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Left Hand Positioning In The Neck

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Frosty2013, Mar 19, 2013.

  1. Frosty2013


    Mar 19, 2013
    I am absurdely new so bare with me in my quest for knowledge. :)

    I have been looking around the internet for proper hand positioning. And i seem to find mostly people saying that the thumb should be in the middle of the back of the neck.
    BUT, every time i see videos of big bass players, or good youtubers i always seem to see a lot of thumb over the neck.


    Paul McCartney:

    They all seem to be holding the thumb way higher than people recommend around. I don't get how to actually put my hand, i am getting massive mixed signals.

    I know for many of you this may be obvious (or not), but as a brand new player, my concern is to do it right.

    Thank you for your help :)
  2. Baird6869

    Baird6869 RIP Gord Downey. A True Canadian Icon.

    There is no right IMO. Play what feels best.
  3. mp40smg


    Aug 11, 2010
    Worcester, Ma.
    Hofner and Rics have substantially thinner necks than a standard Fender.

    Many would say, a thumb in the center of the neck opposite the middle finger as being "correct". That said, everybody's hands are different. You need to find what works for you.

    But, generally, thumb, opposite middle in the center is less likely to cause physical issues down the road.
  4. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    Much of it depends on the dexterity required. If you're thumping out a simple repetitive line, it makes no real difference. If you've got to get your fingers around the board in a hurry, having the thumb on the back of the neck and using it as a pivot is very helpful. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend thumb on the back of the neck. It's much easier to develop 'bad' habits (and know when you can get away with them) than it is to undevelop them.
  5. Frosty2013


    Mar 19, 2013
    So all those videos and guides that tell me the "correct" way are actually relative and not definitive?
    I should just do the one that fits me better?
    Also im starting out with a fender, so i guess the neck is thicker.
  6. gimp


    Jan 13, 2011
    Catonsville, MD
    This is the best advice. I'm trying to overcome this bad habit right now, and it's pretty hard to do after 17 years.
  7. Skygoneblue


    Nov 13, 2007
    Orlando, FL
    Try typing with your thumb tucked into your palm, and you'll understand why wrapping it around the neck will eventually cause you pain. It's much more natural for your 4 fingers to be opposed to your thumb and pinching than it is for all five of them to be pressing into your palm (which is what you're doing with your thumb over the neck).

    It's not a matter of correct vs. incorrect. It's a matter of if you care about hurting your wrist down the road, and being a more dextrous player when needed.
  8. bander68


    Jan 29, 2013
    I am also a relatively new bass player who's had essentially the exact same question since I started playing. My thumb's natural position is more of a hitchhiker's thumb. I've wondered the same thing, since I've read that it is supposed to oppose my first and second finger and it kind of sticks out towards the stock. I'm not really wrapping it around, though - it's more like instead of being in the middle of the neck it's under my B string of my 5-string Ibanez. I stopped at a local music store a few days ago and put a 4 string in my hands and was amazed at how much narrower that neck is. It got me wondering if I'm doing myself a disservice by starting on this bigger instrument.

    One more thing to add - I've been experiencing some mild cts, especially when I play around the 10-12 frets. My wrist is bent back ridiculously to reach the B string up there.
  9. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Guys, check out this clip :

  10. bander68


    Jan 29, 2013
    Thanks for another good answer, fearceol. That explains a lot. Next practice session, I'm going to try "thumbless" and "over the top" and see what happens.
  11. mr.gone


    Jan 23, 2011
    Saint Paul, MN
    That YouTube video about playing thumbless -- I'd take him more seriously if his playing sounded better. That intro sample when he's showing you his thumbless technique doesn't sound very good to me. His intonation sounds sloppy and the notes sound relatively weak.

    He's got a good point about the natural position of the hand, but I found a better video of a guy showing a "natural" technique that allowed you to touch the back of the neck with the thumb but showed how the position of the thumb is going to change as you move up and down the neck. See what you think of it:

  12. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    I think you are missing the point of the video clip. Fergie was merely trying to show you that the thumb is not absolutely necessary when you are playing the bass, but is there to support the fingers. Naturally, no one plays this way. He was just making the point. It was not a lesson on good intonation or anything else for that matter.

    That other clip you linked is also quoted here very often and is very good.
  13. vince a

    vince a

    Jun 13, 2006
    Modesto, CA
    Well, for the most part . . . playing bass is like playing lead guitar - all the time! I'm always moving; thus, my thumb position, relative to the place (middle, top, or wherever) on the back of the neck and opposite the 2nd and 3rd fingers is constantly moving/changing . . . so just play, and don't let your four fingers stack up!
  14. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
  15. mr.gone


    Jan 23, 2011
    Saint Paul, MN
    Thanks. I did get something out of the video, and I just rewatched it to see what I had missed. I get your overall point -- it's just that at the beginning and at the end, you say that among the options is for the thumb not even to touch the neck. And maybe you don't mean that literally -- that your point is that the thumb doesn't need to be in a certain position all the time. That I get, and I do appreciate the point about not getting carpal tunnel syndrome by trying to adhere to a rule about thumb placement that makes no sense.

