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Unconventional thumb position fingering

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Who da Ville, Oct 2, 2017.


  1. Recently, I've been having fun playing ole timey fiddle tunes on my bass. Many of these tunes are in D, and I've found that when I'm playing the melody of some of the D tunes up high, that I find it easiest to adopt a non-conventional fingering; placing my thumb on the octave (ie. G on the G string) with a full step between my thumb and index finger (A on the G string).

    Geometrically, it's just like playing in 1 position: using the thumb to stop the octave and substituting the ring finger for the pinkie (B on the G string).

    I've tried shifting and pivoting, but find it clumsy, and my intonation suffers.

    In other keys (such as Am) it's easier (better intonation) for me to use more conventional fingering, and to pivot a half step to reach all the notes, even though I could use the unconventional fingering that I use for the key of D and play the passage without shifting.

    I'm just curious if I'm the only person that does this. It's an easy reach for me, so it seems, the biggest risk is that my intonation might suffer when I'm using more conventional fingering in other keys. But to me, it seems that intonation is better, at least in the key of D.

    Thanks for any input/advice.
     
  2. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    "Conventional" diatonic fingering is T on the G, I on A, M on B and R on C. Petracchi semi-chromatic is T with a whole step to I then the other two fingers a half step apart. This position and the fully chromatic position (T123 in half steps) both move easily.
     
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  3. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    There are at least five general shapes in thumb position utilizing t123, chromatic, semi-chromatic (what you have discovered), minor (whole step, half step, whole step), major (whole step, whole step, half step), phrygian (half step, whole step, half step), and whole tone (all whole steps) along with slight variations of the above.
     
  4. Thanks guys. Obviously this is more complicated than I thought. I had assumed that TP was like the fingering in the lower positions; same shape that moves up & down the fingerboard.

    I think that if I tried to learn 5 different shapes, that I would probably have intonation issues (which shape am I in this time?) For now, I'll continue using the two I've discovered so far, until another song leads me somewhere else.

    Based on your input, I'll try to be a little more open to trying a new shape if and when it arises…

    There are no qualified DB teachers near me (heck, there are no other DB players for that matter). I appreciate your input.
     
    Adam Booker likes this.
  5. CSBBass

    CSBBass

    Sep 21, 2013
    Thumb position fingerings can be extremely flexible and versatile. The hand shapes that I find myself using the most are probably chromatic and semi-chromatic, but I've found places in the music for just about every shape you can think of.

    Once you're very comfortable with the basic shapes, fingers can even move independently of the hand--I often find that certain passages in thumb position require one of my fingers (most often, thumb, but it has happened with all the others) to play a note half step higher or lower than the one that finger is positioned to be on--think of an A major scale starting on the octave harmonic of the A-string. thumb-1-3 works for the A-B-C# on the A string and then same fingering for D-E-F# on the D string, but to play the G# on the G string without a shift, you'll have to move your thumb up a half step without moving the other fingers or moving the hand. Work on getting comfortable with different hand shapes first, then once they're solidly ingrained work on playing scales and exercises with the thumb on notes other than harmonics--essentially, having the freedom to place your thumb on any note and find the best way to play a passage rather than the most "conventional" way will provide you with an unbelievable amount of options.

    Based on your last response though it doesn't sound like you're aiming to become a total thumb position virtuoso wizard, which is also totally cool. I'm not suggesting that you NEED to do all these things for your purposes, just elaborating a little more into what's possible up there so that you have some more info should you end up needing/wanting it.

    As for teachers--it's a bit of a drive from you, but it might be worth heading into Portland every now and then for a lesson. It might be a pain to do it weekly, but even just getting some feedback every month or so can be immensely helpful, and there are some wonderful players in the Oregon Symphony and surely many others in the town that I'm unaware of who would probably be happy to work with you.
     
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  6. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I've maintained many of my Houston students for a year on google hang out lessons - proof that it works fine. Great teachers are nearer than ever.
     
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  7. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Good post CSBbass! Totally agree with you that you have to be flexible with your fingerings. I always found the Petrachi names and way of thinking a bit academic. It works but I never think in those terms of chromatic or semi chromatic or whatever. The shapes occur by them selves and I see no reason to name them. You also don't do that when you are not in TP. There a a lot of similarities between TP and 'normal'/ not TP playing. Main difference is that you play more on one or two strings and less across the board on all four strings. Especially in higher TP this is awkward.
     
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  8. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    The above finerings are clear as a bell, but in my case (and I find it difficult to believe I'm unique) the problem is with my thumb's placement on the string before being pressed to the finger board. There simply it not enough flesh between the corner of my thumbnail and the first joint to press the string firmly to the fingerboard. I cannot produce a clean ringing note, just a buzzing thunk. I've even considered going back to guts or thicker strings!
    Everyone I have read here on TB has insisted that it is wrong to use the knuckle to press down the strings. "Just build up a callus." It's not about the so-called pain involved. I've been playing since 1961! It just won't work for me. Are there any good thumb position players that have a similar anatomical problem? What to do?
     
  9. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    I use the knuckle. I have never been taught any different. You can use the knuckle, too.
     
