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Thumb position on fretting hand?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Albini_Fan, Mar 15, 2003.

  1. Albini_Fan

    Albini_Fan Banned

    Jan 26, 2003
    Beneath Below
    I got my first bass lesson today, and my teacher was all telling me to keep it behind the fretboard and always have it pointed straight. He said to not ever put it on top of the fretting board? Uhh, why can't I put on the fretboard? Is there any advantages to keeping it back there? To me, it's just harder..

    And also, he said to not move my fingers so much aroudn which is also hard. I usually recoil my finger back up after I squeeze the fret down, but he says to keep my fingers closest to the strings as I can without bouncing them around. Is this good or bad, once again it is just harder and unatural for me to do :/

    Yes, I am a newbie.
  2. The advice you've been given by your teacher is what is generally considered to be good technique. What they instructed to you will feel awkward at first but will eventually feel far more comfortable as time progresses. Persist with proper technique as instructed and you'll be a far better bass player for it.
  3. I was always told to have my thumb behind the fretboard in line with my middle finger. I think if you have your thumb behind the board its easier to stretch further with your fingers, and encourages the use of your pinky finger.

    Its better to have your fingers close to the strings instead of bouncing around as this will let you play faster lines, and help to conserve energy in your fingers

    Of course it's going to be difficult to try a completely new technique, but if you keep at it it'll will definately get easier. I'd suggest buying a video of some of the greatest players, perhaps Bass Extremes by Victor Wooten or the new Jaco video, just so you can see the greatest players and their techniques. It might make a bit more sense after that ;)
  4. The whole idea behind the thumb positioning is that you can better pivot on your thumb and shift up and down the neck easier. If you hold it with your thumb wrapped over the top then you have considerable drag which causes inefficient shifts in position; and you can't pivot because your hand is locked in 1 position, so you lose alot of agility. In the long run, your teacher is right.
    Also, the further your fingers travel from the fretboard, the longer they take to get back, this hinders speed. It's all a very logical system.

    Alot of "correct" bass left hand techniques are based very similarly on classical guitar technique. And they've developed it over the course of centuries. So, you can bet it's very efficient.
  5. steve_man

    steve_man Supporting Member

    May 15, 2002
    right on the money!

    think light touch to the strings. You're putting a lot of less effort into the hammering of the strings allowing for easier movement in movement up and down the neck.

    Not to mention when you use that much space you tend to hold the string harder (baseball grip). This makes it harder for you to lift your fingers off the fret board keeping your fretting hand from being able to move faster.

    remember light touch!
  6. Albini_Fan

    Albini_Fan Banned

    Jan 26, 2003
    Beneath Below
    The thumb thing, I'm a huge fan of Big Black and there bassist is one of the reasons I play. Around the time I started playing bass I saw these pictures of thier bassist playing:

    http://www.sma****up.org/bigblack/riley1.jpg change the **** to sh it SMASH IT UP :mad:

    His thumb is way up there :( And he's an awsome bassist (IMO), one of my favorite. So of course, I learned to play like that. I really don't see any advantages of keeping it back behind the fretboard :/ I have been practicing not bouncing my fingers around and It's improved my speed, but I don't like keeping my thumb back there at all.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    It is to do with the way muscles are used and the best way to avoid things like carpal tunnel - repetitive strain injury. Lots of bass players who have never had teachers end up with injuries and having to stop playing for maybe 6 months to a year, to recover - I have heard about this from physiotherapists.
  8. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    You will.
  9. Funkateer


    Jul 5, 2002
    Los Gatos, CA
    I think the thumb behind the neck position has to be regarded as the 'normal' position, I think it doesn't pay to be dogmatic about it. One of the main differences between classical guitar playing and playing the bass is the emphasis placed on muting strings. For example, for some slap patterns, it helps to use the LH thumb to mute the E string while slapping the A. Specifically, I've got a vamp that has me shifting from F# (E string) to E (7th pos A string) (slap) to E (pop on G string) to F# (slap) to A (pop). I find it a lot easier to mute the E string with my thumb than try to keep my LH middle or ring finger on it while working the other three strings.
  10. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    What you're talking about is still not efficient use of the left hand. If you use your left thumb to mute strings, you still don't have the most economical use of your fretting fingers.

    I guess it's a tradeoff: sacraficing one way to mute strings for economy of motion and possible repetitive stress injuries.;)
  11. Planet Boulder

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

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    One very important (and seemingly obvious) thing to remember concerning the thumb is to make sure that you don't have too much tension resulting from bearing down too hard with your thumb while supporting the neck.

    I read a column by Adam Nitti once who was discussing some common mistakes and this was one of them. He said the best way to tell if you have too much tension on the neck is to release your thumb and see if you can finger the board comfortably without supporting the back of the neck with the thumb.

