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Left hand posture and thumb placement

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Fat bob, Jun 30, 2018.


  1. Fat bob

    Fat bob Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2013
    Denver
    Hello all,
    I have recently been re-examining my left hand posture and Thumb placement. For years I have played with my thumb nearly opposite the second (middle) finger. But after watching Christian McBride and others, I noticed in half position his hand is more wrapped around the neck, his palm is certainly in contact with the neck. It looks more comfortable especially when walking for a very long time. After experimenting with this for a little over a week Iam convinced it is a breakthrough for me, it has helped fatigue, pitch and ease of playing. My thumb is north of my first finger in half and first position, and my elbow isn't nearly as high. I've also lowered the endpin one notch and been slightly changing my posture.
    I guess my question is where is you're thumb in relation to the rest of the hand? Does your palm touch the back of the neck in the lower positions? It seems like this is goes against my earlier education, but is seems so right! Thank you for your responses
     
  2. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    Not really something to aim for. I know some good jazzplayers that do this, but it is sub-optimal. I would say it is a sign of fatigue.
    Better to build endurance. Have a look at Petracchi who plays a monster instrument with a heavy setup.
    Start around 50 secs to see an example


    Also see here. Tim is shown in slow motion in the beginning and you see his left hand very well.
    Notice the fluidity of his hand and thumb placement in the low register
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
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  3. Reiska

    Reiska

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    It`s a diiferent game to play something that has you moving up and down the fingerboard than to walk, play riff -oriented stuff or The Truth at half or first position for extended perioid of time IMO. Comparing solo arco stuff to playing a riff for 16 minutes straight in a jam session doesn`t make sense to me. I`m not about to start any fight here, but why is it sub-optimal if it makes playing more relaxed?

    EDIT: To answer the question, I try to keep my thumb somewhere between 1st and 2nd fingers all the time. I have a big bass that doesn`t allow me to span a wholetone any other way in lower positions. If it`s about root / five without too much moving around for extended perioid of time, or pedaling a low note, I have my thumb more across the neck.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
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  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    My palm doesn't touch the back of the neck ever that I can think of, but my thumb is often slightly north of my index finger. This is only one perspective, from a person who plays with a relaxed hand pivoting technique much of the time.

    The thumb doesn't exactly press, but serves as a fixed fulcrum that the left hand fingers on the front of the neck pivot against. I'm not a physicist, but the mechanics of this technique seem to be built around the torque created by wrist rotation that moves fixed fingers against a fixed thumb. If the thumb on the back was even with the first finger, the only way to stop the string would be to squeeze between the thumb and first finger; hence having the thumb slightly north gives leverage for the rotation to work. And as a seated player, much of the work of stopping the string is also done by pulling the left arm back into the string at the left shoulder, leaving the fulcrum action of the thumb as fine tuning mechanism for the stop.
     
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  5. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    As wrong as it looks, I must admit that two guys with amazing chops and big sounds, C McBride and D Holland seem to use the technique the OP describes quite a bit.
     
    Fat bob likes this.
  6. Ideally, my thumb would only make firm contact with the neck in order to make vibrato all the way down in first or second position.

    The real world is more complicated. You get tired.
     
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  7. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    There is no difference other than that you can get away with a sub optimal left hand in the latter.
     
  8. Reiska

    Reiska

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Sub optimal in action:
     
  9. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    Out of curiosity, are you a jazz player who does 3-4 hour gigs where you play strong lower position pizz constantly? In my orchestra experience you rarely play more than an hour, a big chunk of which can be counting rests, spend quite a bit of time holding long notes, and move up and down the neck. I'm not pooh poohing the virtuosity needed to play that music, just pointing out the different physical demands.
     
  10. Reiska

    Reiska

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Also, playing seated vs standing makes all the difference too. Sitting is not an option for me, but I tend to try left hand stuff seated first, ignoring the right hand, and then trying to add that loose left hand feel to my normal stance.
     
  11. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    In fact I started out as a jazz player and still play although my salary comes from playing with orchestras.

    My practise sessions are plenty hard for the left hand, trust me. Usually about two hours of hard technique and scales. atleast an hour of which is solely low register. Add to this Four hours of rehersal and one to two hours of repertoire preparation. FYI, Tims workdays are rarely anything less than 6 hours of stagetime a day 6 days a week plus daily scales and preparation. Try practising Mozart 35 and Beethoven 3 for a few hours straight. Trust me when I say it is a bit more than counting rests and playing long notes.
     
  12. wathaet

    wathaet

    May 27, 2007
    I did two hours of Rabbath scales daily for 6 1/2 years of college, all standing. These days I do them sitting. There is no more need for a baseballgrip standing than sitting.
    As for Edgar, AFAIK he is playing with a free floating thumb on a very light setup which is not to be confused with a baseballgrip. I also don't think he would do this with a heavier setup while remaining in the lows for the OP rep. Beyond this, his approach is extremely difficult to master and fairly unique to him.
    You are contradicting yourself since you previously stated the kind of playing Edgar is doing is completely different and not relevant. I don't care much for the "gotcha" approach to pedagogical discussions. When I have students that squeeze and getting tired and or locked in shifting I have them practise with a floating thumb. If anything this helps get rid of the need for a baseballgrip.

    My first example was chosen since he is particularly known for having an extremely strong left hand, playing on very demanding setups.
    Have a look at Ray B in Montreux with NHOP. During that festival he played an absurd number of hours per day with a standard left hand shape.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2018
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  13. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    If ever, I use the ball bat grip, which is rare, it's because of fatigue or sudden pain. I always feel like I'm hamstringing my technique if I use it. Sitting, or standing with a Laborie angled pin, takes the pressure off the thumb, so the palm against neck grip really isn't needed. Yes, great players do it...
     
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  14. Fat bob

    Fat bob Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2013
    Denver
    Iam curious to know what part of the hand different players allow to touch the neck. Do the inside of nuckles touch the edge of you're neck when you play a low G (in half pos)? Does the meaty part of thumb touch? I always thought these were no no's, but I see McBride doing it, and it feels so much more comfortable
     
  15. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    I try and maintain a curve to my fingers while playing, like holding a baseball. Inside of knuckles don't touch the strings or fingerboard. My thumb is touching behind the neck between the 1st and 2nd fingers when playing a low G with my 4th finger. It's more natural there than between 2nd and 3rd fingers. Depending on one's individual physical makeup, how high or low the bass is, and other variables, one size doesn't necessarily fit all...
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2018
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