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What do you do with your thumb behind the neck?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Tombo, Apr 2, 2004.

  1. Tombo

    Tombo Guest

    Mar 7, 2004
    New York, USA
    I've been playing for a little over four years, and I have been taking lessons since I started. Now maybe its because they don't know how to play, maybe its actually a way of playing, but I noticed that alot of kids (not really adults) place their thumb behind the neck and wrap it over the E string. Is that right? It sure looks wrong to me. I was taught to keep the thumb stiff, and against the neck. But then I have heard some bassist actually play some notes using their thumb. But I think that is kinda wrong. Feel free to correct me if you want to.
  2. I have a bad habit of letting my thumb creep over the edge of the neck, but it's a lot more efficient and comfortable most times to have your thumb contacting the neck in the middle of the non-fretboard side. As for wrapping it over the E string... well, that just seems unweildy and painful to me.
  3. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I think that it's partly due to the fact that most of these "kids" are slinging their bass around their knees and attempting to play it. Stretch out your strap as far as it will go, and it's hard _not_ to wrap your thumb all the way around.

    The way I play it though, that's nearly impossible. Then again, if I don't shave, I scratch the upper horn of my bass.
  4. mybluespector


    Mar 22, 2004
    Joplin, Mo
    I play thumb war with my other personality! :help:

    I agree that alot of popular players do not hold there bass correctly. I think that has alot to do with it! Get that puppy up
  5. Groove_Master

    Groove_Master Guest

    Feb 29, 2004
    it not right.. at least my teacher told me that its wrong.. but there are some instruments which you must play with your thumb. maybe it comes from them
  6. Tombo

    Tombo Guest

    Mar 7, 2004
    New York, USA
    Yeah I know for alot of guitar chords all my friends say that there are some chords you must bring your thumb over. Yeah most of the people I was refering to are like the "punk-rock, the only reason I play bass guitar is to be in a band" type, which I completely hate.
  7. I can hit the E with my thumb around it if I want, but I'm trying to chance that. Does that affect my playing a lot or should I be fine playing that way?
  8. Skavenger


    May 26, 2002
    songs with low bass notes that stretch over a few bars make me use my thumb as a sort of rest. Let's face it, it's less hard on the hand when you're playing the low notes on the first couple of frets with your hand wrapped around. Thank God I don't play that kind of music, it's quite boring(Metal, traditional blues with 2-minute guitar solos, etc.) :)
    You should practice to do the right thing, ie the thumb stiff. It will strengthen the muscles in your fretting hand.
  9. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I keep it parallel to my middle finger.
  10. michaelsanford

    michaelsanford Guest

    Apr 4, 2004
    Haha great Mike's think alike.

    My personal take on that : bad technique. It's not really efficient for your hand, and it limits the reach of your other fingers to finger strings.
  11. Goldsac


    Mar 15, 2004
    The 'Hill
    I hate that type too, but I hope you don't go jumping to conclusions (unless you're talking about keeping the thumb hanging over as a force of habit...not a fan.). But that thumb position is a perfectly ok thing to have in your bag o' tricks, cause it can be handy in certain situations for muting. Claypool uses it pretty legitimately when he plays American Life, if you've ever seen him do that.
  12. Agreed over here, for boring rock bass lines, its easier on the muscles (for me) to just wrap around, and just use the left index and middle finger to do the fretting.
  13. DaemonBass


    Mar 29, 2004
    Sacramento, CA
    I can't relate to that post. Most metal that I like isn't gonna be to friendly to gripping the neck like a baseball bat... I mean try playing some dream theater lines with that grip ... it's not gonna happen. Lol Metal is boring LOL
  14. Funkateer


    Jul 5, 2002
    Los Gatos, CA
    I think that there are definitely some situations when using the thumb to mute the E string or even fret it is appropriate. Thumb muting the E when slapping for instance. However, I would not build my LH technique around it. Your thumb needs to be behind the neck, opposing the other fingers in the hand. Further, it is important that the thumb is not rigid or stiff. The real payback from the proper thumb position is the ability to play out of position without your LH losing contact with the neck.

    Try playing a chromatic scale across all four strings using both the 'thumb over' and 'thumb behind' techniques. When using the 'thumb behind technique', be sure your fingers are curved, and that finger tip and thumb are the only parts of the hand touching the neck. Watch out for the tendency of the LH to collapse onto the neck on the G string side. If you do that, you can't pivot on the thumb. Unless you have huge hands, I'm betting that you will find that the 'thumb behind' requires a lot less shifting and is easier for smooth playing.

    Still not convinced? Try a Fm7 arpeggio on the E and A strings using LH index and little fingers. Run it backward and forward. Go for speed.


    I will be surprised if after 10 minutes practicing this that you can't play it twice as fast using the thumb as a pivot.

    Back to the stiff thumb thing. It is completely nonobvious that the right way to hold the neck is NOT to grip it, the thumb is a guide, not half of a vise. When you look at players it looks llike they are gripping the neck, but those with solid technique, probably aren't. The weight of the arm is directed to the frets by pivoting in the shoulder. Arm/forearm/wrist/fingers form a curve. Hold your RH arm out at an angle that approximates the neck of a bass. Curve your fingers, and 'fret' your wrist. Let your thumb just hang there. Now, relax your left arm. Feel how your arm pivots, and the weight gets transferred through your fingertips. Don't squeese the neck, use gravity and the shoulder pivot to harness the weight of your arm to fret. I used to test myself by playing scales and stuff making a point of not touching the neck with my left thumb. If that seems pretty natural, you probably don't have the neck in a death grip.
  15. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    I just use it to mute the E. I use a pick primarily, so occasionally I'll end up hitting the E while doing so. So, after doing this for sometime, I've just found it easier to mute the string with my thumb, rather than attempting to mute with another finger, while fretting on a different string (I have bad posture with my fingers, so I don't "arch" them as your supposed to, so when I used to mute with a different finger (one usually ahead of the fretting finger, it'd be "laying" on the string that I'd want to note, but instead you'd just hear a nice THUD!).
    Anyway, that's why I do it. I know it's wrong, and as of late I've made it good practice with myself to work on my fretting hand, and thumb placement.
  16. Mine does whatever the hell it wants!
  17. bassturtle


    Apr 9, 2004

    ROFL...and I thought I was the only one who almost chokes himself with his bass!
  18. BigLob


    Aug 13, 2003
    Dallas, Texas
    Like Figjam I usually try to keep my thumb under my middle finger, but only because thats how I play when using DB, and if I get out of practice my thumb will just do whatever it wants, thus making my orch teacher yell at me. Also, doing that seems to let me not have to shift to reach lower or higher notes.
  19. Go back to what what FUNKATEER wrote and repeat it over and over. Very sound advice.
  20. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    Great post Funkateer - at one time I followed this method, but found my left hand wrist angle to be excessive when only my thumb and fingertips touched the neck.

    So I've been letting the left hand collapse on the G string side and have been using a Carol Kaye thumb approach (pointing it toward the nut) to minimize wrist angle.

    If I "lift" my hand to avoid touching the G string side, my wrist angle increases.

    I'm fairly tall (long arms), but my hands are only average size.

    Any advice?

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