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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. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I totally agree. I did a couple summers at Orford with Joel Quarrington, and if I could distill the vast, vast majority of his advice about bass playing down into one concept it would be something like -

    Remember all those things your teacher told you to do in your first lessons? Good posture, good left-hand technique, use your big muscles wherever possible, don't squeeze, don't press with the bow, etc etc etc?

    Yeah, do those things.

    That philosophy got me through a master's degree where for the first year I was unable to practice more than an hour or two a day (or not at all if we had an orchestral rehearsal because I had to save my hands for that).
    Reiska, Tom Lane and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  2. Michael Glynn

    Michael Glynn

    Feb 25, 2004
    Here's a quick exercise:

    Hold your left arm out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Now let your arm fall. Which way do the fingers move?

    Answer: Down and back towards your body. Your arm is being pulled straight down by gravity, but because the arm is rotating around the shoulder joint, some of this force is redirected back towards your body. If you also allow your elbow to flex as you drop your arm, the hand and fingers move back even more directly towards the body.

    There is plenty of muscle involvement as well of course, but I do think that by careful positioning of ourselves and the bass, and control over which joints move and in which direction, we can use the weight of the arm as an important element in pressing the fingers into the fingerboard in a standing position.
    Selim, Treyzer, Chris Symer and 2 others like this.
  3. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I for one don't necessarily disagree with the two explanations of the term. IMHO they are largely synonymous.

    I believe you are ignoring an important distinction though. When sitting the bass tends to be anchored at various places. This stabilizes the bass specifically, so you can use arm weighting or pulling from the core. Your ability to do this is essentially unlimited; so you can play with no thumb at all if you want. Although IMHO, slight thumb pressure actually improves the stability and accuracy of the hand and fingers. So IMHO ideally one would aspire to use the thumb to stabilize the hand and fingers, rather than to stabilize the bass.

    The standing posture and interface with the instrument that many of us use(d) requires the thumb to be involved to stabilized the bass and oppose the forces of bowing and the clenching fingers, so arm weighting or pulling from the core is not viable, or at least not as viable. I believe the thumb of the plucking hand helps to stabilize the bass as well, so I didn't not mention pizz...although sometimes you pizz without the thumb on the instrument.

    I am not saying there are no standing approaches that allow you to use left hand arm weighting or pulling from the core, but the standing approach I was taught largely did not. I could easily balance the bass without my hands, but as soon as I started playing, the thumb had to be used to keep the bass stable. Over the years I developed significant endurance and strength, although some long, fast technical passages would still pump up my thumb. That all went away after my final conversion to playing on a stool.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  4. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    It's those pesky laws of physics.

    There is simply no way that with the bass standing on its end pin, supported in only one other place at the rear corner of the upper bass bout pressing against the player's belly, that you can just pull straight back against the neck up near the nut, hard enough to stop the strings, without having the thing wave all over the place. Try it. Never mind fingering a note. Just put the bass in normal playing position, grab the neck at the nut, and pull backward, hard. The bass will do its damndest to swiing about its axis and/or skid the end pin on the floor. I'm sorry, but the laws of physics say that if you're playing standing, your thumb's going to have to get involved in resisting the force of the fingers in stopping the strings, in the lower positions.

    Now if you're sitting, you can have at least one and probably two more contact positions with the bass, and now you can pull hard against the fingerboard.
    rknea, neilG and Wasnex like this.
  5. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I have watched the video and with all due respect I think you're counteracting the force of your fingers with your thumb - especially in the low positions - AND by pulling back against your body - more so in the high positions. What it looks like to me is that you're using absolutely no more force to stop the strings than is needed. I bet that if I could put a force transducer under your thumb, there'd be a lot more force there than you realize; but with a lifetime of playing it seems that you're not clamping much at all with the thumb.

    Just my two cents on that. As A far less experienced bassist, I have to break these things down in ways that those who've fully internalized them don't.
  6. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Definitely true with the standing method I use.

    If you watch Rufus, his bass seems like it might want to rotate a bit when he take his left hand off. The Laborie end pin seems to not only tilt the bass back into a position similar to the one I use while sitting, it also may apply a small rotational torque to the bass, which takes the weight off the thumb.

    Obviously the end pin would have to be at the perfect angle and one would have to have really worked out their physical relationship with the bass for this to have an chance of working...at least IMHO.

    All supposition on my part. At this point in my life I have no desires to go through the transition necessary to get comfortable with a Laborie endpin. I suspect in some ways it would be like learning the instrument all over again :bored:.
  7. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Discover Double Bass, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    True, that.

    You'd have to put a "force transducer" under the fingers on the fingerboard as well as under the thumb—to measure where the forces are coming from, in which proportion. I think you would find there is slightly more force coming into the top of the strings than from the thumb in the back.

    As I mentioned, it doesn't take much force to push down a string a couple of mm, you just have to do it ergonomically.

    Yes — I'm using my arm, wrist, hand and fingers to push the string into the fingerboard. With so much "weight" on the string, it's easy to stop the note.