    As a relative beginner, I'm probably less able to discern the overall message from the specific statements made on a video. The other video I cited I found more helpful because I got more of a sense about how my thumb's position will naturally change as I move from the lowest notes to the middle to the highest. I think you both were making the same point -- it's just that the thumb-no-touchee demo threw me into "huh?" land.
  16. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    There's lots of players who play with "wrong" technique like the one's you mentioned in your original post. That being said, you are more likely to limit yourself by playing with wrong technique than not. Since you're starting out, I'd say try to learn using proper technique with your thumb behind the neck, your technique will most likely be better for it in the long run. It will also enable you to play any bass, whereas players who play with the thumb around like that are limited to necks that feel comfortable to their hand.
  17. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota

    There is no right or wrong for the thumb when playing, but there is a right and wrong for the thumb as to its use.....and this is just not related to playing.
    The thumb is the unique part of our anatomy as no other animal on the planet has one that can do what ours can do....oppose the fingers of the same hand.

    The hand position and thumb debate is not new, the problem is it beats confused with mis-information because those talking about it do not understand it. Even respected teacher have got it so wrong because they used up-right bass teachings and applied them to the guitar. There is the clue guitar....it is a bass guitar, not a bass, acoustic bass, up-right bass, contra bass etc...it is a guitar.

    It is based on the plane (angle to the body) that the neck lies, so it is based in body mechanics of what the human body can do, so its as much about an individuals capabilities as it is about function....before we even talk about or teach a student to play any bass.
    Sure it pays to learn and start out with the basic fundamentals and rudiments of playing.....but start from the right place and for the right reasons applicable to you.
    The problem is you cannot if you do not have a teacher, and even then the teacher may be using flawed ideas, so how can you be sure what is being taught is for you?

    Simply put, up-right bass sits on the ground in an vertical plane, a bass guitar sits on the player on a horizontal plane......and all points between it and the vertical. The wrist/forearm lines need to be a straight and in-line as they can be when playing. That means for the most part, you can change angles, but always use 'straight and in-line' when ever you can.
    This means ignore the thumb, do not lose the 'lines' to keep the thumb in position.....let the thumb go.....it can move in many planes so let it

    All I show (and Adam in his) is that the thumb has to move and change to keep the wrist/forearm lines to minimal angles with the least amount of pressure.
    Then it is posture, (again not just bass guitar related) being relaxed and tension free and understand that playing problems and injuries come from two sources, mis-use and over use. Those are hard to live up to when learning because you will want to play as often as you can.....over use, and for long periods.....mis-use.
    But playing an instrument is as much about learning bookwork, as it is about the actual practice. So in this way of learning there are lots of breaks to read and learn as there are about practicing what you read and learn.....this way of learning helps insure your learning and practice is balanced.

    But there are those that do not need any of the above, so for them it is just pick up the instrument and play, and since a majority of players learn this way does not make it right, it just makes it popular.
    In the long run (as I see regularly) young and relatively new players (up to about 7years in) developing the same problems in their playing with the related Injuries to how they learned to play.

    So even if it is just one lesson, go and have your set-up looked at by a teacher, and even if you cannot afford lessons, at least you can practice correctly with what suits you.
    Now what suits you changes and develops, as a rule a player becomes stronger and more dexterous, so can move on to more challenging playing....some players start off way out of their league with obscure ideas about how they can play, and this is how they do it....they actively do the opposite of what is good.

    So with all that, here are three videos showing players using the 'wrong techniques', they break every 'rule' there has ever been taught, but the fact they are three of the biggest bass players to ever influence their generations of bass players........should make you think a bit about why you do what you do when you play.

    Is it because its functional, or is it because you just assume its function has to be this way? In the second video you will see some of the worlds top players on stage, check out the techniques they use....again every 'rule 'you will ever have read or heard about is being broken. :) :)



  18. mr.gone


    Jan 23, 2011
    Saint Paul, MN
    Thanks, Fergie. Actually, I did start out with a teacher who had good credentials -- and he was all about putting the finger on the back of the neck -- centered on the high point of the curve -- and never letting it move. He also discouraged me from getting a small-scale bass even though my hands are TINY.

    So now I'm letting the Squire Vintage Modified Jazz I bought on his recommendation for a full-size bass collect dust as I play my Ibanez Mikro.

    The teacher is a monster player, graduate of the Berklee College of Music (his classmate was Esperanza Spaulding -- he told me to check her out before anybody had heard of her), and a very nice guy. But he sure steered me wrong about a couple of fundamental issues of bass playing. So TalkBass.com has been very valuable as an alternative source of information.
  19. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Nice talking with you, and again you have encountered what I talk about when the person you pay and trust can only teach what they learned...all they do is pass on what know.....not what they understand.
    Point of fact, the short scale bass is a fantastic instrument, but it is seen as a weak option if you cannot handle a standard or full scale bass.......almost like you are less of a player for using one.

    But up-right basses come in many sizes, with 3/4 being the popular choice over a full size, but no-one looks down on those players for using them....as do drummers that use smaller kits, or anyone else that uses a smaller or scaled down instruments. I use short scale basses, I use picks, I use heavy flatwounds, extra light roundwounds,etc because it is all a learning experience in using and playing theses instruments.
    In the old days, the player had to fit the instrument, but these days with so many great instruments a player can find the exact bass for them.
    The one piece of advice I can offer with confidence about instruments is,
    When you find one that feels good and fits you hold on to it....never sell it. If you want a different sound, change the pups, change the EQ suite, change the bridge, change the tuners...change what you want to make it sound how you want......but you always retain that feel and fit.
    It sounds so simple to make a changes that amount to a couple of hundred bucks rather than spend upwards of several hundred for the same sound, but with different feel and an ill fitting instrument.
    Good luck with it all and again great talking to you.:)
  20. viking power

    viking power

    Jul 5, 2012
    Great stuff Fergie!:hyper:

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