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thumb position

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by PB+J, Apr 7, 2001.

  1. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I'm a self taught upright player, and I get around reasonably well and have ben gigging a couple time a month with a jazz trio. I can't seem to get a grip on the idea of "thumb postion." The idea is that playing above the octave harmonic or so, you use your thumb as a barre or sort of like a capo, in ordeer to make it easier to press the notes down. When I try to do this A: it hurts, B: it doesn't work--I can't hold the strings down effectively with my thumb, and C: I have a harder time playing in this position. It's easier for me to get more on top of the fingerboard than thumb position seems to allow.

    Am I missing the boat on this? How many of you have trouble with thumb position?
  2. Before you get into holding the string down, try resting it on the harmonic. You should always be able to feel where the harmonic is (feels dead), so that should keep you fairly in tune, and just playing harmonic won't hurt nearly as bad.

    ps: also Simandl Voume II deals alot with thumb position, and Chuck Sher's Bass Improvisation book has good thumb position exercises. More experienced guys on the board probably can give you a lot of other tips too...
  3. You're not missing the boat. Thumb position is painful at first. That's definitely a sensitive portion of, at least my, thumb. More so than my finger tips. So work up to it slowly. Eventually you'll either kill all the nerves or develop a big callous. I used to study with a dude who suggested bowing long notes while holding down any string until you couldn't stand it any longer. His theory was that this would do the job quickly. What worked for me was just playing chromatic scales with each finger including the thumb.
    As far as effectively holding down the strings and playing in thumb position. Practice often and you might want to go see a teacher.
    Good luck,
  4. One mechanical factor: string clearance measured at the bottom of the fingerboard. Many people have the G height at 4.5-5.0 mm, and the E at 7.5-8.0 mm. This assumes steel strings. Gut requires more clearance. Measure perpendicular to the tangent to the arc of the fingerboard (take that, Mr. PhD).

    When they recover from the weekend, you can expect a thrashing from the old guard for trying to teach yourself.

    Thumb position just plain hurts until you build up a callus on the side of the thumb. This happens slowly. A few minutes a day, gradually increased, is more productive than one long session per week. Some pain is inevitable, but it's not supposed to equal a caning in Singapore. For developing strength and intonation, I believe in bowing exercises up here.

    This is as far as I go. As a former self-taught "pretty good" player, I'll just say you're doomed to ingraining flaws in technique if you insist on staying self-taught.
  5. Pain is part of developing the thumb. The side of the thumb has considerably less padding than the tips of the fingers. Consequently it'll hurt more.

    Plant the side of your thumb on G. Now find A with 1, B w/ 2, C w/3. Practice that tetrachord ascending, descending and in different patterns. Also, using the same fingering, practice chromatically from G to Bb, and G-A-A#-B. Transpose it to different keys on the same string and the other strings. Remember that the further up the fingerboard you're playing, the closer to the bridge you should bow.

    That should get you started, now go find a teacher for some lessons. There's no substitute for being told you're wrong or that you suck in person, and for actually seeing a technique demonstrated by someone better.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    But...but I thought you were one of the central links in the "old guard" chain. Have I been missing the boat here?
  7. Yes, sir. Thump position is painful to develop. But it will come, just like everything else. One thing that might help is to make sure that the weight of your arm is coming down on the string. This will give you a reasonable anchor and you can approach the notes you are playing from a position of strength. In other words, keep your elbow up. If you find yourself have to use a lot of "pressure" from your wrist and/or hand, the problem may be somewhat related to the angle of your arm. That's just my experience and others may disagree.

    BTW, the hardest part of thumb position in my experiencing is developing a nice, controlled vibrato!

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