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Does Anyone use their thumb to fret notes?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by The Mock Turtle Regulator, Mar 7, 2001.


  1. I sometimes use my left hand thumb to fret the root on four note chords (root, fifth,octave and tenth) and for holding a root while playing a line on the other strings.
    (thumb hooked over the top of the neck like a guitar player as opposed to double bass thumb technique high on the neck)

    I know it's considered to be bad technique to use your thumb this way on electric, but Stanley Clarke said he sometimes does it, and I've seen Sting do it in a video too.
    anyone else?
     
  2. Not usually to finger a note (I play mostly fretless) but I often mute the E string with my left thumb. I have pretty big hands that wrap around the neck of a Jazz pretty well. I find by muting with my thumb I can still get alot of mobility with the rest of my hand.

    I have, on occasion fretted a G on the E string with my thumb though. But only when it feels "right" to do so.

    FF
     
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    NEVER, because it would limit my hand range even more (I'm cursed enough with them short fingers :D ).
    I occasionally use the double bass/chello technique in the higher register though.
     
  4. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i sometimes use my thumb to fret notes on the highest strings when i am playing high on the neck, sorta like the upright technique.

    like what jmx said.
     
  5. hmmm, I imagine it would be pretty difficult to do guitar style thumb fretting on your basses, JT!

    re. thumb muting, I do that a bit too- I also do the "thumb trailing" thing on my right hand to mute unplayed strings- thumbs are good for muting!

    it looks like I'm a bit of a rebel with this thumb fretting thing....:cool:
    NB. I do wear my bass low, so that's why I find it easier to fret the root with my thumb than index finger on chords low on the neck.
     
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - this is the sort of thing that causes repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome. You are putting unnatural strain on your wrist and if done a lot will no doubt do some damage.

    I was seeing a physiotherapist in London for my back and during the period of treatment we would get talking and it got on to music and he mentioned that he was treating a lot of pro bass players for wrist problems. Some of them had got to the point where they couldn't play at all and it had taken 6 months to a year just to stop the pain! He showed them how to play without exacerbating the problem, once they were able to do anything.

    This is what good technique is all about - minimising the risk of injury. OK if you do it very rarely, then it probably won't do any damage, but if it becomes a habit and you are playing a lot and putting strain on your wrist then something will give!

    The technique that JT & JMX mention - coming from under the neck, is not a risk like this. But the other thing is that using an over the top thumb technique means you won't be able to play most 5 strings and definitely no 6 or 7 strings - whereas correct technique can be applied to any instrument and so the move to 6 string was no problem for me and I actually found it easier to play than a 4!
     
  7. >>>

    I gotta disagree with this, Bruce, or at least qualify it. If you're playing bass slung low, like some of us do, it can actually take tension off the wrist, especially when fretting big dirty bass chords (and though it can muddy up the place if you're not careful, there's something way satisfying about fretting bass notes with an entire clenched fist :)

    the worst short-term RSI i've ever had was recording an 8-min song with the last 3 mins all power chords, fretted with all fingers ... the "fist-chord" technique probably wouldn't have worked though - too much sliding, and perhaps too imprecise for recording.

    Try dropping your bass to waist level, Bruce (if you haven't recently), and your playing technique will necessarily change.

    Using thumb-only on the E string for slides works fine, depending on how how you plan on coming out of it, and can temporarily "rest" your hand; also (a bit off-topic, i know) hooking your thumb over the top is my preferred technique for sliding, bending and sometimes vibrato (when i bother :), placing less tension on the wrist and allwing for more strength in the middle and ring fingers at any "slinging" height.

    All of the above IMHO, of course. Whatever feels comfortable and lets you get the notes, i say - if it hurts, it's probably bad technique.
     
  8. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    On the bass in my little picture here I do what JT does and reach past the cutaway in the body using a bastardized upright kinda thumb position thing to stop (not fret 'cause there ain't none) the notes in the upper register. I don't do what the original question asks on any bass 'cause I do have a repetitive stress injury (from carrying two pairs of skis in one hand too much, not from playing) that doing the "Ritchie Havens" aggravates. It does work for Stanley Clarke though and if you can pull it off I say "cool". I think it's difficult to say definitively what is biomechanicially correct and what is not, people's bodies are different. So are their minds. If you need to do something to get the music out you'll figure out a way to do it and if you work at it enough you can figure out a stress free way. The trick is to be aware of stress the moment it begins and to stay relaxed no matter what. Warming up thoroughly and stretching your hands, arms, back and neck (hell, ya may as well do yer legs while yer at it) will do wonders to reduce injury and increase awareness.
     
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I definitely wouldn't do this either!! Having had back injuries I know also from talking to phyisotherapists that you absolutely must be playing with your back upight and straight at all times or risk injury.

    You can take risks with your health if you want to, but having had periods where I haven't been able to do anything but lie down I will always follow a qualified physiotherapist's advice over anything I might read here!

