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Thumb plucking "wrong" ?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by RufusB, Dec 30, 2012.

  1. RufusB


    Dec 22, 2012
    I got back into bass very recently and I've been trying to learn to play finger plucking but really can't get used to it. The plucking itself is fine but having my hand in that position makes it so much harder and more confusing to mute string noise.
    When I play with my thumb I can play faster and very easily mute string noise. I sound much better playing with my thumb and I enjoy playing with my thumb.

    The only thing is that I've been told that it's "bad" technique or "wrong", can anyone give an actual reason for it being bad? It seems people just think bass should be slap or fingers so they assume that if you're not doing one of those then people just give mouth. :hyper:

    Am I missing something or is there actually something about thumb picking that will hold my playing back?
  2. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    I don't believe there is a "wrong" way to play if it is effective for you and doesn't descend into repetitive stress. Sting, Geddy, many others play with thumb.
  3. D.M.N.

    D.M.N. (O)))) Supporting Member

    Oct 6, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    Well, it's a technique that isn't very common anymore, but it was originally a fairly common style when the electric bass was first developed(the tugbars on basses in the 50s & 60s were a place for the fingers to grab while playing with the thumb). However, there are other ways to mute the strings to free up your hand. Often you just put some foam under the strings near the bridge, and that way you don't have to worry about muting the strings if your playing always requires muting. However, personally, I don't believe thumb playing can be quite as fast or finessed as finger playing. Maybe that's just me, as I've never really played with my thumb. I'd definitely recommend continuing to practice your finger plucking practice, that way you have more versatility in playing style should the need arise.
  4. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Definitely nothing wrong with your natural style. Did you first learn to play using your thumb?
  5. RufusB


    Dec 22, 2012
    Pretty much the answers I was guessing. Anyone else have input on this?
  6. RufusB


    Dec 22, 2012
    @StyleOverShow, yeah thumb just came much more naturally to me.
  7. I don't think there's anything wrong with it if that's what works best for you. However, you'll be giving up speed under a lot of musical circumstances - I just don't think you can play as fast with your thumb only as you can using two or three fingers, or some combination of thumb and fingers.

    Personally, I use my thumb sometimes, in conjunction with my index and middle fingers. I find playing with those three suits me best, but I don't include the thumb on every song. One issue with my style, I will acknowledge, is that you have to make the effort to have the thumb plucks "sound" the same as the plucks with the fingers, 'cause it is easy for them not to.
  8. bushwhacker


    Dec 17, 2011
    I would not worry about it at all. I have used my thumb as my primary method since 1968. I also can use my fingers and a pick as well, depending on the song and sound I am going for, but my thumb produces my favorite sound, and I can play almost as fast with the thumb as I can with fingers or a pick. As you will see over and over again in these forums, there is no "right" or "wrong", this is an art and you determine what is correct for you. I still use my tug bar as it gives me a rock solid foundation when I play, and rest my wrist on the pickup cover. I also use the 3 finger method chuck3 describes, it all depends on the song
  9. Garret Graves

    Garret Graves website- ggbassplayer.com Gold Supporting Member

    May 20, 2010
    Arcadia, Ca
    Thumb playing is a technique that everyone should experiment with and use on occasion. You can't beat the fat tone you can get from it for certain Latin and reggae lines. It must have to do with the fact that the fat, wide plucking surface you are attacking the string with (thumb) affects the overtones that the string produces.But do yourself a favor and take the time to slowly develop your other techniques such as standard fingerstyle and pick playing. You will develop the ability to do those styles over time as you build strength and confidence.
  10. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    It'd be worth practicing fingerstyle. As someone else mentioned, using just the thumb will limit your speed. I sometimes use thumb picking near the neck for a softer attack and deeper timbre in ballads.
  11. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    If you took bass lessons in the 60s they taught you the Mel Bay thumb plucking method.

    That was how I was taught. I later moved on to other techniques, but there are times when that is the best way to get a certain tone and feel on the bass.
  12. Betrayer_Bass

    Betrayer_Bass Profanity Fish.

    Sep 24, 2011
    Oslo, Norway
    Endorsing: Spector basses, Winspear Picks, Spector Formula 603 strings
    There are no "right" or "wrong" techniques. Whatever works for you is good. It's always useful to pick up new techniques and practice them so it doesn't hurt so much :) When I started finger style, I had an ache in m arm for a while. It's just your muscles getting used to a new thing, play through (but don't overdo it) and you should be fine. If it gets a lot worse though, stop.

    Enjoy! And don't listen to people telling you that it's wrong. They're idiots.
  13. Batmensch


    Jul 4, 2010
    Media, PA.
    Yeah, it's not wrong if it works for you. Take a look at guitarist Jeff Healey(sp?). His technique on both hands was all "wrong". Didn't stop him being a killer guitar player.
  14. +1 He was a great musician. Rest his soul.
  15. After 20 years of bass playing, I started adding thumb plucking as a technique several years ago. It gets me tones I won't get otherwise. Why not use it if it works? I mix it up w finger style in the middle of a song if it adds to it musically. It's all good!
  16. No such thing as wrong way to play a bass. Brian Wilson used the thumb style in his Beach Boys days. So it's ok.
  17. Doner Designs

    Doner Designs Steve Doner Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2012
    Metro Chicago Area
    Doner Designs is an alias for Steve Doner
    Repetetive stress injury is a great reason to mix it up. I use fingers, thumb and also rubber picks to give the right hand a rest.
  18. +1.

    Thumb is fine. You will give up some speed, but you can always use more than one finger ("guitar finger-picking" style). Whenever I play with my thumb I just find myself hitting the strings REALLY hard. Your bass, your music, your call.

  19. DeanT

    DeanT Send lawyers, guns and money...

    If it's good enough for Sting, I would think you can get away with it also.
  20. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    I was taught this at the Mel Bay store in Kirkwood Mo, back in the 70's....

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