Thumb anchor movement?

Discussion in 'Ask Todd Johnson [Archived]' started by Alex, Jan 9, 2006.

  1. I really just wanted to make the first thread in this forum, but here's a legitimate question for Todd:

    On 4 string I always just rest my thumb on the E string, moving up to the pickup to play on the E. On my 6, though, I now am losing speed to reach over to the G and C strings. I occasionally move my anchor to the E string to play extended upper range parts, but I usually just stay anchored on the B. Do you move your thumb anchor up and down the strings? If so, to what extent to you move your anchor (eg, are you ever anchored higher (lower?) than the A string? If so, how do you avoid stumbling over yourself when you need to switch anchors (especially when descending)?

    Would you recommend a different remedy?


  2. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ


    First of all I wouldn't ANCHOR at all.

    I would HIGHLY recommend learning the floating thumb technique.

    When you ancor your thumb on the E string......every time you play your G string, then your A string will begin to "ring" sympathetically.

    The secret to the floating thumb is to drop your right forearm across the strings and pull it up with your right hand relaxed. Your fingers should be curved and your thumb should lay across the strings and will serve as your "perfectly desinged muting system". The trick now is to move the "mechanism". Make sense.

    Plus, when you "anchor" you wind up having a different "range of motion" for every string you play. With the floating thumb, you just "move the Mechanism" so to you have a consistent range of motion for the string combinations you'll play. This means you'll have a lot less "muscle memory" to learn. Plus you'll eliminate your ringing string problem!!!

    BTW, I cover all of this extensively on my new "Technique Builders" DVD....It'll be available from my website February 1st.

    I hope this helps answer your question....even though it probably raised several more!!

    Happy to help.
  3. I've heard of this technique, and tried it a little, but it feels so weird to not have a string anchor. Maybe it is because I play harder than most? Is it something you just get used to?
  4. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    Welcome to the forum Todd.

    I wanted to get your input on a topic that had shown up earlier on the forum relating to ''curved" versus "straight" fingers. A well known bassist apparently is emphatic in his lessons to some of the TBers that "proper" technique has the fingers flat and stretched across the strings. Is there a situation in which this sort of technique would make sense? I know that it is not comfortable to flatten my fingers -- I like them curved -- and it also seems to give you less agility and reach than with curved fingers.
  5. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    Yes, you'll have to adjust to it.

    Most bass players tend to play too hard with their right hand. They play just below the "splat" level. On a scale of 1 to 10, let's say the 10 is breaking a string, 9 is a blood blister and 8 is that "splat" sound. Make sense??

    Well, most guys tend to play at about a 7, or just below the splat level. This means you can only get "1" louder before the sound gets "caustic" and 6 softer.

    Common sense says to shoot for a 4 or a 5 level with the right hand........that way you have some headroom before your sound becomes caustic or disipates.

    Remember that it's the electric bass "GUITAR"......not an amplified upright bass. We have state of the art pickups and zillion watt amps. WE DON'T NEED TO BEAT IT TO DEATH! :)

    So........lighten your touch......turn up a little bit more and play lighter. This gives you headroom and the opportunity to "draw" a lot more sounds out of the instrument.

    Add the floating thumb to eliminate any ringing strings and you're in excellent shape.

    Again........I don't mean to sound like an infomercial, but this will be covered "in depth" on my new "Technique builders" DVD that'll be out Feb. 1st at my website . I would encourage you to consider picking it up. :cool:

    I hope this helps..........and remember.....this is just my opinion.

    Have fun!! :bassist:
  6. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    I'm DEFINITELY a proponent of "curved fingers". I assume that you're talking about the right hand?? Actually, curved fingers for both hands is really the way to go.

    It makes a lot more sense ergonomically to play with the hands relaxed. If the hand is relaxed, then the fingers will be curved.

    I don't mean to "criticize" someone elses teaching methods....especially when things can be taken out of context. So just to reply to your statement......curved is the way to go.

    I hope this helps.

    Play slow!!
  7. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    A belated welcome Todd..great to have a player of your experience on board. As regards the "floating thumb" thing..I played like this for years (completely oblivious that the technique even had a name!!) and was told on numerous occasions that my right hand technique was "weird" the extent where I got very self concious about it and tried to force myself self to play "traditionally"..until the day I had to use a six stringer in a studio situation..guess what? my "weird" technique found a home that day.

    Such a relief to see it validated..I was thinking to myself "this is too easy I must be doing something wrong".

    (when I say "too easy" I dont mean 6 stringers are easy (god knows I have the pains and aches to back that up) I meant it was very easy for me to keep the speed and articulation of my right hand when switching from a 4 to a six because I was used to using a "floating thumb " technique...oh yeah and ..CURVED FINGERS all the way))


  8. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong

    Yes, and thanks. It helps to be assured that you are making the correct choices.
  9. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    You are TOTALLY on the right track. The floating thumb technique will work on 4, 5, 6, ......whatever kind of bass you want to play.

    I love to expose people to this technique at clinics etc. It's really an eye opener for about 90% of the folks I run into. I was really blessed to have studied with Gary Willis and learn logical, ergonomic and frankly intelligent bass technique. ( I wish I was as good at it as Gary is, but I digress...)

