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floating thumb techniqe

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

  1. Muthertucker


    Sep 22, 2015
    Lowell, MA
    OK, I know this thread is getting out of hand in regards to length, but to switch it up for a sec, does anyone have a good strategy for using the floating thumb technique while playing on the G string? I think the way my strings are leveled it makes it weird: my D string is set slightly lower than my A string so when playing from the D string to the G string, I can never get my thumb to mute the D string. I've gotten way to comfortable leaving my thumb on the pickup or the E string and it's been a battle playing smoothly with this technique.

    I have a feeling that the result is just going to be to raise my D string, but I was looking to avoid this because I'm now comfortable with the string layout on my bass.
  2. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I don't float my thumb far enough to mute the D string anyway. Since I'm almost always using rest strokes, I figure that the D is muted by the follow-though from plucking the G string. One popular variant of the "moveable anchor" involves the thumb trailing the plucking finger by two strings rather than one -- i.e. it is anchored on the A string when plucking the G -- for the same reason.

    That said, I'd still try adjusting the string heights to make them more even. But if the D string isn't buzzing, my inclination would be to try lowering the other strings rather than raising the D.
    Muthertucker and David A. Davis like this.
  3. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    I apologize if this has been mentioned, but - for those of us who've been playing for a long time and now need to use this technique (I've recently jumped from playing 4-string basses in punk and rock bands to playing 5-string basses in prog bands) - are there any tips on how to get into these habits and break the old ones? I can't seem to NOT rest my thumb on the pickup and really dig into the strings, which makes it pretty hard to play some of these songs.
  4. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Well, the hard part is getting your thumb off the damn pickup once it's planted there, so the trick is to avoid planting it there in the first place. Something I did (and still do) is devote part of my practice time to playing scales, riffs, etc. using only the G and D strings. On a five-string, you could include the A string, too. That way I start with my thumb in the "floating" position right from the get-go, and it's easier to keep it there as long as I stay off the top strings. (A nice little bonus of this was that using only those bottom strings doubled as a way of learning that part of the fretboard better!)

    The good news is that if you can train your thumb to stay off the pickup, you'll immediately find it easier to play with a softer touch. The leverage you get from anchoring your thumb makes it all too tempting to "dig in," but with a floating thumb it feels more natural to pluck gently. At least, that's the way it works for me.
  5. Thumb n Fingers

    Thumb n Fingers

    Dec 15, 2016
    For me, and like Lobster11 mentioned, development of this technique came out of necessity. I too was a pup anchorer until my ear developed to a point where all of the extra vibrating strings drove me half mad. It's been decades since I anchored, so I don't remember exactly how I got away from it. I'd suggest just making a conscious effort to try, slow down what you're practicing so you can pay more attention to it, and it'll just happen quicker than you expect. I'd also suggest just getting your picking hand away from your comfort zone around the pick up and going somewhere else. On a jazz bass, I play either between the pups (just seems like tonally a sweet spot on my bass) or between the end of the neck and the 1st pup.

    If it's the fact that you're digging in so much, try backing off on the aggression you're picking with and letting the onboard pre-amp or amp volume compensate. You can still be aggressive without pulling the rest of your hand downward.
    Bob Lee (QSC) likes this.
  6. Thumb n Fingers

    Thumb n Fingers

    Dec 15, 2016
    Your string set up sounds similar to what I utilize also. I'm able to use my thumb on the D, but I understand where you're coming from. Depending on what I'm playing, where the movement in the bass line is heading as well, I sometimes pull my ring finger back as a mute on the D while muting the A with my thumb and plucking the G. Might try that and see if you can find a comfort zone doing that.
  7. I find this puzzling.

    I also feel a bit lost in what seems to be others' confusion about terms (e.g. floating sometimes meaning the same as moveable, yet floating thumb and moveable anchor reportedly having opposite meanings).

    If the goal is "no anchor at all," then what provides stability to pluck the strings - especially on tunes full of 8th notes?

    As I see it, just as dancers require a dance floor and a building requires a foundation, anybody plucking strings on a bass requires sufficient stability on which to pluck the strings.

    If your thumb is not anchored to the edge of a pickup, or a string you're not plucking at the moment, or a thumbrest, then your forearm against the body of the bass provides that stability. One anchor or another - moving or not - is necessary for each pluck of a string.
  8. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Also want to remind folks about the wrist and elbow too when it comes to reaching to the D and G. Straighter wrist and raised elbow should help create a more comfortable hand no matter where you are anchored.

