. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    Another self taught guy here. Somehow I ended up teaching my self to "Float" using the pickups when plucking the E string and then resting on the E string to pluck the A etc. But.......I do not like to anchor my forearm on the bout of the bass. I float my entire arm essentially. The electric bass is relatively new and no one can really tell you how to play it properly. What I do has worked for me for 35 years. Although I am hopelessly trying to"lighten" my Attack. Sometimes after hours of gigging, I actually rest my thumb higher up on the face of the bass just to give my fingers a break.
  10. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    Now that was a helpful video and clarified the technique. My point of reference was watching a guy who rested the thumb atop each string and his thumb was parallel to the strings,(floating anchor) not perpendicular or vertical as in the video which to me was very cumbersome and anti functional. That did not make sense to me but the video most certainly did make sense. I was able to play smoothly using the technique in the video. I still prefer the pickup anchoring as that is what works for me.

    Thanks so much for posting that. It really helped to clarify the technique
    antonio_darko likes this.
  11. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    You have your technique down to a science and it works for you as does my own for me. Reinforces the fact that there ain't no right or wrong, just what works for the player. A question: when you were just beginning "floating your arm" did your arm tire and did your accuracy vary? I personally find it necessary to be "attached" to the bass so my hand is always contacting the body for support. How long did it take to develop your technique?
  12. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    I can't really recall my arm ever getting tired. I do let my forearm "touch" the body but it still moves back and forth with very minimal pressure. On My Ric it would hurt too much to put pressure on the sharp edge of the binding. I really play the same way I did 37 years ago at age 12. I definitely have some bend in my wrist but I have never experienced pain. Now holding the steering wheel of a Freightliner is a different story. Lately my shoulders start to hurt after about 10 hours of driving. That doesn't affect my bass. Here's a video of my technique. I am sure it will be deemed improper by the Pro's. And yes I admit I am a hack.

  13. El Spearo

    El Spearo

    Jun 12, 2012
    Wellington, NZ
    The only time I anchor my thumb is when playing on the E string (I anchor on the B string)
    All other times I use the floating thumb, feels more natural to me
  14. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    A HACK????? Hello!!! You are playing your ass off to Rush songs ... not the easiest material to cover. I loved both of the videos brother. Geddy Lee would be impressed just like me. You rock! Thanks for demonstrating your technique. Awesome!!!!!
    FunkHead likes this.
  15. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    I hear you! that's the beauty of playing a stringed instrument. It's a different experience for everyone. It's all controlled by the hand and that really connects the player to the instrument. Organic and real!
  16. Big Hoss

    Big Hoss Up note, down note, blue note, brown note...

    My teacher taught me to anchor or float whatever was comfortable. Anchor works for me...
  17. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I use both depending upon what the music requires. I don't really think about it, it just happens...For lines that are legato, more linear, and played mainly on adjacent strings I tend to float. When I need to do a pattern that frequently jumps multiple strings and requires me to dig in, I usually anchor as this gives me more accuracy.

    I originally learned with the anchor on four string and upright bass. Plucking fingers were essentially straight.

    The float came naturally from playing a six string. Even if you anchor you have to change where you anchor...IE anchor from B string, to E string. Well on my TRB 6P which has a really wide neck it is necessary IMHO. I did intentionally practice floating for awhile but really didn't make much progress. Finally gave up, but over time it just began to happen without me thinking about it. Not much of a surprise as I am also slowly picking up double thumb and integrating pull offs with 2, 3, 4...with thumb being 1 and the useless pinkie being 5 (somewhat inspired by Victor Wooten's technique) Pretty slow progress on gaining control with the pull offs, but this technique puts my hand in position to float. A benefit of the float is your plucking fingers are curved which allows you to get more tonal variety by changing the angle of the plucks. In my opinion this allows you to be a more expressive player. YMMV The improved tonal variety is the main reason I think floating is important...aside from also being safer.
    antonio_darko likes this.
  18. St. Louis Scot

    St. Louis Scot Guest

    Sep 16, 2013
    Austin, Tx
    I never floated my thumb until I learned to. Now I definitely hear the difference, especially in the studio.

    I don't want to get into labels like "right" or "wrong". Are you having fun? Are you making music? Then whatever gets you through the night, or in this case, the gig. :bassist:
  19. 11guitarguy

    11guitarguy Guest

    Aug 18, 2011
    Santa Clarita, CA
    You hit the nail on the head about anchoring giving more accuracy. That's the main issue for me. I feel disconnected from the bass when I try the float technique. For me, a non professional, playing is a source of enjoyment and entertainment. with respect to the technique which I acknowledge as valid and important, it just isn't enjoyable for me so I don't mess with it. I have a couple of 5's and also a 6 and I still anchor on pickups on all of them.
  20. LowBC

    LowBC Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2008
    Music Go Round - Aurora, CO (owner) We buy used gear!
    I'm most comfortable anchoring my thumb on the pickup while playing on the E and A strings, then moving 'two strings away' on the upper strings - thumb on E when playing on the D string and thumb on A when playing on the G string.

    Having my thumb on the pickup was too far of a stretch to be comfortable on the higher strings.

    good luck!