How do I shift weight away from my thumb?

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by TroyK, Mar 1, 2021.

  1. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I've been practicing a lot this year and I've been working on things that I haven't put enough time into in the past, like arco work and learning bop heads and sight reading and working through fingerings and you know all the stuff that you can sort of get away with not owning like you should, but really shouldn't. And it's going great.

    But, for the first time ever, I'm feeling all that pressure on my thumb that some of you guys talk about. I've been experimenting with leaning my bass into me at different angles and use my left arm weight instead of gripping it, but I feel like my left thumb is doing way more than it's share of supporting the weight of the bass as I navigate my way round those passages and it's starting to hurt and cause some numbness.

    If I was comfortable with an in-person lesson, I have someone who I could go to here locally, but wondering if any of you have cyber-advice that would help and enable me to keep going with the practice for now. I'm not a sitter, but I suppose I could try that or maybe at least spend some of my practice time on a stool.
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Keep experimenting.

    A visualization I find very useful is: Imagine the fingerboard is soft. Your arm weight cause your fingers to sink through the fingerboard until they rest on the neck proper.

  3. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Let the bass fall forward into your hand, rather than leaning it back into you:

    Klinghoffer vid:
  4. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    And yes, try the stool as well. I switched to the stool about 1 year into playing and it really helped me exaggerate the "left arm weight" technique. It's much easier to avoid using your left thumb the more cello-like your sitting position is. (In my limited experience).
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  5. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I really don't like sitting, though. It does make the left hand work easier, but I don't like virtually any other thing about it. My leg on the back of the bass muffles the sound. I also feel like it interferes with my pizz attack and I realize how much of the time I associate with either tapping my foot or slightly shifting my weight from foot to foot when I stand.

    I appreciate the video. I will spend some quiet time with it and see if it helps. It seems that "let if fall forward" technique (which I was taught) is opposite of the more contemporary approach of letting it fall back on you. Maybe I've been trying to modernize more and that's why suddenly this is becoming an issue for me.
    Jason Hollar likes this.
  6. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Agreed. It helps when my legs and left hand are tired, or if I'm in a looooong rehearsal, but otherwise, I'm not a huge fan of sitting. BUT playing that way for a few weeks helped me internalize what if feels like to "press" the strings into the fingerboard, rather than squeeze the neck.

    So when I stand back up for regular practice, It's easier for me to find that kinesthetic feeling again (and stop squeezing).
  7. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Hmmm... So maybe I should try splitting my practice time this week between sitting and standing and work on each approach while I'm doing it.

    It seems most contemporary pedagogues involve leaning the bass way back on you and supporting it with your body and rotating the bass out, more like a cello. I do find it easier to articulate passages with my left hand this way, but as of now, that's all that I really like about it. I just went back to the bass and played a bit with the bass hyper-vertical and almost leaning forward into my fingers, which my old teacher had me too. That certainly alleviates the pressure on the thumb and I can play that way and probably mostly have for the last x years, but I do think that I lose some left hand faculty that way and I can't really bring arco into every effectively like that.

    I'm going to work from the video you posted when I am free to do so, maybe the answer is waiting for me in there somewhere. Thanks for weighing in.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  8. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I find this is a bad habit I indulge every now and again. It's happens more when I play arco. I think that's because as much progress as I've made playing arco, it's still not as natural as pizz for me, so I tense up a bit and am distracted by focusing on my bowing.

    Two things have helped me in the past:

    1) playing e-octave scales or arps, pizz or arco. After a half an hour of that, my left hand is very agile, my pivoting is in full use and it's simply more natural to not press the neck between my thumb and fingers in order to play the scales well, particular at a quicker pace. I used to do a quarter = 60 bpm, then 8th notes, than 8th note triplets and finally 16ths, so I think that's 240 bpm if I've multiplied correctly.

    2) I practice it. I play a tune and I concentrate on not pressing with my thumb, just having it rest on the back. I'd do that for 10 or 15 minutes and I think that practice helped. I having been squeezing recently, but as I said above, I learned not to squeeze and then found myself squeezing and had to remind myself not to squeeze. I do find it interesting how my habits change over time and I develop new bad habits, resume old bad habits, and develop new useful techniques all in some kind of technique goulash.

    Hope something in there helps you.
    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  9. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I think the whole "arm weight" thing is kind of bogus.

    If you play bass standing, your left arm is nearly horizontal, and the neck is tilted a bit back from vertical. Your "arm weight" will pull your left hand toward the floor, whereas stopping the strings requires you to pull back almost horizontally. If you try not to use the thumb, you have to yank the bass back against your body. This works fine in higher positions but down in half and first position it just makes the neck wave all over the place.

    Obviously you shouldn't use any more force than is necessary to push the string down on the fingerboard, but the force exerted against the strings by your fingers is reacted both by the thumb and by some degree of the bass pushing back against your body and your body pushing back against the bass.

