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How do I shift weight away from my thumb?

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

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I routinely practice the first go-round of anything without the left thumb at all, and put it back only after I've felt what it feels like to have core engagement while playing the passage. The thumb, at that point, seems more like a fine-tuning mechanism and passive lever than something that is used to squeeze with. But i have never found a way to do this while standing, so I sit.

    I think @Tom Lane 's explanation of John Goldsby'splaying position is like is good. I've watched John play for years, and it makes sense to me. I also notice that Rufus Reid and Lynn Seaton use their angled pins to achieve a seated-type posture while standing, which also resonates. We all prefer the posture that we prefer, but I think however you fall on that spectrum, minimizing left thumb squeeze is a good thing. As always, EEMWDSOCB.
    Wasnex and Tom Lane like this.
  2. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Every Eel Makes Water Dark Sometimes On Christmas Break?
    Cartier76 and Tom Lane like this.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Everyone Else’s Mother Wears Dirty, Smelly Old Combat Boots. It’s a 70’s thing.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Of course, I'm off my game.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  5. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Actually, I'd say Chris' "string of chars" embodies him perfectly: one of a kind and completely original, and I never would have guessed what they meant either, even being about his age. Get his duo album with David Klingman and you'll believe me. One of a kind artists are our best.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021
  6. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Got it!
    Chris Fitzgerald and Tom Lane like this.
  7. devnulljp

    devnulljp Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2009
    BC, Canada
    Admin on the D*A*M Forum
    This is what got me over that particular hump too. That guy is a gift to us all.
  8. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    I find the " arm weight " concept contradictional too. When sitting ( or standing with a rabbath endpin to some extent ) the arm weight becomes real as I can sort of hang my arm from the neck of the bass, but the process is fundamentally different when standing ( with a straight endpin ) and the bass non-locked to a position, as gravity doesn`t work horizontally too well. When sitting my arm is perpendicular to the neck naturally, but when I stand I need to mimic similar angle between my arm and the neck with control of my muscles. This way I can minimize the gripping on the thumb, at least to some extent. I don`t think it`s surprise that I see virtuosos like Edgar Meyer, Larry Grenadier and Christian McBride play with their thumb along and around the neck, very un-simandl way. I`d think these are all valid real-life ways to work around and over this issue. For me it`s impossible to maintain a whole step between 1st and 4th fingers with this sort of relaxed thumb on the lower positions, so I keep on grippin`, and practising both standing and sitting.

    My 2 cents.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Regarding the “arm weight” concept, I think it’s really more of a descriptive shortcut for “connect more to the core”. When sitting, it kind of literally has meaning when the bass neck is leaning back and you are hanging your left hand from it or leveraging down into it from above in TP.

    When standing, obviously gravity works differently, but I think the intent of the use of the phrase “use more arm weight” is really to move the leveraging of muscular force further from the hand zone and more into the core zone.

    We have to move in different directions with our hands on both sides of the body when playing the bass. “Arm weight” clearly can’t help our hands/arms move in an upward direction, but core connection can. As my old piano mentor used to remind me for years with a series of questions:

    - How do you move your fingers without moving your fingers? (move your wrist)
    - How do you move your hand without moving your hand? (move your arm)
    - How do you move your arm without moving your arm? (Rotate your torso)
    Seanto, Reiska, oldNewbie and 2 others like this.
  10. Jason Hollar

    Jason Hollar Jazz & Cocktails Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2005
    Central Pa
    Troy - I also prefer standing. I keep my Upton bass low - as in endpin all the way in or only up one “notch”.

    I’m not short - 5’10” - but I find keeping the center of gravity lower, I can balance and maneuver the bass more comfortably.

    But I feel your pain. I’ve been getting a lot of thumb discomfort lately when playing my Busetto standing. I’m having trouble adjusting to the body dimensions when the instrument is raised up where I need the notes to be. It’s a much better sit-down bass for me.
  11. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, if you want to redefine the word "weight" to mean "pulling back with your arm perpendicular to the fingerboard" rather than "the force of gravity" I suppose that's your prerogative, but don't expect all of us to go along with your ad hoc redefinition.

    if you claim you're not redefining the word "weight" then explain, please, how a force acting nearly parallel to the fingerboard is going to help you push your fingers down perpendicular to the fingerboard (and let me clarify, I'm only talking about the standing position, normal bass, normal end pin, normal standard arm position).

    In higher positions, there's little lever arm length between the place where the finger is and the place where the bass hits you in the belly, so it's easy simply to press down without using the thumb to react the force of the fingers. But in the low positions, pulling back against the neck causes the neck to wave all over the place. And dropping the elbow while using the thumb as a fulcrum helps you apply force on the index finger, but lifts the little finger away from the string. Are you claiming that I should drop my elbow for notes played with the index finger and raise it for those with the little finger? I don't think so.

    So, please explain. Are you simply following the Humpty Dumpty rule of vocabulary ("When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all.") and redefining "weight" as a pull of the muscles of the arm and trunk, more or less parallel to the ground, or is there some other explanation here?

    The few times I've experimented with sitting, it makes the whole "arm weight" thing meaningful, because you really CAN allow the weight of your arm (using the term correctly as the force exerted by the earth's gravitational field) to help pull, as well as having a third fixed point for the bass so the neck doesn't wave all over the place when you try to pull the strings down without clamping with the thumb.