    It seems like you've sold yourself on playing in a sitting position, which is totally cool.
    Selim, Chris Fitzgerald and Tom Lane like this.
  8. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Some day I may move to playing sitting down, but it complicates load-in and increases required stage space; and I would have to re-engineer my playing position and all that. I think the standing position is more flexible but the sitting position is more stable.
    Wasnex and Jason Hollar like this.
  9. Great thread. I've been able to develop my personal approach to playing comfortably and minimize pressure on the thumb. Especially, since as I get older, arthritis reminds me that I need to be aware and careful. It is very difficult to convey to someone what "weight" and "pressure" mean in words translating into application. As well, each instrument is different in shape detail, each person's body is different.

    In thinking about how to convey what factors make a difference and what that means to an individual, I came up with this.

    1. Place your bow hand in front of your chest approximately where the neck of the bass would be. As if you were reaching over to hold the neck, elbow down and relaxed.
    2. With your fingering hand, lightly grasp your bow hand, elbow also down and relaxed. Notice the finger pressure in this relaxed state.
    3. Keeping your fingers in the relaxed state, lift your fingering hand elbow slowly upward.

    Notice the pressure that the fingering hand puts against the bow hand without any help from the thumb or almost any effort from you.

    4. Vary your posture from leaning-in to upright. Notice how that affects the finger pressure.

    The challenge for me, and everyone I suppose, was to find the right position for you and the bass where that feeling of sufficient finger pressure with minimal thumb pressure exists. I play standing. For me the bass is at approximately 45 deg to my body, leaning and slightly pivoting into me, lightly resting on my side of my belly and knee. I have learned not to lean in too much when play the lower positions, only bringing the neck in to me when going to the thumb position. There are subtle body movements that are brought in to play in order to maintain a comfortable hand pressure especially between arco and pizz. That's hard to describe the specific movement, but I use the goal of a comfortable hand pressure with as little thumb pressure as possible to dictate what those subtle body changes are. When you discover what you need to move, it becomes more automatic.

    As always, it's a work in progress. That's the challenge and the joy.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
    oldNewbie, Tom Lane and Jason Hollar like this.
  10. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    I like this explanation a lot. It's a good demonstration of how much your left arm weighs and how it can help fingering and shifting. The concept of "pulling back" with your arm straight out from the bass neck is not correct IMO. If you let the elbow drop to about a 45 degree angle give-or take, and keep your hand and fingers as relaxed as you can while playing, the amount of weight vs. pressure you need becomes more obvious. Your elbow can stay in pretty-much the same place as your forearm moves your hand to where it needs to go. It took me a while to be able to get to this point but after playing for all the years I have with no arm or hand problems I believe in it. As others have said, relaxation with good technique and body mechanics is key. If you can't play relaxed without excessive squeezing, your strings are too high, there is some other issue with the bass itself or you are just working too hard and need to release some tension.
  11. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Setup, string height and particular instrument definently play a role on this one. I don`t compromise with string height too much as I need a instrument that projects acoustically. Also, I find low strings hard and uncomfortable to play as I have to seek for something that hardly is there at all ( this is about pizz playing ). Nothing too crazy though, it`s a balancing act for sure. I have Evah weichs on a big 3/4 - 7/8 bass with G at 7mm`s.
  12. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Thanks for the heads up @John Goldsby!!! I`ve watched the Fitzgerald videos very carefully :)

    I absolutely mean no disrespect, but isn`t this something we all do, or aim at, technique serving the sound we hear? It would be interesting to hear these virtuosos themselves explain their technique. I can`t think of anything else but that they might have found ways to play stuff relaxed, maybe moreso than the " orthodox " technique have allowed them to do. I`m no anti-simandl at all, it`s the standard brochedure to manouver a double bass, but I`d like to think that there`s a connection between the chops, sound and the techniques of these masters.
  13. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Discover Double Bass, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    My point was, when you hear an inexperienced bassist play, they are sometimes hung up on the mechanics of getting around the instrument. When you hear players like Larry or Christian,You get the feeling that it’s all about the music and there’s nothing on the instrument that is hanging them up technically. They are not super human… They’ve just practiced and performed a lot! This goes for any experienced player.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    +1. At the past ISB convention in Bloomington, a former student of mine and I sat in the second row for most concerts and watched a procession of master players play during the evening concerts. We amused ourselves by noting the various bass technique “rules/laws” broken by each player. Wrapping the thumb? Check. Playing on the pads rather than the tips? Check. Flat versus curved fingers? Check. Collapsed fingers in thumb position? Check.

    And yet, the music never suffered.
    Treyzer, Wasnex, Tom Lane and 3 others like this.
  15. Seems to me that after years and years of playing and hopefully having good instructors/mentors/teachers, a good bassist will just play without any conscious thought or effort regarding technical issues.
  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ

    From: A Punch is Just a Punch — Leadership Lessons from Bruce Lee |
    See also #51 The Three Stages — Bruce Lee

  17. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Just ruminating, but i am wondering if there is not enough respect given to left hand arco vs left hand pizz. The demands of each are somewhat different, and for me, it seems to inform my hand shape. I even position the bass much differently when playing arco. For pizz, the bass is more straight up and i like to get out in front of the bass to pull the string away from the bass. I keep my thumb as disengaged as possible, resting flat against the back of the neck or going up over the top of the neck baseball bat style. For arco, the bass goes more so facing outward and leaned back into me, and my thumb becomes a pivot point to achieve vibrato. I guess point being, a player needs to be open to changing quite a bit depending on the technique being used. I've tried in the past to reinforce a fixed hand shape/stance for all situations but it has never panned out for me.
  18. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Try a bent endpin
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    Primary TB Assistant

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