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floating thumb techniqe

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Torvus, Feb 18, 2006.

  1. I used to play using a moveable anchor. It felt comfy to me and thought it muted the unwanted string enough. However, a few weeks ago I noticed by playing at higher volume that whenever I would move the anchored thumb (from E to A for example) the string I was moving the anchor from (the E string in this example) would start ringing, as if my finger bounced of the E string to get to the A. When anchoring on the A string, I didn't touch the E string anymore... I tried out some different methods to correct this like the moveable anchor technique from Adam Nitti where not only you anchor on a string below the one you play, but you place your thumb against the other lower strings as well. It felt very weird, probably due to my thumb shape. It felt like I had to bend my wrist to manage to place my thumb against the strings.

    I decided to give the floating thumb. Well... that felt very very weird at first. And what a pain in the right arm/shoulder at the beginning, especially when playing the E string as it implies to move your arm more upwards.

    A bit discouraging also at first because you have to get used to totally different plucking technique. I felt as comfy plucking as I did when I first picked up a bass :laugh: After a couple of days, I tried practising with a shoulder strap... well that was a tremendous improvement on the shoulder pain... sounds like a no brainer, why didn't I use a strap to begin with... :bag:

    After a couple of weeks practise, I already see tremendous results. I cannot play that fast yet, but that will come in due time. However, I notice much less fatigue in the right hand but also much more consistency in the way I pluck the strings. I didn't think anchoring the thumb was a problem but in my case I think I used to put way too much pressure on the anchor thus making my right hand slightly unbalanced. With the floating thumb, it feels comfy and relaxed. I kinda just wanted to use this technique to mute the strings better but it turns out the improvements goes much further than that!

    It works great for me, and I am glad I gave it a try :bassist:
    Thanks a lot for all the info in this thread!!
    viking power and LoveThatBass like this.
  2. Hugh_R


    Sep 9, 2008
    London, UK

    I remember having similar problems when I first started this technique but over time something I have realised when building any kind of technique is that it always helps me to do the two following things

    1. Make sure that there is no tension or as little tension as possible in my hand before I start playing. Whilst developing the floating thumb technique I started with my right thumb (right hand is my picking hand) stretched really far out to one side. This meant that before I played any notes my hand was already tense and I was already using muscle power on nothing. I started to adopt a hand position similar to the one my hand naturally takes when it rests because that means I'm not using muscle power and the default is that the hand is relaxed.
    2. Perform how I practice was a big one for me. Even if I sat down and my bass didn't change height what I noticed was that the spatial relationship of the bass and my body would change. It might not be at a different height but maybe a few inches further forward or the weight distribution in my body would change.
    All of this had a knock on effect on my technique. By just being a little more disciplined about conscious of how much muscle power I was using and what I was using it on, my technique started to progress really well.
    Idle Plucker likes this.
  3. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    I think the floating thumb technique is using no anchor, a la Steve Harris.
  4. Thanks Hugh for your advise. I find myself practising much more often standing now that I am using the floating thumb. It just feels more natural...
    I continue my slow journey towards what I hope will be good right hand technique with floating thumb :)
    I used to rake when using moveable anchor and since I started focusing on my ring hand technique, I started trying out with strict alternation index/middle. I thought it could be good to be able to both rake and use strict alternation. I don't know if it's the floating thumb or not but I am now much more comfortable strictly alternating than raking. I feel I have much more control on hitting the note at the right time than I did when raking. It also allows me to stay in rhythm when playing descending 8th/16th notes run, which required additional effort with raking.
    I am now busy re-learning every tune I know using strict alternation in order to get rid of raking :D

    After few weeks of practice with floating thumb, I am able to play faster than when I started practicing it. However, I am still a bit slower than I used to be using moveable anchor. I'll keep at it obviously but I was just wondering if it was just a practice issue or if using floating thumb may be a limitation to play (very) fast lines?
  5. I am definitely convinced by the floating thumb technique. I play with free strokes (it has always felt natural to me while rest strokes feel incredibly awkward... go figure) and on top of the muting advantages, floating thumb has really cleaned up my right hand technique. I play so much more consistently now and after some practise, I can play just as fast as before.
    Anyway... There is still one thing I am having issues with. I still do not feel comfortable playing quick root/octave runs (think Bernard Edwards' line on Sister Sledge's - we are family). I am curious how the floating thumb gurus handle these kinds of runs :)
    Do you play these kind of runs with floating thumb or do you "fallback" to anchoring the thumb on pickup/lower string?
    Brian Phillips likes this.
  6. I have never been able to play by anchoring my thumb on a pickup. I use the floating thumb method of sliding it up and down keeping the unused lower string/strings to mute them. I used to anchor my thumb on the unused lower string and when playing the lowest string just lifted my thumb away.
  7. And do you still float when doing root/octave runs? I find that it takes a lot of movement with floating thumb to do root/octave/root/octave... Each time I have to move the hand up and down while I could just "reach" further with my fingers when anchoring the thumb on the lower string
  8. Hugh_R


    Sep 9, 2008
    London, UK
    Yes I do play a lot of these kinds of runs and I've found that actually exercises are the one thing I want to avoid. When ever I'm trying to build technique, I want to get to the point of being able to use the technique without thinking about it. Because of this I actually find exercises lacking in context a little. I prefer to use actual pieces of music instead. It's a much more realistic challenge plus it's much more fun too! I've done this with regular songs but I've found Bach pieces actually helped me a great deal too. I filmed one recently if you want to check it out. I do use a very slight bit of anchoring on my right (plucking) hand but only because it fits into the natural shape of my hand when it's relaxed so it doesn't waste muscle power.