    If, on the other hand, you want to say "arm weight" is an analogy, that's fine, but then don't excoriate me for saying the analogy doesn't work for me.
    BobKay likes this.
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As a moderator of this forum, I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone to be respectful in their replies, and to not make things personal that really should not be personal. Thanks.
    strigidae, rknea, Wasnex and 2 others like this.
  13. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    While I sit, and find it really works for me most of the time, I don't think that sitting, or getting a Laborie endpin, are necessary for you to switch to to relieve your thumb pressure. I liked Tom's post as well (thanks for the mention) and thought the info about John Goldsby was helpful.

    Maybe something to try just to get yourself out of a habit, but no need to make it permanent. There's days I hate my stool, fam. Gotta carry the darn thing around all the time? UGH.

    From what I understand it's just making the physics equation even out. you're pulling the bass towards you with the motion that's pulling the strings to the fingerboard. You need to stop that motion from moving the bass, and your options are basically put your thumb in the way, or put your body in the way, right? Your knee, your chest, your thigh, your foot (alla Ludwig Streicher), your ever-growing pile of bills, the weight of your depression, another bass ... whatever you have around.
    Jason Hollar likes this.
  14. In my case, I find that a sore thumb usually happens because I'm simply trying to hard. I need to deliberately think not to "squeeze" as part of whatever it is I'm working on.

    I seem to never get a sore thumb when I'm just playing...only when I am practicing something intensely. I think the pain and tension is a result of my state of mind.

    I know this isn't very useful, but I have had the same issue as you in the last year since I've spent considerably more time practicing than ever before. It's just an observation...
    Tom Lane, Chris Fitzgerald and TroyK like this.
  15. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    It actually might be useful because I can say the same. This is new to me and it is true that playing out has gone to zero and practice has cranked up to 11.
  16. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    I mentioned in another thread about practicing that I am intentionally not working on much new material during this time but instead trying to play basic exercises to maintain some sort of playing shape but not stressing mentally or physically, concentrating on good technique and relaxation. This is a good time to really break things down and work on any technique issues. One of my old mentors always stressed one issue at a time and concentrating on just that. If I were having thumb problems I would do the simplest thing I could find that would deal with only that one issue until I felt comfortable and then move on.
    eerbrev, The Biz, Tom Lane and 2 others like this.
  17. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Discover Double Bass, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    I'll throw a couple of my thoughts into the arena here — feel free to take 'em or leave 'em (which almost goes without saying in this forum ;)

    I think about using the weight of my left arm when I stop a note on the fingerboard. That said, it's a very subtle combination of weight, finger control and the opposite action of the thumb on the other side of the neck. I can certainly stop a note without using the thumb—when I raise my arm and pull back with my curved finger on a note, the weight of my arm, hand and finger (pulling back against the fingerboard) is more than enough to press the string down a few mm to the fingerboard. I am of course using the thumb on the opposite side of the neck to keep my orientation and provide a counterbalance to the finger. However, the weight of the arm, hand and finger is greater than any muscular squeezing that I might be doing with my thumb.

    If I compare it to a mundane activity like opening a refrigerator door: I grab the door handle with my fingers, opposed by the thumb and then use the weight of my arm to open the door. I don't just tug on the door using my hand and finger muscles (I would never get to the beer). I use the weight of the arm to set the action in motion, as I'm pulling back in a perpendicular direction.

    If I were to use @turf3's more precise definition, I would say "I pull back with my arm perpendicular to the refrigerator," rather than "I use the weight of the arm to set the action in motion."

    So, it could be that I'm using the term "arm weight" as an analogy for using the combined power of the arm, wrist, hand and fingers:
    @Reiska mentioned Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier using unorthodox l.h. grips sometimes: They can do it and they always sound great—Their technique is serving the sound they hear. If you see a lot of different bassists play, you'll see a lot of ways to get around the fingerboard. (Check out @Chris Fitzgerald's videos on holding the bass, r.h. and l.h. techniques).

    I'll leave this video here to demonstrate how I stop the notes with the left hand. Since our cameraman had ants in his pants on this particular day, he moved in circles around the bass for the whole take, so there are a lot of shots of my thumb on the back of the neck.

    Here's a fun fact: I've tried the Laborie endpin, but I never grew to enjoy playing with it. There are lots of bass players who use it and sound great, of course.

    Fun fact #2: I really don't like to play sitting down, even though I will do it on occasion.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
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  18. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
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  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is a great point. We often ascribe actions to the minute part of the body that is the thing in direct contact. But in fact, you don't throw a ball with your hand or digest your food with your teeth. The example I like to use, similar to your refrigerator analogy, is how we turn doorknobs. We don't turn them with our fingers, or even our hands. We grab them, then drop our arm at the shoulder/elbow and that turns the doorknob. I don't think I've ever seen a person turn a doorknob counterclockwise. Of course, I've also never been to Australia.
    Reiska and Tom Lane like this.
  20. Dogfightgiggle


    Mar 4, 2020
    Larry Gray is another bassist who I remember saying he uses the “lean it forward” approach. It’s in his Contrabass Conversations interview if you want more details.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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