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Left hand technique

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jaredschaffer, Jul 23, 2012.

  1. jaredschaffer


    Jul 17, 2012
    I've been playing for 5-6 years, and recently my friend (who is mainly a guitarist but also plays bass) told me that my left thumb should be centered at the back of the neck parallel to the fret between my index and middle fingers. Its a pain because Im basically retraining myself, but I have noticed that I can reach better with my fingers instead of having to shift up and down the neck. Just want to make sure this is correct technique though before i kill myself trying to make it second nature. Does anyone else play like this?
  2. bloobass


    Jul 10, 2012
    Louisville, KY
    I may get flamed, but I believe the best technique might be the one that feels best. It definitely shouldn't hurt...my thumb goes from the position you described, to all the way over the top, muting the low b, depending what notes I'm fretting (like I was holding a bat), and what I'm playing. I find it kind of naturally wraps around when I'm playing simpler stuff (like pumping eigths, or holding long notes). I am also of the belief that your body should not be too fixed and rigid, otherwise what you play will come across as fixed and rigid.

    Just my opinion.
  3. jaredschaffer


    Jul 17, 2012
    Why would you get flamed? Sounds pretty logical to me :p I mainly notice a difference when using scales (practicing, improvising, etc.) but yeah, when I play simple riffs that dont require much left hand movement, it just seems more natural to go back to how I usually play, so I can relate to you on that
  4. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006

    +1. Let the thumb go where it wants.

    "Why" is explained here :

  5. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    it sounds logical to find a technique which feels best to you, however the problem with that is it might not be the best technique which allows you to play with least effort.
    Im going to try to explain this... Anything you learn will have a technique which is most optimal to what you are trying to learn, but before learning that technique the most comfortable way is more often not the "right" way.
    For example, when you don't know how to throw a baseball you usually palm the ball and throw it only using your arm, and this is the comfortable technique because you don't know how to throw a baseball correctly. However, once you learn how to throw a baseball correctly the most comfortable technique becomes the correct technique, while the old "noob" technique becomes uncomfortable. Get it? THis new "correct" technique also allows you to throw the baseball harder, more accurate and with less effort.

    Same applies to bass and any musical instrument. Unless your hands are not shaped like the average human hand then your best bet is to learn the good technique which will then be the "comfortable" technique. This would allow you to play faster, accurate, in tune (fretless)...etc, you will develop the muscle memory and eventually you won't even have to think about the correct technique because it will be your default technique.

    Now, as far as the technique, you want to have the thumb at the same level (or close) to the middle finger. This creates balance in your other fingers and will save energy giving you more stamina. It also helps to shift and reach other notes without having to move your whole hand around.

    Ultimately, you do whatever you want to do. There is a reason this technique is passed down all over the world, its because it works. If it didn't work then it would have been lost years ago.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006

    ...it also narrows the carpel tunnel through which the tendons move, thus creating possible physical problems at a later time.
  7. jaredschaffer


    Jul 17, 2012
    Just watched the video, thank you for linking that as it was extrememly insightful and I feel a lot more confident now. I'm probably just going to follow the advice in the video and only use "proper" technique (ie thumb in back) when necessary for stretching my fingers.
  8. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    true, anything can give you physical problems, playing bass is a physical thing. Tennis players get tennis elbow, baseball players need tommy john surgery, piano/bass/guitar gives tendonitis. Everything has risks nowadays, the way I see it is if someone like Matt Garrison which has great technique does not have tendonitis then it should be ok.
  9. jaredschaffer


    Jul 17, 2012
    I appreciate your insight; however, I think I'll just do what it says in that video, like I said earlier. I mean, I understand that everything has risks, but if there is a way to lessen the risk without sacrificing my ability to play efficiently, I feel it would be foolish not to at least try. In this case, it seems unnecessary to bend my wrist so much if I'm playing something that doesnt require it... Thank you for your advice anyway though :)
  10. fishdreams

    fishdreams Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification and and Martin Keith Guitars
    I have been reviewing my left hand technique recently, playing fretless mostly.I believe thje thumb should follow left hand finger placement.