    That being said, filming myself has been a very useful practice method because I can see if I'm actually maintaing technique properly. Although, with any new technique it will feel strange at first. I think a lot of people are put off but things feeling strange and then immediately saying "because it feels strange then it's definitely wrong". This isn't the case. No matter what technique you're working on, there are a few things you always need to look out for. Muscle tension is one. You want as little tension in your hand when playing as possible. This means you have used little muscle power before you start playing and that you have a large amount at your disposal. All of this comes to this. If a technique feels natural but tense then, chances are, there's something wrong somewhere. If it feels un natural but very relaxed then the likelihood is that it's a good option. This is a massively simplified view I hope you understand and I'm doing a webinar on May 28th discussing technique if you want to join us. There's a sign up page here but if you want to private message me with the link I can reserve you a space and bypass the whole signing up thing.

    Let me know and I hope this has been useful!
  9. Thanks for the reply Hugh. I kept on practicing since the last post and it is now much better with these kinds of root/octave run... As always, practice is the key then :D
  10. almadillo

    almadillo Supporting Member

    May 18, 2015
    Shenzhen China

    This is almost exactly the issue I am facing right now.
    I am a movable anchor guy ... but I can mute the next-string over ... I'm plucking the D-string, thumb on the A-string, and E-string is muted.

    Just started "I Got You" by James Brown, quick shift from A-string to G-string and back ... so movable anchor from E-string to D-string and back ... pulling off of the E-string must tap is just so slightly yet here comes the noise and vibration ... having a hell of a time fixing it.

    Change thumb position so I can mute more strings?
    Don't shift to an anchor on the D-string?
    Learn floating thumb?

    Suffer as is?

  11. Well you have several options in my opinion... Personally, I couldn't manage to mute several strings with moveable anchor (ex: mute E string when anchored on A string). I guess it's due to the shape of my thumb, I had to twist a bit my wrist and I felt this was not the right way to go.
    This is what triggered to spend some time on learning floating thumb. In the long run (as you can see from my posts in this thread :D) I achieved much more that just getting rid of this slight vibration you mention after learning floating thumb: better consistency in plucking, less tension in the wrist as it is now straight when I play, overall a better right hand technique...

    But I must admit that learning floating thumb gives you a feeling of "starting from scratch" which is quite discouraging the first few days. I could not play the simplest songs and felt that this was never going to work for me. Hours and hours of practice after I am glad I did it. However, I play bass as a hobby by myself so I had no problem spending the time on learning this technique. If you play in band and gig, you may think otherwise.

    I can only advise you to spend the time on learning the floating thumb technique. But the decision is up to you in the end. I believe you could also get rid of those slight noises by keeping moveable anchor and just practicing more to do softer changes. Or even maybe lowering pickups of your bass.
  12. Creede


    May 15, 2015
    I've been using floating thumb a bit in the past month, and I see no problems with it, but there are supposedly some issues with it. Can any of you give me insight to what they might be, and if they're really problems or not? I'm a metal guy, so I'll be playing some really fast stuff, but I hear that FT hinders really fast playing (180+ BPM type stuff). Although there is no need to play that fast, would FT prevent me from doing that?
  13. OOD


    Jul 29, 2009
    It really just depends on the person playing. I feel like floating thumb slows me down, but I've heard plenty of players say it speeds them up. If you're really worried about playing fast you might want to try playing with a pick. Just try everything until you find out what works for you. Even if floating thumb slows you down it is still a great method especially for muting unwanted string noise. If you like floating thumb i'm sure you could practice enough to overcome any decrease in speed.
  14. _sky_


    Jan 8, 2012
    Been practicing the Floating thumb technique. Sometimes my thumb goes to anchor position in the pickup but i´m beggining to playing with more speed.

    The issue for me is my right arm. After a while I feel some desconfort in it. Guess I must keep practicing.

    For octaves I still can´t use floating thumb.
  15. markmeloney


    Apr 27, 2013
    I have always heard of it referred to as the wandering thumb technique, if we are talking about the same thing. here's the technique I use, I've always found it quite useful: when I pluck a string, my finger follows through the string and rests on the string below it, so not only am I plucking that string, but also muting the one below it. while this is going on, my thumb is on the string 2 strings below the one I'm plucking. an example would be as follows; if I'm plucking the g, my fingers pluck the g, and land on the d between stroaks, my thumb is resting on the a, and I'm using the large bone at the base of my thumb to also mute the e/b. translating this to playing on any string, it means you're always muting all of the strings below the one you're playing with your right hand, and muting the ones above the one you're playing with your left hand.
  16. markmeloney


    Apr 27, 2013
    if you want to go faster, try lifting your elbow of your picking arm so your hand is in a natural straight position. I find this helpful during the more intense riffs, as your fingers are stronger when your wrist isn't all curled up.
  17. Wandering and floating are different but similar. Wandering thumb is sometimes referred to as a movable anchor. With floating, the thumb does not rest on a string but more lays across them.

  18. markmeloney


    Apr 27, 2013
    In that case. I suppose I do a combination of the 2. I started out with wandering thumb but adapted floating thumb as a natural consequence of having a 5 string
  19. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    This is a good idea whatever technique you're using.
  20. plop


    Aug 27, 2015
    so what's wrong with anchoring my thumb on the E?
    I never thought about it so I film my playing and it turns out my thumb tests (with no tension) on the E whenever I'm not playing it. I mute the E with my thumb and all the other strings are muted with my fingers. the only thing that gives me grief is figuring out how to deal with open strings (I always used to avoid them but I'm going through a Jamerson phase right now) like quickly alternating between the A and the D open. Thoughts?

    (this has probably been covered but I cbf reading 19 pages)