left thumb location ?

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by ranbush, May 13, 2019.

  1. ranbush

    ranbush Supporting Member

    Feb 22, 2006
    Berkeley, CA
    I've been playing electric bass guitar for 30 years, and I started playing double bass about 10 years ago. Maybe because of my experience with the bass guitar, I am in the habit of playing double bass with my left thumb located behind my left index finger, with the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck.

    I just took a lesson with an experienced classical bassist and double bass instructor, and she strongly suggested that I should have my left thumb behind the second finger of my left hand. I have taken lessons with several teachers over the years and have attended workshops with John Clayton and other pro players and nobody has corrected or commented on my left thumb location.

    After the lesson I looked in all my bass instruction books and the only clear shot of the left thumb behind the second finger is in a Ron Carter book from the 70's; all the other books that I have (Rufus Reid, Simandl, Ray Brown) show pictures of the left hand and finger placement from the FRONT view. You can infer the location of the left thumb, but I can't find any discussion or clear photos.

    Anyone here have suggestions or preferences about the left thumb location behind the first or second finger of the left hand?
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    My left thumb position takes care of itself. I do what I need to in order to get a good stop on the string. It’s mostly behind my middle finger, I think.

    I tell students to keep their thumb in the same direction as their fingers, more or less perpendicular to the strings, but I haven’t found any reason to be so specific as to say it ought to be behind one finger or another.

    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  3. Jacob_9012


    Mar 5, 2019
    I'm by no means am expert, but every teacher I've ever had had said to have it about across from the center of the fingers/the second finger.

    I also know there are other methods, I'm thinking rabbath that do this slightly differently
  4. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    I try to keep the thumb mostly behind the middle finger.

    Sometimes, it will creep back under the first when I'm going for a nice, wide vibrato with that finger, especially in half and first position.
  5. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    The important thing about the thumb is to be sure it's not locked and not doing anything much other than serving as a measurement tool and a pivot for vibration. No squeezing! No pressure! Very important. The exact location, not so much.
  6. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I don't agree. Sometimes no thumb pressure, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it. A lot depends on how your body is positioned in relation to your bass.

  7. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
  8. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Whoops, don't really have this electronic gizmo thing together yet. My reply to the post above starts with "Of course..."
  9. gerry grable

    gerry grable

    Nov 9, 2010
    The simplest way to explain and demonstrate it is to pick up a book. There it is!
    Last edited: May 16, 2019
  10. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Something that is never acknowledged in verbal descriptions of how to position oneself with respect to a musical instrument is the fact that everyone's body is shaped a bit differently.

    In my case, for example, I have broad hands with short fingers. There is simply no way, when playing a standard double bass, for me to place my thumb across from my middle finger. I would have to fold it down to an extent that would cause unnecessary strain.

    If you have been playing electric bass for 30 years, and you are not wrapping your hand around the neck but rather keeping the thumb on the back of the neck so you can easily move, and you are doing your best to achieve a proper double bass left hand, my guess is that you need to do what is natural to your own particular hand shape. This doesn't mean to throw away all the standard information, but rather that you have to slightly adapt it to your own personal situation.
  11. the_Ryan


    Jul 10, 2015
    Bronx, NY
    My view on the placement of the thumb is whatever feels best and allows for the most efficient weight transfer. Most players I’ve seen tend to have their thumb anywhere between 1 and 2. My thumb is pretty much right under my first finger and if my thumb is right behind 2 I get a lot of forearm tension.

    Everyone’s hands are different and while saying thumb goes behind 2 is a good starting point, some hands may prefer the thumb to be closer to 1.
  12. Go with where the thumb falls most comfortably. This idea should accommodate most hand sizes and shapes. The strict placement opposite the second finger does give all fingers best support but can close up the cupped palm and constrict, stiffen and tire the big muscles in the base of the thumb. But move the thumb to behind the vibrato-ing finger and close up the other fingers if you are sustaining long enough notes. So I agree with others above have observed.

    Try forming a loose fist, raising the hand and arm into playing height from your side and opening your fist enough to move the hand across into playing position. You may observe the following -

    (1) the palm is cupped
    (2) the fingers are arched
    (3) the strings are pressed by the pads between the center of the fingerprint and the finger tips (looking sideways at your fingers you might see a flat area here)
    (4) the thumb will naturally fall slightly higher than the second finger when its end pad is resting on the center of the back of the neck.
    (5) the thumb will be straight or slightly curved towards the fingers.

    I try to use my arms and hands as naturally as possible. It seems natural to press the strings to the fingerboard by closing the arched fingers and thumb towards each other, using the forearm muscles through a straight wrist that only pronates enough to use the E string. But that is just 5' 7" rather chubby me. There are other factors that affect comfort and best use of our different bodies, and I have arrived over time with a package of approaches that suits me.
  13. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    This is an easy to understand introduction to Rabbath thumb positioning, motion of the hand, pivoting and intonation.
    J Blakeslee likes this.
  14. I would say centered behind the middle, for a standard Simandl left hand.
  15. J Blakeslee

    J Blakeslee

    Apr 15, 2019
    Eliot, Maine
    Glad this question came up. I am back on double bass after a long stretch of not having one. Also recovering from a sprained left thumb (aikido). After playing for an hour or so I really start to feel it in my left thumb joint. In any case, the above responses have been helpful. Ps. If any of you also practice aikido, watch out for a big black belt guy named Mike!
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    25 years ago I separated my left shoulder when I was doing a hip throw line and misjudged just how far my sensei would/could launch me. :nailbiting: Still feel that to this day. If Mike gives you any more trouble, let's arrange for him to work with Mehter Sensei. :D
    J Blakeslee likes this.
  17. J Blakeslee

    J Blakeslee

    Apr 15, 2019
    Eliot, Maine
    I am much better now about letting anyone I train with know if they are being rough. Likewise I try to be careful with them. Aikido when practiced artfully seems to work without brute force. More enjoyable to practice as well!
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  18. duckyincarnate


    Oct 18, 2005
    London, UK
    I’ve noticed that once I started playing on the tops of my left hand fingers (i.e. curling the left hand fingers when stopping a string), the thumb naturally migrated towards the second finger. If you try this out away from the instrument, you will see that it is a natural consequence of the hand shape.
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