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Hooking the thumb?

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(@chris-c)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

i was trying to make a point (with only one photo of a couple of kids from Liverpool), that there are not many "absolutes" in most things, and it's not odd at all to see players using their thumbs this way. i know i've seen many of the players shown "not" using their thumbs over the fret board doing so live.

i think at this point it's safe to say that unless you are being tested for some sort of playing requirement that involves classical posture, technique, etc, that whatever works for you is probably ok.

That's pretty much how I see it too, mate. :)

I'm probably a bit cracked on this topic, and have something of a 'bee in my bonnet' about it. It dates back to once having a teacher who was Conservatorium trained (and a very good player) who was very anal about the 'thumb always behind the neck' thing, because that's what he'd been taught. After being pushed into what felt like a very unnatural stance for me I ended up with bad thumb pain that forced me to stop playing for a month to recover. After that I went back to doing what was comfortable and what felt right for each situation and musical style.

To give him his due, after showing him a bundle of photographic evidence he did admit that there was a rock style that was different to his, and stopped hassling me. Of course he never quite warmed to it, and wouldn't miss a chance to show me little extra things that his mastery of formal techniques allowed him to do (even with a rockier repertoire than he usually played), but after pointing out that I had no intention of spending the thousands of hours that he had invested in perfecting them he agreed to a truce. 8)

I do understand why many teachers try and push what they feel is the traditionally correct way. I feel much the same when I see some modern woodworking joinery that looks inferior to my eyes, compared to the way I would do it. Yet, I have to admit that the way they make thing now usually holds together well enough and is a lot quicker to do. So it's here to stay. I just won't be recommending it. So I'm not surprised that you often see people on forums recommending what they feel (or have been told) is the correct way to play guitar. I just like to offer the alternative viewpoint, as I'm convinced that you can make perfectly good music on guitar using techniques that would have Segovia spinning in his grave, and that most rockers feel the same way.... :)

Cheers,

Chris


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(@mmoncur)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 168
 

So is muting the high strings with the thumb all that bad? I've seen several online lessons that recommended it, and my teacher suggested it too, although I think he does a bit of both. Noff's comment above suggests that this is a Very Bad Thing.

I'm specifically talking about rhythm guitar, playing open A and D chords. (and C, but I mute that one with my 3rd finger instead of the thumb.)

It seems much easier to keep a consistent rhythm, especially when you're playing a hard, driving style, when you strum all 6 strings...

Is it different for electric and acoustic?


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(@twistedlefty)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4166
 

So is muting the high strings with the thumb all that bad? I've seen several online lessons that recommended it, and my teacher suggested it too, although I think he does a bit of both. Noff's comment above suggests that this is a Very Bad Thing.

I'm specifically talking about rhythm guitar, playing open A and D chords. (and C, but I mute that one with my 3rd finger instead of the thumb.)

It seems much easier to keep a consistent rhythm, especially when you're playing a hard, driving style, when you strum all 6 strings...

Is it different for electric and acoustic?

i can only speak from my personal (limited) experiance and state, that it only adds to my range, and options in various cicumstances. in other words "it works when it works, and doesn't where it don't" (sorry for the hayseed grammer there)
i use it often to both fret and to mute, it really depends on what works for you.

as far as acoustic or electric goes i imagine it probably applies to the same criteria. personally i usually only do it on my acoustic, as it has a wider neck.

#4491....


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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4478
 

I think the problem is trying to describe the technique as either right or wrong when preferred would be a better choice. You can look at any sport say golf and there are standard ways they will instruct you to swing a golf club but then you'll see a hundred different variations by professionals...so which is right or wrong. All that really matters in a golf swig is where that clubface is at impact, how it got there is pretty irrelevant as long as you can repeat it.

I think this is a similar situation if you're hooking your thumb over and it allows you to play a piece of music correctly then what does it matter, you're not getting style points for keeping it behind the neck. I can't ever remember hearing someone say man that was a great solo but he had his thumb hooked over the top I'll never see him again.