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record.....I would encourage anyone that's interested to check out my new "Technique Builders" DVD when it comes out Feb.1st. You'll learn "the best of" all the different techniques I've run across as a BIT instructor, clinician and performer. If you REALLY want to clean up your playing then I highly recommend you check it out.

    Glad I could help "confirm" what you already knew!! Way to go Murf!! :hyper:
  10. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Confidence in what you're doing can make all the difference in the world!

    Keep up the good work!
  11. marsk


    Aug 17, 2002
    Hi Todd,

    Before you settled on your current thumb muting method, did you ever use or consider using a method more like John Pattitucci's, which as far as I can tell does float the thumb somewhat, but also uses the ring and little finger to mute, with one of the results being that the main plucking fingers are more perpendicular to the strings (the complete thumb across the strings method seems to make the other fingers point more towards the bridge)? It seems to me that one advantage of this (Pattitucci) system would be to have the thumb in a more ready-to-play position if you should want to use it, while perhaps your method results in overall more complete muting, and less complicated hand motion.

    Also, do you ever use fingernails when you play?


  12. I don't really have muting problems at all. i just lose speed in stretching. I also really think that I play with a hardness of usually about 5 or 6 (on your scale) When I play without an anchor, I can't even really pluck a string reliably, or with any reasonable volume.

    Simply adjustment needed? Are there any other options outside of floating thumb?


  13. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi Mark,

    Great question.

    I've definitely checked out Pattitucci's technique,....and he's achieved TREMENDOUS results with it ....BUT......

    it's not a "relaxed, natural" position for me. If my (right) hand is relaxed, my thumb lays straight down......not to the side. My ring and pinky fingers want to naturally "curve" so to speak,....not tuck back under.... PLUS.....when you're playing up on the C string etc., you have to completely change the angle of your index and middle fingers.....or, you move the whole thing and your B string is ringing.

    Please don't misunderstand me.....JP makes the technique work for him....for sure....He's absolutely one of my favorite players and a big influence......but that technique is/was REALLY uncomfortable for me.

    If this is working for you, then I applaud your efforts and obviously are headed in the right direction.

    I don't thumb slap on the 6 string.....or on anything else for that matter...HA! :D , so having the thumb in the "ready to play" position doesn't apply......Also, I enjoy and respect the "slappers" out's just not what I do! :)

    The big goal is: eliminate ringing strings, get the instrument under control and try to keep the motion of the right hand as consistent as possible......avoid learning un-needed ranges of motion and muscle memory. I hope this makes sense.

    I could show you this in person in 2 minutes.....or on my "Technique Builders" DVD.......;)

    Oh yeah,.............I keep my fingernails gnawed off to nothing, so I couldn't use them if I wanted to! :D Although I've heard other bass players use them. Steve Lawson does some AMAZING things......of course his nails are painted blue too.....maybe that's what I need.....HA!

    I hope this helped......

  14. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi Alex,

    You know what.......I bet I could help you address this in about 5 minutes......BUT.....I'd have to do it in person....and, I don't want to trivialize your question by saying only "adjustment needed". I feel your pain !!!....believe me!

    I see from your profile that you live in the Chicago area. I'm going to be in Chicago March 31 - April 1 doing a big Christian Guitar and Bass Conference. Norm Stockton and I will be the featured bass instructors. Here's the info:

    03/3-4/06 Fri - Sat
    All Day
    Christian Guitar & Bass Conference
    Journey of Faith Church
    1243 Artesia Blvd.
    Manhattan Beach, CA

    The fee is around the $150 range.....check for the exact/complete details.

    Anyway......I'm going to be teaching this technique and others in Chicago.....actually, you could come take 6 one-hour masterclasses with me or Norm (or a combination of both) and get a TON of information for around $150. That's a great for thought.

    If you can't wait until March, .....either check out my DVD the first of February......OR.......check out a great teacher in your area named Scott Pazera. I think his website is . He's a great player and teacher and could get you up and running in short order. Be sure to tell him I sent you. (hopefully he won't charge you double! :D )

    I hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.


    Play slow!
  15. Thanks, I'll look into those things.
  16. fr0me0


    Dec 7, 2004
    Winnipeg Canada
    is there anyway anyone could post a picture of this? I'm having a little gettign a visual in my head based on the description.
  17. TB makes me feel so out if it because I don't have a digital camera:crying:
  18. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    Actually, David Grossman has a picture of me playing at last years BassQuake event. I'm using the floating thumb technique.

    Go to the "Welcome Todd Johnson" thread, page 3. I think it's the only photo up so far.

    I hope this helps.
  19. chrisp2u


    Aug 15, 2005
    Buffalo, NY
    I read through some of this post last night and just sat down to try out this technique. I had never heard nor noticed anyone using it before... though then again, I don't really pay too much attention to how most people play.

    Suprisingly, it felt pretty natural to me without having to be too conscious of it. My playing has been much cleaner as of late since I've been working quite a bit on technique for a while (with my thumb anchored), but I can see how this would be much cleaner and easier witout sacrificing speed. I'll see if I can stick with it.

    Thanks for the tip!
  20. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Way to go Chris!! Very cool.........Keep up the good work!

    Let me know if you should have any other questions or comments.