In praise of the floating thumb technique.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BusyFingers, Jan 11, 2017.

  1. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    If you're considering dedicating yourself to this technique, I cannot recommend it enough. For me, formerly being a half-hearted pick-playing bassist, it was really awkward and frustrating for me to adopt this new method. All the movements were completely new to me, so it took me approximately 2 months (a little practice daily like Fergie suggested) to get comfortable and fluent enough to do it without much thought.

    Now that I've gotten comfortable with it it, I can focus on my left hand technique which seems to be requiring a bit of exploration as I develop my style and fit it with my ergonomics. But, I don't have to think about my right hand anymore so I am free to develop the best left hand technique I can.

    If you're on the fence, don't hesitate. It was the single best choice I've made as a bassist.

    Here is a short clip of me running through a busy bassline. The phone, which was on vibrate, began to ring at the end, but you get the idea:

  2. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    Here are some videos I found helpful when learning this technique:

    Todd Johnson has a great intro to the floating thumb:

    Fergie Fulton also has some great right hand technique vids:
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
    JAKeverline and David A. Davis like this.
  3. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Here is Todd Johnson (the guy in the top clip above) in action :

  4. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    Switching to the floating thumb technique was a breakthrough for me, too. It enabled me to play much more relaxed and with softer touch, thus making it possible to have better control over my sound. Along with it, I use my index and ring finger for plucking...being of a similar length the string skipping and crossing is much less awkward in any direction than with middle finger.
  5. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
  6. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    And because of the way the technique is, it is kind of foolproof to an extent because it cleans up a lot of issues related to consistency of attack making your tone much more even.

    I am wondering now, though, if perhaps a wider string spacing would be better for me. I'm using a 1.5 wide nut with this mustang, but feel like I should see if a P bass spacing would make this technique even better for me. I dunno... just a thought.
  7. thirtyhz

    thirtyhz Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2001
    When I had a foray into 6 and 7 string basses years back it was the only way I could get around the beasts comfortably. After a short while it became second nature as I feel its a more natural and ergonomic position. To me thumb resting changes the angle of attack on each string. With FT the angle stays the same and I Id like to think I can articulate notes much beter with less strain. Now its old habit on 4/5s and never think about it unless someone notices. Here's my version sans amp just to show right hand and cat. I know no sound, crappy quality bla bla bla
    tlc1976 likes this.
  8. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016

    Nice. Thanks for sharing. Cute cat, though through experience I've found tuxedo cats to be exceedingly sketchy.
  9. thirtyhz

    thirtyhz Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2001
    Thanks, true about the cat. My pinky is obviously a problem but thats from drinking high priced wine with the upper crust.
  10. Mechayoshi


    Dec 7, 2015
    I can almost do this except things get really awkward while playing on the E string. I need more practice!
  11. thirtyhz

    thirtyhz Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2001
    Yeah thats a tough one cause you end up hanging in thin air with no anchor. But if your thumb is mostly just hanging and floating it will come as second nature with practice, as you said. The B or E have always felt different to me though.
  12. _sky_


    Jan 8, 2012
    When playing in the E string, my thumb end pressing the body of the neck. Not with to much strenght though. At least this is what works for me.
  13. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    My anchor while I'm on the E is my forearm against the body of the bass. It was the hardest part to get used to, but I eventually got there.

    I also think your shoulder helps to stabilize a lot once you get used to the form.
  14. vilshofen


    Dec 27, 2007
    Busyfingers, to the extent you avoid rh thumb contact with the body of the bass, you're avoiding tension, strain (Cf. thirtyhz, above) -- which may not be a factor for you now, but - believe me - could easily build up and affect your playing later on as you approach geezerhood.
  15. It never worked for me. It just feels like "i dont know where the hand is" and forces me to look at it to realize the distance between the hand and the string i want to pluck.
  16. tlc1976


    Aug 2, 2016
    I just do it all the time without thinking about it. I agree, I think it comes natural from playing extended range basses. Started playing a 6 in 1995.
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I think this is an under-appreciated advantage of the floating-thumb technique. When your thumb is firmly anchored on the pickup or body, the extra (unnecessary) leverage provided makes it all too easy to pluck hard. With the thumb floating, it feels more natural and much easier to pluck softly. At least, that's been my experience.
    _sky_ and GastonD like this.
  18. _sky_


    Jan 8, 2012
    Completly spot on. If I want to play aggressively I need to anchor my thumb. I Just can´t do it in float mode
  19. bass71


    Nov 18, 2007
    This is exactly my experience too after clanking about for 25 yrs. Also coincided with a concerted attempt to improve my reading etc...never been happier.
  20. PunkNerve

    PunkNerve Fender Guitar and Bass Historian

    Apr 24, 2016
    Funnily enough, I have always used the floating thumb technique, even without knowing what it was. It was only about a year ago that I found out what it was.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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