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How important is the floating thumb technique?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Lord Henry, May 15, 2006.

  1. There seems to be a feeling, both here and from what I've read on the web, that the floating thumb technique is the best way to play when plucking. It just feels really unnatural to me. When I first picked up a bass I placed my thumb on the pickup and that is still where it feels happiest. Whenever I try and float I end up missing strings and it slows me down massively.

    Now, I want to be as good at the bass as I can. I don't want to get a few more years down the line and find that I hit a wall and have to unlearn my picking style to improve. Realistically it would be better to force myself to float now and prevent problems in the future, if it really does make that much of a difference.

    So what do you guys think? Should I go through the grind of changing my playing or will I be able to go as far as I want with my current technique? Does anyone know if any of the greats (Miller, Wooten, Hamm, whoever) rooted on the pup rather than floating?

    All advice will be welcome.

  2. Demon


    Mar 17, 2006
    Sweden, Stockholm
    Steve Harris while not a solo bassist is a great bassplayer. He has the thumb on the pup unless im wrong:/ Having the thumb on the pickups help for power and you can move around while playing.
  3. Thunder_Fingers


    Jun 24, 2004
    i believe harris use the floating thumb...
  4. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    James Jamerson and Duck Dunn. Not that I'm as great as they were, but I don't use it and many other pros I've seen don't. Whatever works best for you is generally the best method. I mount my thumb on my pickguard and play a pbass in front of the pickup.
  5. Demon


    Mar 17, 2006
    Sweden, Stockholm
    Dang ur actually right^^ But anyway the rest of my message is still right, if you prefer playing hard you might wanna anchor it.
  6. I didn't start using that technique until this year and I can relate to how awkward it feels at first, but I got used to it quickly and it helps a great deal in muting. As for power - I have no problem generating plenty of power while floating - but that is me.

    As for whether you should use it or not? How noisy are the rest of the strings when you are playing? Are you getting a lot of residual noise from strings you are not using as you go up scales? If you ARE getting a lot of extra string noise while ascending a scale (going from the low E string up to the G string) then you may want to explore the float as one way to control that.

    If you are not having any issues with muting while you play, then do what works for you. It is important that you feel comfortable in your own skin AND it is important that you pay attention to those other strings and keep 'em quiet.

    I was watching Chuck Rainey up-close and personal last week and I noticed his right hand, while playing a more traditional fingerstyle, flails like crazy at those strings, thumb anchored - that right hand does what ever it has to to get the part out and it looks like a lot of work, but he is able to control the other strings with a really amazing left hand muting technique that I really can't get my head around. It looks like he is choking the neck and his thumb even comes over the top at times to do muting duty... He gets this amazingly woody, choked, old-school sound that I am guessing is a direct result of that big-old left hand muting the strings constantly. Now he also gets a really bright, open and airy sound too when he needs it, so I just gotta say his ability to control his instrument is what makes him so amazing! I love his sound but don't think I could mute the way he does in a million years.

    So should you? I don't know... should you? ;)

  7. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    So wouldn't it make sense to learn as many techniques as you can? ;) Some pros have made it and don't use a floating thumb, but some "pros" have also made it with their bass slung around their knees. What works for some will not necessarily work for all!

    I will agree that it is awkward at first, but I believe it has helped my own playing immensely. But, that's just me!
  8. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    +1, if you have a problem that would solve, use it, if what you're doing works use that.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I've been making my living for 20 years now, and I don't float either.
  10. As usual tZar is making really good sense. Thinking about it I'm not having any real problems with muting (and yes it is mostly left hand) so I think I'll stick with what I'm doing at the moment. Right now I have plenty to be doing, both in terms of improving my playing and writing. Floating is going on my 'things to try when I'm at a loose end' list, along with double thump and three and four finger picking styles.

    Thanks for all the help guys.

  11. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Floating Thumb is one of those things that benifits more the more strings you have too. If your mainly a 4-banger, then floating thumb likely wont be all that usefull to you. Some, but not as much as say someone playing a 9 string monster or something. The more strings, the more strings to keep quiet, and using the floating thumb solves a lot of issues for a lot of people. Weather its necessary to learn, depends on you though.
  12. spindizzy


    Apr 12, 2004
    There are many here that have become kind of floating thumb evengelists including myself. However I also believe that you are you and you must decide what helps you express yourself in your own way. If the floating thumb isn't for you than it isn't. It won't make you or break you in your quest to be the best you can be. I write about it here because it has worked for me and I hope others will give it a try. If you do and it doesn't, move on and continue your develpment of what does work for you.

    It's the same with double thumb technique. I hear about it all the time, everyone praises Victor, everyone says it's the only way. I tried for a while but my floating thumb doesn't want to change how it works so I can't say I am much of a double thumber. Am I the worse for it? Doubt it. Give it a honest try and then move on.
  13. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    Plus I'm guessing most basses with 6+ strings are active, which will generally mean more sustain.
  14. And furthermore... LOL

    My cheapo acoustic bass guitar (4 string) has no object on it to anchor my thumb and it feels awkward to just put my thumb on the sound board and I don't find anchoring off of a string to be all the 'anchoring' so the float works for me there too.

    And here is the big-old Kumbayah statement - Any technique that works for you, works for me! I think the most important thing is that you are concerned about your technique. That simple fact alone should take you far in finding what works for you.

    Go in peas, my brutha!
  15. I don't think that floating thumb is necessary until you are playing 7+ strings. Maybe if you play 6 depending on how big your hand is. Don't feel like you ever "need" to learn it though. I haven't learned it, and I play 6 and get around just fine.
  16. Fro0d


    May 7, 2006
    I have my thumb on the pick-ups unless I am slapping while plucking. Unless I am mis-understanding, what you are doing is totally fine.
  17. McHack


    Jul 29, 2003
    Central Ohio!
    The primary benefit of the floating thumb, isnt so much about positioning... but really its a function to aid muting. How many guys already use the B string as a thumb rest? That's the first step.

    I've only recently starting floating in the past few months. This transition felt unnatural for me, as well. Hell, I wouldnt even say my transition is complete. The other thing I like about it, is you can easily slide yer plucking position up or down the strings to soften or harden your tone on the string.

    But, like anything else, do what feels right to you!
  18. IanStephenson

    IanStephenson UnRegistered User

    Apr 8, 2006
    I only play 4 string, and floating is a bit limited - it only really comes into play on the G string where I'd mute the A (the D being covered by the pull through).

    However I definatly rest my thumb on the E - it's really no different to resting on a pickup, you get muting (and that string does resonate) and you can postion your hand optimally for comfort and tone.

    I'd say thumb on the E is a no-brainer compromise... But then thats just how i do it...

  19. Well, it's not really floating thumb to rest on the top string. Everyone does that, eh?
  20. I've heard this several times, but I don't get it. How does not having a thumb rest aid in muting? Plus - what's wrong fret hand muting? I've never had muting problems with this method, anyway.

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