Fretting Hand Thumb

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by ladros2, Feb 5, 2006.

  1. ladros2


    Jun 2, 2005
    For years I played with my thumb anchored to the back of the neck, lifting and moving as needed, as did everybody else I saw. Recently I read a section in a book by a bassist (may have been Gary Willis) that keeping your thumb off the neck relieves pressure and allows quicker position changes and a greater reach. I have found all this to be true, and the top fret access on my bass just got a lot easier. But are there any reprecussions to this? Anything of which I should be wary?
  2. ii7-V7


    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD
    I don't see how you can do this. I also don't see the need.

    I mean the physics are mind boggling!

    How can you press the strings without something to counteract the pressure on the neck? You'll just be spinning around in circles? What am I missing?

    I think people tend to forget, or perhaps they are not taught, that you don't need tons of strength to press a note on a bass guitar. And any extra pressure that you add is not only wasted but its counter productive.

    Shifting is a way of life on bass. It was the first thing I had difficulty with when I switched from guitar to bass. If you aren't applying undue pressure then shifting with your thumb should be no more difficult than shifting without it.....even though I can't see how you could play the notes without a counter lever. I can see how you can do this on the upper range of the bass because your body acts as the counter pressure, but how do you do it in first position?
  3. I thought about it and checked what i did on bass and I have to EDIT my response:

    I think you understand the general idea. If you don't think of actually pushing the string towards your body, but letting your hand drop and use gravity to hold pull the sting that's the theory behind it which i was doing without noticing. I belive you get that. For first position I do use my thumb as a counter weight as you have mentioned. But just let your thumb go away and think of the "over the board" technique in a sense cause that's where it natually goes if you want your hand completely relaxed and you can still use gravity just fine to hold the strings as before with this technique. Not that I propagate using this form, but FYI that's how the physics behind that can work for first position.

    I wouldn't say it's bad that the thumb is on the back. But I wouldn't say a floating thumb always provides the best positioning and relaxtion for the left hand. Can you post maybe a few pithy statements from gary on the subject on why he thinks it's more relaxed for him or how it works for him exactly???
  4. spindizzy


    Apr 12, 2004
    I just did a post on this in Todd's forum so I am surprized to read it here. I have been doing this for awhile and didn't know Mr. Willis did also. My use of it was accidental in that I had difficulty with my left thumb many years ago that, in order to keep playing, I had to find a way to relieve pressure on my thumb due to a strain of some sort.

    It is not ground breaking in my opinion but it does give you some freedom if you are like me and sport small hands for a bass player. As I also am a 7 stringer tackling the larger neck span was made easier by the ability to drop the thumb at will. I still use the thumb off and on behind the neck but I am not tied to it.

    It's not physically impossible particularly the further up the neck you get as your body can provide the opposing pressure part of the way. I don't know how Willis does it but I either am litterally fretting with the downward pressure of just my fingers or, at times, the side of the neck is cradled in the part of my palm closest to the fingers (hard to describe but that's the best I can do). This does allow for you to occasionally add the thumb as a fretting finger for wierd reach positions although I can't say it has revolutionized my playing any.

    More than anything it has kept my long time bought with thumb knuckle pain from benching my permanently and given my a certain freedom to do things on my seven that I might not be able to pull off with the thumb in the traditional position.

    Todd pointed out to me that this is probably not a technique for beginners and that they should learn the basics first but, it's your axe so if you are looking for a practice drill that will strengthen your fretting fingers (like swinging a bat with weight before your up), playing around with this won't ruin you any.
  5. ii7-V7


    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD
    I was thinking about this later and realized that I do a little of this too, particularly in the upper registers. Sort of like "thumb position" on an upright. I see how it can be done. I think it would be easier on a fretted bass, but Gary Willis plays fretless.

    Spindizzy, I'm glad that you were able to find something that allows you to play without pain. But I dont' think I would teach this to a student unless there was some physical problem to overcome. I just don't see using your thumb as being something that inhibits mobility.

    Ah, well! Maybe I'm just stuck in my ways.