Comments on Left Hand Thumb Use?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by PauFerro, Jan 28, 2017.

  1. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    One effect of learning to play upright is my constant observation of other upright players' technique.

    In this video, the bass player who plays with Pat Metheny has very unusual left hand thumb positions And and even Pat Metheny himself seems to have very unusual left hand thumb technique. For Pat. he may have been muting his low E and or A strings (not sure) but the upright player seems to have his LH thumb vertical in many spots.

    Given the strong emphasis on technique on upright (with good reason given how tough the instrument is to play and its size) I was curious what you think of the upright thumb use in this video. Interested in perceptions about Pat's thumb use if you care to comment, although he is a guitar player. One teacher I had years ago once said "when you're as good as [insert famous player here] you can do whateever you want.

    Last edited: Jan 28, 2017
  2. powerbass


    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    The thumb position is not an issue for me, it's how much his hand, fingers and elbows move around. Part of the battle w/good intonation is achieving muscle memory which involves overall posture as well as hand, finger, elbow position. Less body movement for me means better intonation, I hate playing out of tune
  3. Mgaisbacher

    Mgaisbacher Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    Many of my teachers have played with their thumbs like that, not all but quite a few. My one teacher came from a classical background but is a heavy jazz guy and played with folks like Oscar Peterson and studied with Ray Brown for a bit. He plays with his thumb vertical at most times. When I asked about it he said it was comfortable to him so thats what he does.

    On the other hand, I prefer, and my classical teacher was more of the school of thought that it should be basically perpendicular to the neck behind the second finger. Although.... I don't think that is a hard rule. I sometimes fall out of that position but I spent a lot of time developing that position and making it the norm. So when I deviate from it, it's for a purpose, not my natural hand shape.

    I think the best way to think about it is you need to learn the "rules" before you can break them. If you have a teacher listen to them and build a foundation on their information and then you can adjust it to suit you and your body/ bass.

    Here's a great example from two of the best bassists of the time, look how different their left hands are. Edgar's LH thumb is almost always wrapped around the neck, how most people would say not to. If you go about halfway through the video to where Christain starts walking you can see his natural hand position is more like what you are seeing in the video you posted.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
    jsf729, LUCENZO, okcrum and 2 others like this.
  4. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    That makes me feel better. I was taught the way our classical teacher wants when I had an electric bass lesson 20 years ago. I tried to do it that way but it was really uncomfortable. I never did it all the time -- I notice my thumb is normally on the rear of the neck, but not always on my electric bass.

    On the upright, I found I can do it reliability when playing on the A, D, and G string, but when I have to play on the E string I often resort to letting it sort of hang a bit in order to even get enough pressure on the string to play an "F" . My teacher indicated that allowing my thumb to retreat to the part of the neck that is further away from me can help me get the strength, and I am able to do that more and more. But i find there are times I deviate from the norm, and get a really great tone. Hopefully as my hands strengthen and my body adapts I can do the proper thumb position on all strings, even when playing an F on the E string...
  5. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    I think the vertical thumb facilitates shifting up and back quickly (without moving your thumb), sort of like the Rabbath thing.

    It's fine if you are already locked in with your finger spacing/intonation and you don't have incredibly high action. Otherwise, it might make for some intonation problems and muscle strain in your pinky and the back of your forearm.
    Lee Moses likes this.
  6. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I'm not a teacher, but to me the goal is to have a relaxed thumb overall on the bass. Don't squeeze with the thumb. If you feel strain in your thumb muscle, you need to re-evaluate.

    As for Pat, he has always had his own version of guitar technique. He will even use his thumb to actually fret notes, especially on some of his solo acoustic work. His technique is not traditional and not taught generally. Generally on guitar the thumb is encouraged to always be behind the neck.
  7. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    The (brilliant) bassist in the video is Scott Colley, who studied with Charlie Haden at Cal Arts. I suspect that "conventional" LH technique was not a large part of CH's teaching. SC's (less-conventional?) left hand approach hasn't limited his ability to operate the Double Bass, IMO. (My only concern might be the long-term health effects of such a technique.) I would encourage students to understand that some "technique" issues are important as healthful, "preventive" measures, not just "...this is how it is to be done...")
    This photograph of CH says it all...(though I wouldn't recommend ignoring conventional LH technique to us mere mortals.)
    As for guitarists/Pat M., the thumb IS sometimes used for fretting on the lower string(s), I believe.

    Les Fret likes this.
  8. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Here is an example of Mr. Colley operating the hell out of the Double Bass, using less-conventional LH technique.
  9. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Good point. SC left hand technique in the low positions reminded me about CH's technique which is indeed unconventional. Haden's use of the third finger in the low position and holding the neck like a baseball bat is not the most efficient way to play the bass and I would never advise a student to play like that. But it is CH and he gets away with it so what can we say...his genius musical mind makes up for everything. Edgar Meyer's left hand technique is also not conventional and strange but it's Edgar Meyer. I kind of like these unconventional techniques because it makes a player unique. If everyone would do the same it would be really boring. So I agree with some of the remarks; once you have covered the basics you are free to do whatever you want as long as it works for YOU. If that means doing something unconventional so be it.

    Same also applies to Pat Metheny's both left and right hand technique. I am also a guitar player and don't understand why he is using his thumb like that. Most rock/blues players use their thumb over the neck when they do heavy string bendings and many acoustic steel string and electric players use the thumb to fret notes of certain chords but none of that applies to the above video of Pat Metheny. Maybe he wants to dampen the E string with his thumb or maybe it is just a life long habit who knows. You will never see a classical guitar player play like that. But again it totally works for him so why not?
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2017
  10. 1. If you are not banking on being a famous genius keep your thumb on the back of the neck even with your middle fingers.
    2. Sometimes even the greatest bassists get tired and relax the left hand.
  11. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    Scott Colley's hands look huge, so that's probably one reason for the unconventional technique.

    Edgar Meyer's bass is quite small, and I wonder if the neck may be thinner than average.
  12. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    Classical guitar players play classical guitars. The neck of a classical guitar is much wider than an ES175(?) and dictates a hand position to a certain extent, as does the need for many different styles of articulation with nylon strings.

    As for left hand positions on bass, I'd say don't break the rules unless you know why. Different hand positions can cause all sorts of problems, and the perceived advantage you're getting may not be worth it. I have a completely conventional classical technique (Royal College of Music) and I've been playing for nearly 40 years now with no physical problems or injuries - ever
  13. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Aug 2, 2021

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.