    As for those looking to break their habit, slow deliberate string crossing exercises should help. It might take some time before the habit is truly reshaped, but i don't know any other way than to just put in the time.
  9. bassdude51

    bassdude51 Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    WOW! 21 pages on floating thumb!!!!!!!!!

    Bassdude51's .02 cents.

    I used to rest my thumb on top of the P Bass pickup and on top of a J Bass neck pickup.......................................then one day, I bought a 1951 MIJ Precision Bass.....................no place to rest my thumb..........................bummer!

    So, it is said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Without any help, this was before the day of YouTube and schitt, I developed my own method of floating thumb.

    Here's how I do it and I bet many, if not most do the same thing. I rest my thumb on the E string and do all of my plucking on the A-D-G strings. When I gotta play the E string, I pull away and float but go right back to resting on the E string for plucking on the other strings.

    This has become very automatic and I don't even think about it.

    Strange thing is that my '51 MIJ P plucking technique has now become the way I play any and all other bass guitars.

    I like the floating thumb method!
    Bob Lee (QSC) likes this.
  10. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Floating increases my sensitivity and nuance but it's nothing I've ever consciously worked on. Analyzing it in retrospect I do it automatically a fair bit when I'm playing at the neck looking for a round warm sound rather than pointed and forceful. But not anchoring on a string or pickup would severely impede playing something like in yer face Rocco style 16ths. I haven't read all 20 pages but I can't imagine there's actually that much to say about it when watching Jack Casady for a few minutes will tell you most of what you need to know.
  11. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    You'll have to slow down, but it will be worth it. Don't play any other way, force yourself at least a little every day. I did this and it took about 10 weeks before I got back up to the speed I played with a pick. In fact, I've gotten faster now that I dedicated myself to the floating thumb.

    The great thing about the technique is that it forces you to play cleaner. Floating thumb technique is naturally good technique.
  12. WillieThePimp


    Jan 4, 2016
    I'm playing bass for 3 years and change to floating thumb technique last month, and this works so well. I've improved my playing so fast ! I think this is the more natural technique.
    My thumb is like "dead", I mute the others strings with it, or with the fingers 3 and 4. My wrist rest on the body. With that technique, I can play for hours without any pain
  13. Forrest Thump

    Forrest Thump

    Jun 5, 2017
    If you are playing on the A, plant your thumb on the E. If you are playing on the D, plant your thumb on the A. This is the only technique I use, but it makes it difficult to switch strings quickly
  14. What does floating thumb see in benefits over movable anchor, guys?
  15. Bad azz tone

    Bad azz tone Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2017
    One difference, is a relaxed hand. A planted thumb by its nature creates tension in your hand. Floating thumb style, hand should be relaxed. Had to learn floating thumb style when I started playing a 5 string,had to silence the vibrating B string. Its now faster and easier to go up and down from B string to G string,and stops any unwanted vibrating strings. Took time ,but the improvement was well worth it. That being said I have seen great players, and most have a plucking hand style all their own.
    Lobster11 likes this.
  16. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Viva o Benfica!
    EpicMcDude, Bad azz tone and _sky_ like this.
  17. bass71


    Nov 18, 2007
    Since I adopted the floating thumb my playing speed and accuracy has improved hugely, though it did feel very odd at first.
    The thing I've noticed now apart from feeling much more relaxed is that muting happens without me having to think about it.
    Floating thumb?...fantastic.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
  18. Cutter


    Jan 8, 2018
    Is the floating thumb technique well adapted to successive octave intervals? I mean like in River People by Jaco Pastorius?
  19. onda'bass

    onda'bass Supporting Member

    Sep 5, 2010
    Buffalo Ny
    Yes octaves and floating pose a challenge...that tune would be a good woodshed for getting them more comfortable
  20. Alonso Quijano

    Alonso Quijano

    Jun 30, 2013
    Well, plucking in different places gives you a different tone. Simply commit to getting one of those specific tones for a certain piece where you play not directly above your pickup, or one of your several pickups (don't know how many you have on your bass(es)).

    Try this:
    Play one (or two, or four, or three if you like - whatever) bar on your D string. Then do the same for your G string. And one on your A string. Just play straight eighths. Then throw in another string to the mix. Get as comfortable as possible with each string on its own, and then practice moving between strings.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018
    Bob Lee (QSC) and Obese Chess like this.

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