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  10. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    I would recommend that the contact point/callous be at the outermost point of the curvature of the thumb - see below (I've outlined in it pen), it's NOT on the knuckle, or too near the fingernail area.
    Your Physiography May Vary.
    IMG_3456.JPG
     
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  11. CSBBass

    CSBBass

    Sep 21, 2013
    Mine is quite similar to Don's picture.

    Something that Edgar Meyer has been said to share with his students is the concept of using several parts of the thumb--admittedly, I'm pretty terrible at this so far, but the basic idea is that he'll use the thumb across two strings, with the higher string being at or close to where Don pictured or where you would expect to normally play, and the lower string being higher on the thumb, more where the nail is. Basically, it lets you barre two strings with the thumb, allowing for perfect 4ths (when played across the strings rather than on one string, anyways) to a be a lot less cumbersome. It's incredibly awkward to try at first, but I'm sure like most things regular practice would make it a very usable skill, though it's not been something I've spent a lot of time on yet.
     
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  12. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    What's the reasoning for not using your knuckle?
     
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  13. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    I've never been able to do this, ergo I gave up. Also Too - I am Not (even a distant relative of) Edgar Meyer.

    Because the "knuckle" may NOT be the outermost portion of the thumb - on my hand, the knuckle (the actual "joint") is a good 3/8" away from the high-spot/sweet-spot, AND, (the knuckle) is a relatively low point of the outermost portion of the Thumb.
    Your Mother's Combat Boot Mileage & Blessings May Vary.
    Thanks.
     
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    Sorry, I don't understand your terminology - "high-spot/sweet-spot"? "outermost portion"? Can you elaborate? [ more than KFS? ;) ] Also, why does it matter if you're not using the "high-spot/sweet spot" and the "outermost portion"? All of my teachers gave me the roughly the same council - the spot you and Chris describe between the knuckle and the fingernail but then they also said things like "usually", "typically", and "get as close as you can to" and "but everyone's different".
     
  15. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Is my case it is the outermost portion, and more important, the hardest (firmest) spot and, to me, the most controllable spot. In the "correct" spot I never know exactly where the string is making contact with the board. The string feels like it's rolling around.
    BTW I can't even imagine trying to barre two strings with my thumb.
     
  16. CSBBass

    CSBBass

    Sep 21, 2013
    One reason that I've heard is that the lower on the thumb (as in farther from the nail, closer to the palm, etc) you stop the string, the more length of thumb you have hanging over towards the next lowest string. I try to keep my thumb contacting solely the string that it's playing, as much as possible--if I stop the string too far down on the knuckle, I wouldn't be able to play the open string below the string I'm playing, and the thumb would kill the resonance of that string (either resonating from just having been played open or on a harmonic, or resonating sympathetically with whatever note I'm currently playing). Not a deal breaker, and plenty of great playing could be done on the lower part of the knuckle, but it's something to think about. Someone with a small thumb might have no problem with that--I'm 6'3" and my hands reflect that, so I do have to play just slightly above the knuckle, pretty much were Don pictured his callous, to not have my thumb get in the way. However, I still would definitely consider that placement to be more on the knuckle than it is on the nail--it's just below where the nail ends, but just above what is really the center of the knuckle.
    True, Edgar Meyer is a bit of an anomaly sometimes when it comes to the things he manages to make work. And perhaps the only reason I can see this technique being possible for me (with extensive effort, of course, hence why I haven't yet put in the time to not suck at this particular maneuver) is because I do have fairly large hands. With a wider string spacing than usual or with a short thumb, this could very well be something that some just physically can't do.

    I think the biggest thing is just to find out what works for you. None of us have exactly the same, so if you can't get a good sound or the sound you want on a certain part of your thumb, play it where you can get that sound, so long as it doesn't cause any other big issues.
     
  17. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    See the photo of my thumb and callous. I can't explain my terminology other than what I've described already.
    Can you post a pic of your callous? This might aid the discussion.
    I suspect that variations in thumb shape and construction (Creation/Evolution???) might play a big part in this discussion. I only posted what works for me, and how I teach.
    FYI - as I've mentioned in the past, when I started studying Thumb Position, I saw the benefit of having a consistent "groove" in the developing callous, so I used an ICE CUBE to numb the callous area while I gently "tapped" the thumb on the string (with my Right Hand!) to accelerate that process of developing a strong, consistent callous AND a groove where the string (G,D,A, or E) would sit.
    Thanks.
     
  18. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Hi gerry,
    Do you have a grooved callous there on the sweet spot that captures/holds the string? (I think this is critical.) If not, that may be the reason that the string feels like it is "rolling around".
    Just my $0.03.
    Thanks.
     
  19. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    This is never a concern of mine - I'm only interested in stopping the string that the thumb is on - My thumb often is touching the adjacent (lower) string - I don't worry about it. In fact, it can be an advantage when playing amplified to eliminate unintentional notes/noise/resonance/vibration of any adjacent string.
    My $0.03.
    Thanks for your interest, CSBBass.
    Edit:TMI - Here is a photo of me playing (chromatically D,Eb,E,F)) in TP on the D string - my Thumb is touching the A string, and note that the Thumb is NOT perpendicular to the string, but is at an angle - a more 'Cellistic approach, courtesy of my teacher back in the late 70's.
    IMG_2650.JPG
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
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  20. CSBBass

    CSBBass

    Sep 21, 2013
    Very true. Obviously there can be advantages of either way and any number of ways for different playing styles.
     
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