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Why do some players use the left thumb at the side of the neck (baseball bat grip)?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Les Fret, Nov 4, 2018.

  1. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    I see some players use their left hand thumb more at the side of the neck. The baseball bat grip so the say. Especially when playing low notes on the E or even A string. I am not talking about amateurs here but players like Chris Minh Doky, Charlie Haden and even Christian Mc Bride use it sometimes. Some players more than others but I see it fairly often with jazz players or other 'lighter' genres. It can't be because of bad technique. Is it because it gives more strength or is it because of sound?

    I started as a classical player so I never use it myself. But what are the advantages?
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  2. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Curious what others have to say. For me personally, i usually only play this way when i am fatigued. Generally the last set of a 3 set gig where my hand is starting to reject the "correct" hand shape. From another perspective though, this could easily be an acceptable hand shape in the lower registers in certain situations. For roots music, sure. But i can't imagine having a nice vibrato with this hand shape.
    Les Fret likes this.
  3. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Christian McBride is a bona fide virtuoso by any measure and does this all the time and not just on low notes. I think the viable left hand possibilities are more numerous than folks realize.
    Old Blastard and Reiska like this.
  4. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I just dropped in here -- not realizing at first that I was on the DB side -- because a lot of great BG players do the same thing and I've always wondered why. It seems as if that's just where their thumb wants to go sometimes, which I find mystifying because my thumb has absolutely no desire to go there, ever; in fact, it's hard for me to put my hand in that position on purpose. I didn't realize it was a "thing" in DB World too, so am curious to see what you folks have to say about it.
    gebass6 and robobass like this.
  5. the_Ryan


    Jul 10, 2015
    Bronx, NY
    Try it.

    For me, it's a very different sound compared to using "proper" technique, and while it's not something use primarily, I do use it sometimes (even in orchestral and solo playing).

    When holding the neck like a baseball bat, don't actively grab/squeeze; still do all the good things like using your arm weight to play the notes instead of squeezing the hand, just change your hand position.
    Reiska likes this.
  6. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I doubt you'll see anyone using the bat grip on technically difficult passages. But, whatever works at any given time, is the approach many take. As mentioned, I only use it (rarely) due to fatigue or pain.
    DrayMiles and wathaet like this.
  7. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    Just be aware that there is a difference between gripping (fatigue?) vs a loose floating thumb
    the_Ryan, Reiska and Groove Doctor like this.
  8. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Here's what @edfriedland has to say about this kind of technique. There are some other comments in the thread about it.

    Ed Friedland on tour with the Mavericks
    Winoman, gebass6, petch and 4 others like this.
  9. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Can you describe the sound difference? I have tried it but I can hardly hear any difference between the normal/classic grip and the bat grip.
  10. Reiska

    Reiska Supporting Member

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    I`ve found this a very relaxed technique, but it is limiting too. Half steps fall pretty naturally, but for a wholestep I need to shift or change the approach back to conventional one. I use it sometimes, not allways, thumping the truth and pedaling notes on lower positions. For thumpin it works well because repetitive lines and left hand damping happen with lesser physical effort . My teacher uses it occasionally and calls it " niskaperselenkki ", neck-ass hold, a cartoon -ish way of throwing someone out the door :)
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  11. Agree 100% with the above. It is an easy way to dig into low notes pizz especially for long time, when you are fatigued or both.

    He is also a human being who gets tired and has periods of more and less practice like the rest of us. It is really tough to maintain perfect technique for more than 2hrs of heavy playing, especially when you have a set part. In my music I can stop or switch if I get tired, most other music does not allow for that.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2018
    Selim, Seanto and Groove Doctor like this.
  12. I recently started to try transferring some bass guitar parts to upright. Good example would be Aretha Franklin's Think-Freedom: it's basically one bar groove, repeating thousand times, consisting of G-D (and some fills), modulates to Ab-Eb, then to A-E. So you spend virtually all the song first finger on E string, changing position only once a minute or so. I find it extremely fatiguing. After a while, I start to feel tension in my thumb, and then I go for the baseball grip. Baseball grip = no fatigue, but clumsy fingers. I see that 'walking bassists' usually don't spend much time in one position on E string; guess it's hard for everybody.
    Practising this forces me to reconsider my stance, trying to find the way to get the bass more stable (so I won't have to use the thumb to stabilize the bass) and a bit more laying (so I can lay my fingers on the fingerboard with more power without pushing on the thumb). I haven't yet figured out a good way to do it though.
  13. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    But it's not in Simandl! Are you sure Damon? :)
    damonsmith likes this.
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I use the baseball bat grip when I'm close to the nut because it can be more comfortable.

    A good example would be playing root-five in the key of E, so I am playing open E and A strings, F# on the E, B on the A, E on the D, A on the G. In other words, a stretch of only two semitones from the nut so mainly keys of E, A, D and sometimes G, using only I, IV and V chords. Once I need to reach three semitones (G, C, F Bb) or further from the nut I'm back to proper fingering. I never use the bat grip when bowing.

    OK, now and then I'll go to the bat grip when playing blues Wille Dixon style at the heel of the neck (A, Bb and B on the E, D, Eb and E on the A). I almost never use the bat grip fretting the G string.

    I could use just my index finger arched or my index and middle finger both arched, but it can be more comfortable to just grab the neck and use either middle or pinky to fret the notes. It also helps with muting the open strings. If the chords include an F# (maj or min) and I need the C# on the A string or the F# on the D string for the B chord, I release the grip and play it "correctly". Like many aspects of both left and right hand technique, I don't think about it conciously while playing. My left hand just does it's thing. Good thing I never trained classically :whistle:

    Ironically, I started on BG and although self-taught at first, I never adopted the bat grip on that instrument.
  15. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    I have played a number of horizontal-neck fretted and unfretted instruments for years, and I almost never use the bat grip with them, but I almost always do with the DB.

    For me, it's mostly a matter of body mechanics for my hands with the DB -- where do I get the most strength and get the clearest notes with the least fatigue or discomfort? Given different size hands, different finger length, etc., I think this answer will be different for everyone.

    Really, anyone seriously concerned about long term finger, wrist, arm and shoulder health should also check with a physical therapist, as there are some really interesting PT concepts that come into play with the DB.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  16. It certainly falls under the "close enough for jazz" heading and really only works when sound/tone is more important than exact pitch. I very rarely use it except in the heat of the moment when blustery free jazz calls for a "low rumble".
  17. I've noticed that Klaus Stoll plays that way frequently. (See pics)

    Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 10.45.47 AM. Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 10.42.44 AM.
  18. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Still curious what the tone difference are between the grips, if any? I don't hear it.
  19. There is no difference between a player with good technique with a strong left hand position and the baseball bat style. It is probably a stronger sound for those who are not pulling with their shoulder/using arm weight for the left hand.
    wathaet likes this.
  20. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    I agree, but the change may move the contact point on the finger to the fleshier part.

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