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Floating thumb, do you use it?

Discussion in 'Ask Todd Johnson [Archived]' started by Sean Baumann, Mar 8, 2006.

  1. Just watched the DVD, great stuff. Really basic, yet eye-opening at the same time. I was impressed. Wow, my technique looks really terrible up to Todd's.

    Now I know why my playing on the G string is awkward and sounds different from the other strings!

    I play with what I thought was the floating thumb. I would move my anchor point down to the A string when playing on the G (sometimes, it depends on how fast things are happening). Turn out that is not the floating thumb?! It really means no anchoring, and using it for muting.

    I tried to use this last night, and WOW, is that hard to do. Breaking this habbit is going to take me some serious time. It is a HUGE step back for me, I think.

    My question, is it worth the investment? Can I hear from some of you that switched? I assume I'll end up with cleaner technique, but not sure how it will affect speed. I'm a pretty slow player to begin with hehe.

    If I do attempt to make the switch, I'm going to have to focus on this eclusively for awhile, it was taking some mad concentration to make it feel "right." Though, I'll admit my current technique doesn't always feel right, either. It'll be like trying to talk without an accent (well, if I had one).
  2. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Its a worthwhile investment of your time in my experience. It is a VERY hard habbit to break, anchoring your thumb. The more strings you use, or want to use the future, the more benificial this technique is. Its quite possible to play a 4-string and never need this technique, but anything more than that and you start to really see the advantages. Even on the 4-bangers, you might find you play cleaner and more consistantly though.

    I know it makes you feel like all the work you've done up till now is kinda useless, as trying to play like this the first few times will make you feel like you cant play at all. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes 2nd nature just like anchoring your thumb was, and everything sounds cleaner and more consistant.

    On a side note, yes, focus on this exlusively for a while. It might help to learn some new tunes from scratch and start off playing them this way, rather than trying to play songs you know really well that your used to anchoring your thumb on. Use the technique when running scales or warm up excercises too. Sometimes if I play a song I learned before I switched, I still find I move back to anchoring, but anything new I add to the mix is much easier to adjust the technique to.
  3. Good advice! Now to show my instructor and let him know I'll be working on this for awhile.

    One question, what do you do when you are playing on the lowest string? Does your thumb/hand just kind of hover in space?
  4. Gorgula


    Oct 16, 2002
    So Cal
    I use it and couldn't imagine playing any other way. On my 7 string, I would be DEAD if I didn't use it because all the strings would start ringing out of control. But I use it on my 5's as well and am very comfortable with it.

    As far as speed goes, I can't see any reason why it would slow you down because it puts your right hand in a much more natural/relaxed position. If anything, it should enable you to play faster.

    When playing on the lowest string, yes, my thumb and palm are sort of hovering. Occasionally, my thumb might rest on the top edge of my ramp or pickup, but usually it's just hovering since I usually don't "live" on the B string for long.

    I definitely think it would be worth the investment because in the long haul it will improve your playing and minimize any chances of right hand injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.
  5. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Yes I just let my thumb hang in the air. Like Gorgula, I dont often find myself riding the B-string for any length of time, and if I happen to drop my thumb to anchor, it tends to stop me from picking it back up and slipping into the old habbits.
  6. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ


    YES...........just stay with it. It just takes a little time.

    If you don't, then you'll just be another bass player running around with a ringing string problem. (and we don't need any more of those! Ha!) The problem will be there until you deal with it head on. "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later".....comes to mind.

    Just work on it everyday. Rome wasn't built in a day. INVEST IN THIS...........In 3 -6 months you'll look back and wonder how you ever played any other way......



    Great advice from all the other guys too.

    Patience my friend...........patience!!

    I'm here to help.:bassist:
  7. AS far as injury goes, I'm more concerned with my left have at this point. My MTD puts me in some stange wrist positions, believe it or not. I'm hoping it is just bass position, so I am going to buy a new (shorter) strap and see if that helps. Othewise, I have no idea what I am going to do about that. My smallish frame (I'm 5'10" and ~145 pounds) and the small body/short horn of the MTD make the first position a stretch. Again, I hope I can just wear the bass in a more natural position. Not that I wear it that low now, but I suppose moving it higher could help.
  8. 'cept when I play slap. Hurry up and come up with a system for that too :)
  9. winston


    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I messed around a bit with floating thumb technique after seeing Steve Lawson use it live, but I've only really given it a go since I got Todd's Technique DVD last week. I play mostly 5-string (but a Pedulla 6 is on its way to me right now:hyper: ) and have wanted a better muting technique. I've basically used the RH technique where I'll rest my thumb on the lowest-pitched unused string or sometimes the pickup. Though I've played for almost 20 years I feel like my RH technique has been haphazard at best (though I wield a mean plectrum).

