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Neck-hand thumb...wait, what?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Hamlet7768, Jan 25, 2012.


  1. Hamlet7768

    Hamlet7768 Here to chew gum and rock. Still have gum.

    Jun 5, 2011
    I'm a partly self-taught bassist so far in the sense that I played some stuff on my own before I started my official lessons on the bass, and I'm curious if I'm doing something wrong here.

    I've heard that one's thumb is supposed to rest precisely in the center of the back of the neck, but when I try to make it rest that way (about parallel), I can't stretch my fingers to make, for example, a jump from the 5th to the 8th fret. It's fine when I let my thumb rest on top and let it slide down when I need it to, but I've heard doing this is bad technique. Why?
     
  2. Wissen

    Wissen

    Nov 11, 2007
    Central PA
    It all comes down to long-term comfort. I was taught the "thumb in the middle of the back" technique because it keeps your hand out of trouble three hours later, ten years later, etc. It is really easy to get lazy with this (I certainly do all the time), and we can insert the "everyone is different, do what's most comfortable for you" caveat right here, but moving your thumb towards the top of the neck is "bad technique" because it puts the most strain on your hand/wrist, which is bad in the long run.

    Of course, this is a translation from upright bass left-hand technique, and the second part of it is to keep your elbow out away from your body (and up, when you're putting it up on the upright neck) so that your wrist is perfectly straight. But how many electric players have you seen who keep their elbow away from the body every second of the entire night, and keep the headstock up by their ear?
     
  3. mambo4

    mambo4

    Jun 9, 2006
    Dallas
    There are also bio-mechanical reasons for it. Try this:
    1.)without a bass, Hold your fretting hand up like a mitt.
    Then make a "c shape" with your thumb and fingers.
    Now press your thumb against your finger tips.
    Slowly press harder and harder, pay attention to how your it feels to your finger muscles (along your fore arm and hand.) Notice where the strain is.

    2.) now stick your thumb out, and press your fingers down against your palm.
    Slowly press harder and harder, pay attention to how your it feels to your finger muscles (along your fore arm and hand.) Notice where the strains is.

    Which one feels like a stronger, less strained, more controlled grip?
     
  4. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Braintree
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Thumb positions are largely by far a red herring in self learning.
    There is a miss-use of the word "bad" when ever the thumb position is talked over on forums such as this.
    Thumb positions have two immediate repercussions, one will be restrictive, one will not. The use of the word " bad" describes the restrictiveness of thumbs that come over the top, because they are restrictive to access on the fretboard...and nothing else. A good teacher will show and explain these points to a student, but a student on their own may get it wrong or miss-understand the concepts they are seeing or hearing about.

    Where should the thumb point or go is neither here nor there, let the thumb go where it wants. Don't force it in to positions of support that are not needed. The natural tendency in a relaxed hand is to allow the thumb to point towards the headstock the further away from the body the hand gets. Let the thumb support the fingers being used, when needed, rather than force it into a position of being there regardless.

    These positions have a direct relationship to the user and the music being played. If access to the fretboard is not an issue then go for thumb over the top. All this will do is restrict the range of movement you can make in your fingers. But look at that wrist, nice and straight and the fingers have a bit of curl in them in order to come back to the fretboard. The curl in the fingers can be see as a bend to counter the straightness of the wrist in this position. But to give the fingers more access then the wrist must bend to give the fingers freedom. In bending the wist the thumb will be pulled back behind the neck and the fingers can straighten a bit because that bend for access is now in the wrist. So it is all relative, but I would always let the finger have any bending rather than the wrist, the fingers are designed to bend and flex due to the multiple joist they have, they wrist is not so well designed for this, the wrist works best when straighter, because the wrist was originally designed for us to hang from. It is a through back to our ancestors tree dwelling days, that's why an in line forearm and wrist is a powerfully safe use.

    So look at what you play and work out for yourself, can you afford a technique and thumb/ wrist position that is restrictive or not.
    For me I play Blues all night, so thumb over the top is not an issue, I can afford to give up access to the fretboard in favour of better hand positions.
    It allows me to lower my bass so my fretting hand can be a bit straighter, as my finger will "bend" back to the fretboard, and my plucking hand wrist/forearm also can be straighter because my wrist does not have to come over the top or side of the bass, and then bend back to access the strings. I have a happy trade off between the two because my access needs are low.

    Any player that looks honestly at their main use they can work out what is best for them. Remember you can always change the height of the bass to match the song. So hang it higher for more access if needed, it is an option many players do not use. They will change basses to suit songs, but not look at changing bass heights, which is the simple obvious answer when more access is needed. I see lots of players that have to much wrist bend and the bass a bit high for what they do. They will base height on maybe the one or two songs that need that height and position, rather than all the songs they play that don 't.

    Take in to the fact that arms, fingers etc between us all are different in length so some will find it hard and some will find it easy. Bass design, neck widths etc it all adds up to that question again, access and how much do you really need?
     
  5. +1000

    The most important thing is to keep the wrists straight/neutral whenever possible. Having a locked fretting-hand thumb will prevent this and cause all sorts of problems.
     
  6. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    It might help if you post pics. I've never seen a situation where you have a wider stretch with your thumb OVER the neck than with your thumb behind the neck.

    Here is the thumb behind the neck:
    handposition1.

    Here is the thumb on top of the neck:
    handposition2.

    You can see that I have a wider reach with the thumb behind the neck. Maybe you could post pics showing how you have a wider reach with your thumb over the neck.

    There are other reasons to play with your thumb behind the neck, but the bottom line is if you get the sound you are looking for and you aren't hurting yourself, put your thumb where you want.
     
  7. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Braintree
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    +1 and started a new thread of these very points and more

    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f21/pesky-thumb-848200/
     

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