    I actually practice playing without the thumb and it makes all the difference in the world in terms of forcing you to relax on the fretboard and to be able to improve your technique overall.
  12. beermonkey


    Sep 26, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    Yes, indeed. My bass teacher in college told me the same thing, and it was a pain in the ass at first to get used to. Now, I'm forever grateful for this tidbit of advice (as well as keeping your fingers as close to the fretboard as possible at all times). Listen to your teacher.
  13. Hopefully you'll never know how long it took me to unlearn the bad habit I picked up early on. I went with what "worked for me" instead of what the teachers instructed. If only I had listened.

    I played for years with my thumb almost over the top of the neck (a la Hendrix barchords). As a result my left wrist was always turned and my fretting technique was based on that position - AWFUL!

    If I could offer one useful piece of advice it would be that you listen to your teacher and do it right the first time.
  14. Funkateer


    Jul 5, 2002
    Los Gatos, CA
    I hope this is coincidental, or more attributable to sessions with the leaf blower, than the bass, but I have recently started to experience hand/wrist/forearm/elbow discomfort. I don't think it has anything to do with my left hand thumb position as both sides have the same problem, but it is causing me to drastically cut back on time in the woodshed.
  15. Starrchild


    Nov 10, 2000
    The Bay.
    Dont you just love talkbass:)
    everything that's been stated is totally on point,
    to bad it took me 20 yrs to find out.

    my ex-teacher was totally into proper technique,
    remember to keep your fingers arched like crab legs using the tip of your fingers,not the flat part.

  16. chris griffiths

    chris griffiths

    Aug 20, 2002
    nashville tn
    Endorsing artist: Gallien Krueger
    the only bass player I've ever seen wrap his thumb around (stevie ray vaughn style) and sound good doing it was Louis Johnson. Keep it behind the neck your gonna stay injury free for longer in your life. also you should be able to play your bass without putting the thumb on the neck at all. if you can't hear notes without your thumb down your bass is too hard to play. you need to lighten it for your finger technique. this reliefs tension in your wrists and joints. as gary willis says you should be able to breathe a a note into your bass much less pluck one
  17. Hmm, when I hold my bass up, the headstock is further away from my body than the body of the bass (look from side). Or I would say the body of the bass, is not exactly in the same angle as my face is facing, it is facing a bit to the left. If I dun use my thumb, when I use my left hand fingers to fret, they will make the headstock rotates towards my body, I can't make them sound without my left thumb.

    I also feel much tension in my left thumb (and wonder its caused by bad technique or bad strength). The lower section(correct term?) of my left thumb is glued to the side of my palm (called the crotch?), so its the side of my thumb that anchors on the back of the fretboard, and not the tips of my left thumb.

    Gotta take one picture when I got my digicam back.
  18. dTune


    Feb 28, 2004
    Bassists who have that baseball grip of the neck are usually the ones who hold their bass waaay down there, around the height of their knees.

    If you're ever going to play anything above the 12th fret, you're going to have troubles with the baseball grip. Think of the wrist. You'll have keep the bass a bit higher, and then to bend the back of your palm to the back of your arm. :meh:

    When you keep the thump behind the neck, your fretting fingers will come to the fretboard in a 90 degree angle (at least with THE ideal technique). It's far more easy to press the strings than when the fingers are aligned with the fretboard. It's the same difference as between just fretting one string and fretting 3 or 4 strings with one finger. Try holding both of those for a minute and you'll notice the difference.

    That classical guitar is a good example. If the thump-behind-the-neck-grip would be bad, or if there was a better one, i think someone would've come up with it by now...
  19. I've never had musical instruction - other than much genuine wisdom on TB. When I moved to bass 30 + years ago, I looked at how classical players held their fingering hand; guitar cello, DB, etc. They all kept the thumb on the back of the neck and never wrapped it around. I reasoned that if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me: I stuck to it through thick and thin.

    What dividends it paid me. I'm no great player but I can now do things that would be impossible with your typical 'hammer-grip' technique.

    Speed and endurance will come.

    You will find that you will modify your teacher's instructions a little bit to suit your own body structure. Likewise, you will probably spend lots of time adjusting your strap (therefore, bass position vs body) making small improvements as you progress.

    IMHO, with a low slung bass, it is impossible to play "correctly" because the wrist simply won't twist round far enough...you know, how (say) Susie Quatro played with the bass almost slung around her knees.

    Follow your teacher, but bear in mind that his body isn't yours.

  20. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    I am really glad I found this thread! I have always used the baseball grip and in the last couple of weeks I have been trying to switch. I have been practicing for an hour or two a day. With the thumb behind the neck, I can only go for 30 minutes before the pain is too much and I have to switch back. For those who switched; aside from feeling awkward, which is to be expected, did it physically hurt to switch? I am hoping this is normal and will go away once I get used to it. i.e. over the years I have "taught" my hands to play wrong and now they are complaining about the change.