    I think "arm weight" is really meant to get students to relax the left arm so there's no tension or muscle force above the minimum used to stop the strings. As a metaphor this phrase has never worked for me.
    Reiska likes this.
  10. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    So, while I don't think the idea of arm weight is "bogus" necessarily, I do think that turf is bringing up a good point - I find that metaphor much more helpful for my right hand, and as advice for players who use much more of an angle when sitting (or using a laborie endpin). I sit, but I hold the bass much more vertically than I used to, and the concept that really resonated with me was the idea of "pulling" the bass.

    Consider a ledge that you're trying to pull yourself up onto, or for a more real-world example, pulling down a garage door or car trunk. You can perform each of those motions without your thumb because you're engaging your upper arm and back muscles to perform the pulling motion while holding the object in place with your fingers and yourself in place with ... well, yourself!

    When we grip things, we're basically performing this motion in miniature. The tips of the fingers are doing the same thing, your lower arm muscles are doing the pulling, and your thumb (and its associated musculature) is the opposing force instead of your whole body.

    Idunno about you, but I would describe that as decidedly less efficient than the larger motion.

    Putting that garage door pulling into practice on the bass, we physically pull the strings to the neck using those larger muscles. This pulls the bass along with it, so we use the anchor points that connect our bass to our body to oppose that force. For me, as a sitting player with my knee elevated, that means my knee and my breastbone - It'll be different for you.

    Hope this helps,

  11. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Okay, I'll take the bait here and say the obvious, that just because YOU don't understand something, doesn't make it bogus. That seems to me as being a small-minded and anti-social point of view. I recommend that next time @turf3 doesn't understand something, that they ask for an explanation before making a judgement because it will make the conversation more pleasant for everyone. I found @eerbrev 's explanation helpful in diagnosing the lack of comprehension and providing a useful analogy for understanding the "arm-weight thing" when standing holding the bass nearly vertically. Because of that issue, many of us lean our basses back towards us at an angle to the floor so that the weight of our arm does do more work for us. And bent endpins can help make that work better. But John Goldsby holds the bass nearly vertically and my observation is that @eerbrev 's explanation is spot on, that John pulls into the fingerboard with his fingers rather than squeezing. Watch John in action in any of the WDR Big Band videos and I think you'll see what I mean. In that stance, the weight of your arm is still a force vector, but it's no longer perpendicular to the ground, it's perpendicular to your body.
    eerbrev likes this.
  12. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    This isn't a technique that anyone showed me, just something I kind of adapted to on my own, so it may not work for anyone else. It does allow me to play pain-free after achieving gnarly tendonitis (or some other painful undiagnosed injury, whatever that was) though. Basically I pull against the first callus pads on my palm, the ones under the index/middle finger that blister when you use a shovel too long. I stand while playing, with the rear corner of the upper bout leaned into my belly button area. This technique allows the thumb to float free, sometimes I point it up like a hitchhiker just to remind myself. It's a combo of pulling the elbow (against the bout/belly button contact) and pivoting the hand, finger against palm callus.

    Yeah, flip phone takes bad photos and I got a ugly hand, what of it. Arrows point to approximate main contact/pivot area.
  13. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I actually appreciate the contrasting opinions and would ask you all to provide counterpoints without tearing each other down. It will help me find my way to a better form.
  14. I was going to mention something along the lines of unbrokenchain. I often play without my thumb pressing on the instrument.
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  15. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    The arm weight concept requires that you don't hold your left arm out straight but let your elbow drop down to a comfortable angle so that your hand is in a relaxed position on the neck. You don't "pull" against the neck, you just let your arm relax downward. The Gary Peacock video lesson has an exercise that has the player drop the left arm and use gradual amounts of weight-pressure to get a clear tone on the string. He emphasizes how little actual thumb it takes. It helped me. There's an old Jay Leonhart concert video(maybe on YouTube?) where you can see this in action. The way he uses his left arm and hand is to me the ideal technique- relaxed but totally functional. Having the instrument balanced is also very important. You have to get used to the idea that you're not holding up the bass with your thumb at all. It took me a while to get used to this, especially arco, but it's doable. Balancing the instrument is something that isn't emphasized enough IMO, another reason why I don't play sitting at all any more.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  16. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I really appreciate all of the responses, every one of them. Please keep them coming and please allow for alternate points of view. A member has PMed some really valuable information that he said he wasn't comfortable posting because he thought his viewpoint would not be broadly respected here. Let's please not be that way, guys. I'm a grown up and an experienced player and I asked for advice. I can decide in the end which to embrace more fully.

    I've never had this thumb issue before. I have had some shoulder and scapula/like issues in that past that I worked through. Alexander Technique helped and regular lessons with a great teacher who no longer lives in the area helped too. There is a teacher nearby who I've worked with before and I'm sure a lesson with him could help, but ... covid. I may reach out to him anyway, am just exploring position changes for now.

    Sitting vs Standing - I'm a stander. I used to practice more sitting and have started doing so again recently. I've also been trying to lean the bass back into me more as it would with a laborie or similar end pin (understanding that you can't achieve the same thing with a traditional end pin).