    I've spent some time playing along with the DVD and then applying the technique to songs and exercises during my practice. I'm finding that string skipping/crossing is easier than ever, I'm getting a fatter overall tone, and I have much better control over dynamics. Plus it's easier to switch techniques (to popping or tapping) 'cuz my RH is that much closer to the strings. I'm still getting used to moving from the shoulder as Todd suggests as opposed to opening my hand position to reach higher strings.

    I had a gig several days ago that was just three songs with almost no setup/warmup time. As I had ridden on my bike to the gig through pouring rain, I was wet and kind of beat. I muddled through and didn't really have a chance to focus on applying the technique. I have a funk/hip-hop gig tonight and two straightahead jazz gigs this weekend where I hope to use it.

    I've also started to use my thumb and ring/pinky fingers to pluck, too, because they're right there over the strings, ready to go. While I've only gotten part way through Todd's DVD, he is sneakily building the foundation for learning his chord/melody style, between the RH position and the LH exercises for holding down notes on different strings.
  10. Brought this up at my lesson tonight. My instructor thinks it is a good idea for the G/D strings, but it pretty firm about using planted thumb when playing on the E and A strings (and B). Though, a hybrid method, to me, seems like alot of wasted movement. I think I'll work on this anyway.

    Though, as I suspected, my instructor was much more concerned with my left hand technique. He's never really scrutinized that before. He just assumed I was doing it right, cuz he is always facing me straight on. I basically have a problem with being rather stiff, and I flatten fingers and really lock up my thumb joint (thumb to hand). I have a problem with relaxing my fingers, and my speed really suffers, I think.

  11. winston


    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    Sean, I don't want to insult your choice of instructor BUT if he's been ignoring your left hand technique (which has been causing you pain) until now you may want to take his RH advice regarding floating thumb with a grain of salt or consider giving your money to someone else. My first lesson(s) with new students ALWAYS start with an examination of their current right/left hand technique, general posture/body habits (holding breath/clenching jaw during fast passages, anyone?)

    I'm not an ergonomic expert, but having endured some playing-related injuries over the years, I try to draw on my experiences with the Alexander Technique, yoga, and Pilates to give students a sound basic technique. And playing upright with bad technique is a recipe for disaster.

    I managed to work the floating thumb technique in on my funk/hip-hop gig last night. I definitely caught myself anchoring my thumb at times. I'm still getting used to the shoulder action but I found that playing fast lines was easier than ever, and my tone was more consistent. I turned up a little louder than usual so I could play more lightly. I'm gonna have to do some woodshedding to get it down (especially on Jaco-style 16th-note string-skipping licks) but I'm already seeing the benefits.
  12. Nah, my instructor is the bomb. He just made some assumptions that I was OK with my techniques. I never complained to him about pain, and to be truthful, I haven't had any issues lately. I guess I have built up some endurance. Though I do notice, and complain about how long it takes me to "get things" and play passages cleanly.

    I tried out the floating thumb last night while shedding (some) and it wasn't as bad as I thought. I need to get the bass hoisted up a bit more (new strap!), but all-in-all not too bad.

    Now, back to the left hand, I really worked through that with him last night at my lesson, and I do have some "serious" issues. Ugh, I knew I had problems, but I really have to re-learn some fundamental things. For me, it come down to staying loose and comfortable. I tend to really clench my thumb muscle and completely bend the thumb back at the second nuckle. This straightens my fingers and causes my palm to touch the neck.

    So now I have to figure out how to train my muscles to relax and use the correct amount or pressure when fingering. I don't think my action is that high at all, but it seems my hands have two amounts of force, none and grip of death.

    I kind of wonder how much of it is me, and how much of it is because of the instrument. Maybe 35" scale + 5 string bass = not right for me.
  13. winston


    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    That's cool. I know what you mean about the time necessary to retrain yourself, even when it's something (seemingly) simple like using less energy to play. I'm constantly catching myself plucking too hard, which I think is a holdover from the days when I had wimpy amps and really dug in, believing that would help me cut through. Hearing recordings from this era with all sorts of strange extraneous noises helped me disabuse myself that this worked.