    As to playing chords - I can do this quite happily on a 5 or 6 strings without using my left hand thumb and I would never advise anyone to do this, even if they did feel comfortable - it's all a question of risk - so far you might have been OK but 10 years down the line you might regret it - far better to advise correct technique in all cases and avoid any risks.
     
  10. Thats not an option for me, cause i play hard rock so i need to head bang, and your back isnt straight doing that.

    However, about the thumb, i use it to stop the E or A string from ringing while I play on lower strings if I need to, or to make an easy muted note.
     
  11. Well, I'll consider myself an expert on RSI here.

    I suffer from CTS both wrists, as well as tendonitis of the wrists, elbows and shoulders. All this from a source unrelated to bass playing (a job I had as a teen).

    I attend the musicians clinic near here regularly for physio.

    Some things of note in this thread so far that concerned me a bit were:


    Originally posted by FretGrinder:
    Try dropping your bass to waist level, Bruce (if you haven't recently), and your playing technique will necessarily change.


    Yes, it will change. Probably for the worse too. bending the wrist of your fretting (or fingering) hand will put strain on the carpal tunnel, causing inflamation of the tendons that run through the wrists, potentially resulting in CTS.


    Originally posted by Bruce Lindfield

    The technique that JT & JMX mention - coming from under the neck, is not a risk like this. But the other
    thing is that using an over the top thumb technique means you won't be able to play most 5 strings
    and definitely no 6 or 7 strings - whereas correct technique can be applied to any instrument and so
    the move to 6 string was no problem for me and I actually found it easier to play than a 4!


    The "over-the-top" technique will most certainly not work on a wider necked instrument. I won't use it on those instruments. But it does work on the relatively narrow neck of my J bass. Maybe not "correct" technique, but I don't think it's "incorrect" either. Especially for muting purposes.


    Just my opinions, abuse them as you see fit.

    FF
     
  12. Stimulating posts, both Bruce and Fretless. I might actually try raising my bass / changing technique and really thinking about where stress is placed on wrists, etc ... Much as i kinda like low-slung bass, I still want to be playing the instrument 15 years from now :)
     
  13. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Gary Willis' 'Progressive Bassics' video (REH Video) offers some good advice on this topic.
    Willis stresses the importance of keeping your wrist straight when playing and how tendons and muscles work when you're playing bass.

    And here's a good test for the pros and cons of over-the neck and behind the neck techniques:

    Use your fretting hand to grasp your other arm (like you would you bass' neck)

    1. Thumb 'over the neck': Try to spread your fingers as if fretting a 5-fret interval, check how wide you can spread your fingers.

    2. Do the same with thumb 'behind the neck' . Check how far you can spread your fingers.

    Now compared those two.

    With what technique is it easier/more ergonomic to spread your fingers and with a wider range?

    Try it for yourself and you'll see there's only one answer...
     
  14. I don't really do that b/c it's just how I was taught. I don't know if there's a necessary right way of playing. A lot of players seem to be against the whole thing though. I guess just go w/ what works for you
     
  15. There's no way I'd hook my thumb over when aiming for a wide spread - but i'm not trying for one all the time i play.
     
  16. yep, I knew someone would point this out as being bad technique.
    I sometimes use my left hand thumb to fret the root on four note chords (root, fifth,octave and tenth) and for holding a root while playing a line on the other strings.
    now, this is stuff I only do very rarely- a specialised technique - but it's perfectly comfortable for me when I do use it - especially with the bass worn low, as I said.
    and I was referring to the use of the thumb to fret notes for chords/holding a root to free up the other 4 fingers for playing a simultaneous line,not leaving the thumb permanently hooked over.

    in fact, I actually find it more comfortable to wear my bass low as I've got long arms, and my right hand gets tired quickly if I try playing with the bass higher, and my left hand gets tired fretting low on the E string.
     
  17. Yeah, I find it pretty comfy too - plus it does look kinda cool (I know, i know). Interesting technique -nailing the root w/ thumb and playing a melody with what's left ... I tried it some last night, didn't come really easily but i can see potential .. i'll work on it on the weekend :)
     
  18. I started doing that "thumb fretting root/melody with the other fingers" to try out classical guitar ideas eg. the intro to "Roundabout" by Yes or the middle bit of Metallica's "To Live Is To Die"- as I didn't have a guitar to play them properly (although I assume strict classical guitar technique is thumb behind the neck though and never used for fretting) - but it's proved to be useful for original ideas too. the tone of a plucked string will always be different to that of a tapped note (three fingers used on right hand).

    Jimi Hendrix could be seen using the technique a lot in the Woodstock video - it's more of a guitar technique really, I suppose (but isn't tapping, too?:)) and it would be very difficult/impossible on multi-string basses.
    but I'm sticking to 4strings, as a Hipshot Dtuner, an octaver and 21-24 frets give me enough range:)
     
  19. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    is there a tab notation for "head banging"? and are there any headsites - i mean - websites for how to properly execute the technique of head banging? ;)
     
  20. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Dont tap the glass, JT, you'll anger the monkeys. :D

    Just curious Mock, why the 1-5-8-10?! Sure you dont mean b11?