    What I have settled upon is that I get the best and clearest tone with the top of fingertip on the strings, and the last joint of the finger perpendicular to the fretboard (resulting in as little fingertip-flesh as possbile covering the pressed down string). The other adjustment has been to play 1 finger per fret/position. The thumb is more like a pivot and can be across various parts of the hand. I think Jaco works along the same principle and if you watch his instructional video (its on youtube, playing fretted) you can see that while his fingers are placed consistently the same way on the fretboard wherever he roams, his thumb is all over the place
  11. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    There is no one technique that fits all. Everyone is different. A certain technique might be fine for one person, but would cripple another.
  12. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    yeah no problem, if it works for you and the kind of music you play it should be ok.
  13. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    They can, but taking preventive measures like a safe technique, stretching etc., can drastically reduce the risk.
  14. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    Yes but what is safe technique to you. To teach a good technique you must know what a good technique is, its not legit to just say "wherever your thumb wants to go"... That would not be a good lesson. In my opinion, it has more credibility to teach a technique which is the "standard technique" than to teach saying "if it feels good for you then i guess its ok".

    And I'm just trying to explain through a teaching aspect and not the performance aspect, because honestly, when you perform technique should not be in your mind. It should be in your mind when practicing/learning how to play the instrument correctly.
    Muscle memory is a great thing, the body adapts to many many different motions very quickly as long as you commit to practicing.
  15. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    I'm with you on a that one. Bass is closer to guitar than it is to DB ( playing position ). So one day I checked a classical guitar player and they do extreme stuff that even Yngwie Malmsteen would have a hard time. So, this is a position a emulate when sitting down and I also favor that kind of position when playing standing up. Even DB player don't wrap their thumb around the neck.
  16. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    yeah if you notice classical guitarists they don't have the thumb over the neck because doing that inhibits a lot of motion. In jazz they do it very little, only when they need that extra finger to play a chord. When jazz guitarists don't need the thumb for that extra note they go back to the standard technique. I actually don't know where that thumb wrap around neck technique came from.
  17. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Actually it is the only reason.
    There is no standard or legit way to play a bass guitar yet. There is no proven or un-proven technique in bass guitar, in the decades to come and maybe into the next century it will become more apparent, but their is no valid technique any one can relate to.....so don't sweat it let the thumb go.
    Of course later on you need to refine it then do so, all you have decided to do is let the thumb go here or there for a purpose and that purpose was developed over time.

    I like the Matt Garrison narrative...so at 42 Matt has no problems....what if he develops major ones when he hits 50.
  18. I had some issues with tendonitis and RSS when I was younger.
    First off, for anyone suffering from RSS carpal tunnel or any related afflictions, get the hell out of the doctors office and stop taking pain pills and muscle realxers. the only thing (IME) that helps is acupressure or acupuncture.
    As far as technique goes, my uncle taught me along time ago (and I should have listened)
    that the best technique is the one which yields a pure sounding note with the least pressure.
    If your finger is very far behind the fret you will have to clamp down harder to produce a buzz free note. This will of course mean you have to engage pressure from the fretting fingers as well as the thumb.
    If you make sure your fingers are right behind the frets then it takes quite a bit less pressure to sound a pure note. It also means you really do not need to apply any pressure at all with your thumb.
    I would posit that the best technique is that which relies least on the thumb.
    I'm not going to say I donot use my thumb at all, but it never gets tired, and I do often perform reaches that necesitate my thumb not being behind the neck.
    I also have NEVER had an issue with the finish on the back of the neck. Heck when I read some of the posts on TB with people complaining about nitro vs painted vs poly vs oil necks, all I can think of is how bad is your technique? I play exactly the same on my Sterling, Stingray, Magnum and Sub. which have the aforementioned finishes. (not in that order though)
  19. Jazzkuma


    Sep 12, 2008
    Until he develops tendonitis and is unable to play, that technique has enough credibility to support the statement that the standard technique today is having the thumb as a pivot behind the neck. You are right, over time the standard of the bass playing technique might change, but you can't teach that until you prove yourself, there is nothing to back it up.
    You can't teach what you think is right if only a handful of people in the bass community thinks its right.
    Im not telling you that you are wrong, but if you want to teach something like technique, there must be a proven method. How would you feel if someone was teaching you how to build a car and they told you "if it has 4 wheels and you feel that this car is safe for you then go ahead and make it" ... you won't be selling many cars.

    Again, this comes from the teaching pov, there has to be a concrete idea to teach technique. If there is something we can take from the history of string instruments it would be from the classical guitar technique. Its the same technique for ages.

    Now, you are right when you say that everyone is different. But in that sense its not ok to tell them to put the thumb anywhere they want, they could be doing more damage to their hands and be very bad in the long run.

    Opposable thumbs are what separates us from most animals, why not use it to your advantage.
  20. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Try that for awhile and see how tired your hand gets. It ain't necessary. I play 124 mostly, sometimes with my thumb even up by the 4th string and the neck in my palm. Stretch out when necessary. But, what do I know, I've only been playing for 49 years, including classical upright in an orchestra, as well as almost every genre on electric.

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