    Ah, the ergonomic struggle. I don't have a problem with 35" fivers, but 6ers with that scale are just too big for me, especially up by the nut on the low strings. I hope your experimentations with strap length and technique will help--otherwise, you'll have a great excuse to go shopping for a new bass!
  14. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    The older you get, the higher your strap goes hehe. It will actually help you to have your bass higher up.

    And if you got troubles with a 35...you should play my bass lol :)

    Something Adam Nitti told me, was try and practice some with NOT anchoring your LEFT thumb behind the neck. Just let it hang loose and play some patterns with it like that. It will prevent you from getting the grip of death, and apply proper pressure through your fingers, instead of applying pressure with your whole hand. This is of course just an excercise to loosen you up, I wouldnt try and play like that all the time.
  15. hey that is great advice, I'll try that out tonight!

    Yeah, I seem to be really particular about scale lengths and string spacings. It is funny to watch me play someone else's bass or a bass in a store, it takes me a LONG time to get comfortable.

    Actually now that I think about it, it is kind of like computer keyboards. If I switch them, I go from like 80 wpm to hunt and peck style heheh.
  16. The Ah-ha! moment. The floating thumb = no big deal, I think I'll be able to ramp up on that pretty quick. Just need to keep on top of dropping my elbow.

    The left hand though, I found that my stiffness comes from using my ring finger. I don't seem to be able to seperate my ring and middle finger very well, and really can't even do Todd's two finger exercise with those two fingers. I've been compensating by rotating my hand (palm) toward the nut, slanting my fingers (which are no longer parallel to the frets) so I can make a longer reach. This folds up my thumb and brings my palm up to touch the neck. What a bad habbit. Hope I can get my ring finger under control.
  17. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    I run through a little excercise to warm up each time. Its something I think I grabbed from Stewart McKinsey's home page. I start on my B string, about 2nd fret. 1 finger per fret, I run a pattern of 1, 4, 2, 3, then drop a string, when I get finished with the pattern on the G, I slide up one fret and do the pattern in reverse on the way back up. So 4, 1, 3, 2. I do this down to about the 14th fret. Go as slow as you need to go to get it clean and consistant on every note. You can float your thumb on both hands during this excercise, and it may help out with all 3 issues, muting, finger independance, and the grip of death hehe.

    Stewart actually has quite a few good warm up excercises, http://www.subcontrabassist.com/
  18. I too have been working on this technique, and its immediate benefit was improving my right hand placement. The drawback I have noticed is that I play a lot (ie read most) of my parts on the lower strings (B&E) and so I do not get as much out of it as I would if I played a lot of melodic parts on the A,D or G strings. Also I have been having some trouble in that I switch back and forth from octaves in many of my faster moving parts and where with my old method I would have one finger on one string and another on the octave (skipping a string) using the floating thumb where the "mechanism" is moved it requires a lot of movement and I have a hard time if jumping back and forth between strings with accidently muting the lower string I am trying to play.
  19. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    When you do those octave patterns Badgrandad, keep your thumb behind the lowest string to mute, and if you play through the string on your octave, you will automatically mute the string lower than it when you play through and stop on it. You don't have to take it so strictly that every note you play your thumb is behind it. You can combine this with left hand muting techniques, and just use whats practical in the song, rather than trying to maintain perfection. Its a tool in the shed like anything else, its not meant to be a detriment, so use is as you can, and when its impractical, use a combination of techniques that make it easiest for you, and accomplishes the overall goal of muting. Just like strict alternation between fingers is not always practical. I practice everything with strict alteration, but if Im actually playing in a jam or something, I dont sweat all that stuff so much or even really think about it. I practice it so it will be 2nd nature and I wont have to think about it while playing. But I slip in and out of techniques to get the job done in the particular song.
  20. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi Sean,

    Go back to my DVD and REALLY CHECK OUT the left hand basics I talk about. The fingers REALLY need to be curved. All the info is on the DVD. Just go slow and pay attention to the angles you're using. Make sure your middle and ring fingers are perpendicular to the frets. Make sure your fingers are NOT CONCAVED. They should be naturally curved.

    Again, check out the DVD. This may take a while, but it's worth it in the long run.

    Plus, if you have small hands.....then I would recommend going back to 34 inch scale...... I have. Playing a 35 inch scale instrument almost ruined my physically....:help: ...:bawl: . Pay attention to what your body is telling you.....OK? Food for thought.....