Right Hand Thumb

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bcarll, Nov 30, 2001.

  1. bcarll


    Oct 16, 2001
    Learned to play guitar with a pick years ago then went to finger picking. Just never got back to pickin' and used my thumb for just about all strumming and picking of notes. Now that I am starting to play the bass I find it more natural to just use my thumb to pluck the strings rather than my middle and forefinger. I know this is not the preferred technique but due to years of abuse to my hands and fingers arthritus has just about taken the dexterity out of my fingers but my thumb still can play the strings just fine.

    I know as I progress and get into more advanced playing and faster music I will have problems but is anyone else just using the thumb to play the notes and how have you adapted?

    I have learned so much from just reading posts in this forum. You folks are really helpful and a great bunch of musicians and thanks for taking the time to help out us newbies.

  2. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    I have noticed that Sting plays like that a good bit of the time. I sometimes play like that on slower things, but mostly it's index/middle fingers for me. I can't get much speed plucking with my thumb.
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    You could try using down AND upstrokes to get more speed, similar to the double thumping Vic Wooten does.
  4. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Practice with index and middle!
    Otherwise you won't get the tone AND the necessary volume. Having gotten off it because playing guitar is no excuse - you just don't seem to practice hard enough. I play guitar and bass ( well, ok, learning to play guitar), but playing with your index and middle is VERY important. If you can't do that than try at least picking it with a pick.
    the only thing I can say is practice, bcarll;)
  5. bcarll


    Oct 16, 2001
    Unless they come up with a cure for arthritic fingers I don't think no amount of practice is going to let me comfortably play with index and middle fingers. Construction work and hammer blows to that hand has left it not a pretty sight. But I will keep trying. I really didn't know that the finger you plucked the strings with affected tone and volume but will certainly consider that and test your theory. I value your comments and suggestions.

    Thanks ---- bcarll
  6. Weren't the first few Fenders designed to play with the thumb, so they had a finger-rest?

    Point is, you can play fine with the thumb, it'll just limit your top speed. But it won't limit your groove.

    Ed Friedland has a nice article online with bassplayer on using the thumb to play (to replicate an upright bass sound/vibe) and his advice is to play simpler lines, just like people did in the days of the thumb. I guess what I'm saying is, play with a musical style that is appropriate for the slower thumb technique, and you won't notice the difference.

    Or you can become a slapmeister!

    I really like a line from Rufus Reid's Evolving Bassist: if the note you're thinking of playing isn't contributing to the bass line, leave it out. Damn I should look that up and get the quote right!
  7. lo-end


    Jun 15, 2001
    Thumb plucking rules! It gives you such a fat funkin' tone. I would be proud to use my thumb exclusively, but thats just not my style. Im a pick player. :)
  8. bcarll


    Oct 16, 2001
    Thanks Slave,

    Went over to Bass Player and read that article and it made me feel better about my thumb playing. I know that in the world of bass playing it is not popular but it seems to be what feels natural to me and because of my arthritis it will allow me to play my instrument. My music taste varies but I like the big band sound, jazz, and good old fashion gospel. Fast moving rock doesn't do it for me so maybe I'll be able to adapt and play with my thumb. Thought it interesting that originally the electric bass was designed to be played with the thumb.

    Thanks for posting your reply it probably has uplifted my spirit more than you know and will make me want to practice even harder to develop my technique of thumbing.

  9. i always used to play with my thumb... i was "taught" how to play bass by a guitarist... i started getting fast, then some bigshot bassist finds me and says "what are you doing?" and i was, like, "i'll take up your silly finger picking thing, but i think i was doing just fine"...

    keep up the crazy work, dude, you do get a fatter tone with the thumb, and slapping is the way, oh yes...

    simon a
  10. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    Speed is not a problem for Bill Dickens, Mark King or Victor Wooten, when using double thumb.

    Do a search here for double thumb. If you can get that technique down, you'll have all of the speed you need, and will have turned your supposed handicap into an advantage.
  11. b0nes83


    Dec 14, 2000
    there is nothinr wrong with using your thumb instead of the fingers. why are you guys bashing him and saying you need to practice harder o get the fingers. hell i play with my thumb sometimes and i bet you i can play faster with my thumb(non slapping) than you can with your index and middle finger. keep up the good work guys. peace
  12. *ToNeS*


    Jan 12, 2001
    Sydney AU
    what the hell are you on? so far everyone contributing to this thread has been nothing but helpful towards bcarll's situation.

    think of it this way, bcarll - James Alexander from the Bar Kay's uses ye olde thumb constantly (in a non-slap context), and his lines are nothing short of funky. there ain't no standards for the bass, my man, 'coz it's all about feel :)
  13. bcarll


    Oct 16, 2001
    I want to thank all of you for posting comments and suggestions about my thumb playing. I don't feel like I have been bashed about it at all but like some of you have said bass playing is about rythum,feel, and artistic expression. However I know that it is also about proper technique and theory and I thank those of you who wrote in to firmly suggest I try to play with the fingers. FYI -- I am trying and getting OK at it but still don't have the touch I have in my thumb and the dexterity but the more I practice at it the better I will get I know. Probably the most interesting thing to come out of this thread is the info that Leo Fender initially intended for the electric bass to be played with the thumb. Got me looking into the history of bass playing.
    Once again thanks for your comments and suggestions. bcarll
  14. Planet Boulder

    Planet Boulder Hey, this is a private residence...man Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    While I'm personally not a fan of the thumb-strum, I'd recommend checking out Sonia Dada's bassist as an example of a guy who has made it using such a technique. I've watched him play and, although he's not a great bassist, he seems to have mastered the technique.

    If you can get past his goofy stage mannerisms and butt-ugly bass, he's probably worth watching for what you're attempting to do. ;)