    I've considered drilling or trying something like the Robpin, but every bass I've played that was owned by a convert felt awkward to me. The argument for them is that it keeps you from having to support the weight of the bass, but I always had the opposite experience - I felt like I was going to be crushed by the bass and had to fight to keep it in place. That was always explained away as "mine would have to be drilled specifically for me". But none of the luthiers who I have talked to were advocates, though they all said that they had done it. A few had said they had reversed them on the same basses later when the player asked. I've also always thought that if I was going to do that, I would want to have a teacher who did as well to advise and coach me through the process. None of the Seattle area teachers who I know of use an angled endpin.

    As a stander, whoever said the bass is almost vertical is right or is right sometimes. I think one thing I like about standing is that I can move the bass around and have it lay back more at times and stand up more vertically at others. My old teacher had me lay it almost falling forward toward the fingerboard in practice some times to get that pulling, not squeezing thing.

    Other things that may be triggering this now:

    I'm practicing a lot and I'm experimenting with the bass, the setup, my position, and even material; more arco, more bop heads.

    I need to settle into a string set and gauge and stop fooling with that pretty soon and this could be a factor in that decision. All of the advice, photos and videos are helpful too, even if I decide that some of it isn't for me in the end.

    Curious, though:

    I know that the angled endpin position is a big deal and is used by great players who I really respect. I know other great players who use traditional endpin and orient the bass accordingly. Any thoughts about how two completely contradictory choice both seem to work or not depending on the player?
    strigidae and unbrokenchain like this.
  17. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I wondered about that when I started going to the Aebersold camps. Completely different implementations, or contradictory advice from players who regularly demonstrate their bona fides.
    For the advice, frequently, it's about a specific situation and the mistake is to over-generalize the advice, or to think that only one method will work. As to the different methods, the end result is the same.
    I remember working on trying to pull a good pizz tone and practicing the side of the finger at the end of the board thing when a very in-demand regional player told me to pluck the strings with a lot of energy with my fingers perpendicular to the strings. He was completely contradicting the advice I'd been trying to follow. When I considered it further, with his method the tone doesn't sound the same as the side of the finger technique, but it can sound good if you do it with enough energy, mostly speed, really. The attack isn't as sharp as with the side of the finger but it's easier to play quickly and sometimes that attack is desirable. When I started asking the other teachers about it, they demonstrated a similar technique with similar results as the regional player.
    As for this specific case, playing with the bass vertically versus laying it down, it's seems plain to me that both strategies can produce good results because of the concrete examples I can think of off the top of my head. I think that the great players keep adjusting their method until they achieve the tone and comfort that they're looking for and even though they may apply the different aspects differently, the same concepts are involved in working through the process.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021
  18. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I can't help you with standing, but I found sitting was pretty much a revelation for my playing, and specifically for the question your are posing. Many of the issues you don't like about sitting can be addressed by finding the right stool and adjusting how you sit.

    The KC Strings stool worked really well for me, but since it's not adjustable it's not going to be ergonomic for everyone. I am 5',9" and have a 30" inseam. Long torso, short arms and legs.


    This stool has a wide seating area so you can move around to relieve pressure. Also you can put your feet up on the stool, flat on the ground, or one foot up, one foot down.

    The last time I transitioned to sitting it was pretty arduous. I would say it took at least a good 6-months and I was on the verge of totally giving up because I was so frustrated. But once I found the right position and started relaxing into it, it really freed up my technique in a substantial way, especially my ability to properly use left and right arm weighting. This allowed me to modify my left hand technique and minimize the amount of pressure on the thumb.

    IMHO, this is the sort of transition you really have to complete before you can fairly judge it. If you bail before you have really done the work, you haven't really made an informed decision.

    When standing, I always felt the thumb had a pretty significant role in stabilizing the bass. Not saying it has to, but when I play standing, it seems to come into play.

    If you can't work out a way to keep your knee from dampening the rear panel, I have seen knee rest attachments that are designed to resolve this concern. One is shown towards the middle of this page: Double Bass accessories and I have seen others as well.

    All of our bodies are different, so for some people sitting just doesn't work. Ultimately it's your decision to do what is best for you body and your playing style. Good luck on your journey.
    Keith Rawlings, Tom Lane and TroyK like this.
  19. rknea

    rknea Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2007
    Boise, ID
    Tom Lane and unbrokenchain like this.
  20. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    I've tried more different approaches to all of this over the years than I can hope to remember. One of the many things I've learned from teaching is there are as many methods as there are players. Ergonomics is much more of a thing than it was when I started playing. I believe that relaxation and efficiency of technique are the main concerns. Everything else is pretty much individual. There are too many variables to take into account. One thing that I have paid more attention to as I age is economy of non-essentials(for me).I don't want to carry or deal with anything I don't need on a regular basis - no stool, no extra gear that makes hauling more complicated. I think it makes me play better.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021
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