Whatever works for you and allows you to play the notes you need to. If it means keeping the thumb behind the neck for extra reach then that's what you need to do because it'll probably be impossible to reach some notes if you don't.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

I think the problem isn't whether a technique is "right" or "wrong" - the problem comes in when a guitarist dismisses it as unimportant, or decides that it's simply a matter of personal preference without understanding the why behind the technique.

The reason classical guitarists hold the guitar the way they do is because it lines your fingers up with the frets. Look at that John Williams picture - fingers are parallel to frets. This gives you the maximum ability to stretch in either direction; guitarists who keep the neck lower end up coming in from 'above' the frets, and sacrifice some ability to stretch.

The reason the thumb is kept behind the neck is to maximize reach. Both of these techniques are more important on a classical guitar (because the neck is more than 5/8" wider than a typical steel string), but you will be able to reach more notes on any guitar if the thumb is behind the neck and the fingers are parallel to the frets.

I don't always play with great technique. Most guitarists don't (John Williams is truly an exception - he has a reputation among classical guitarists as a great technician). But studying the techniques, the reasons behind them, and practicing them means you'll be able to do that 8-fret strectch when you need it, and you'll be able to make a choice (not a default choice, but a real choice) when you don't.

There are brilliant players in every genre with lousy technique. They're not brilliant because of the choices they make in areas of technique; they are brilliant in spite of their poor technique.

In the end, it is a choice. But doing something because it's easier or more comfortable comes with a cost. Most guitarists make an uninformed decision on whether to learn specific techniques. Then they're stuck - habits are hard to break.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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Note,

Not to be argumentative,but...in theory everything you say makes sense to me but, I think you have to ask yourself what am I trying to accomplish, to play the music correctly or to play with good technique? They don't neceissarily go hand in hand. I would agree that playing with so called proper technique may allow you to play the music correctly but so might playing without great technique..so then what does it matter. There are so may variables that I don't see the difference. To me it's still about the end result the music how you get there is another story.

If I can't do an 8 fret stretch with poor technique then I guess I'd need to work on changing the way I do things but if I could or lets say I could play anything that John Williams could with "bad" technique would that make me less of a guitarist?

It only becomes an issue if the technique limits your ability to play the music. It would be a diferent story if this were ice skating and you were getting rated on technique but when I see musicians in any genre I judge them but what my ears hear not by what their fingers are doing.

You even said there are brilliant players with bad technique, but you've rationalized it to say they got there in spite of their technique...when maybe it's because the technique didn't really matter that much in the first place.

But I'm not advocating being a sloppy lazy player at all I just think there are always alternate ways of doing things that give you the same result.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


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 Noff
(@noff)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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So is muting the high strings with the thumb all that bad? I've seen several online lessons that recommended it, and my teacher suggested it too, although I think he does a bit of both. Noff's comment above suggests that this is a Very Bad Thing.

I'm specifically talking about rhythm guitar, playing open A and D chords. (and C, but I mute that one with my 3rd finger instead of the thumb.)

It seems much easier to keep a consistent rhythm, especially when you're playing a hard, driving style, when you strum all 6 strings...

Is it different for electric and acoustic?

I didn't mean to suggest it's all bad, I just know that in the long run it slowed my chord changes (especially when playing barre chords where I'd have to drop my thumb all the way to the back of the neck) and gave me a sound that wasn't as clean. But on the other hand, when I first started I could barely strum at all, let alone selectively strum a few strings in time, so I can't necessarily say it was all that bad of a way to start out, as it got me strumming with decent rhythm. It's a useful tool but I think eventually you have to be able to do without it as well.

I don't know much about electric as I only play acoustic currently but from what I've seen control is even more of an issue than with acoustics.


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(@chris-c)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

I think the problem isn't whether a technique is "right" or "wrong" - the problem comes in when a guitarist dismisses it as unimportant, or decides that it's simply a matter of personal preference without understanding the why behind the technique.

+1 to that. It's always good to find out what you might be either gaining or giving up by making any choice. In business this is sometimes called "doing a cost/benefit analysis". :)
In the end, it is a choice. But doing something because it's easier or more comfortable comes with a cost. Most guitarists make an uninformed decision on whether to learn specific techniques. Then they're stuck - habits are hard to break.

Early on in my attempts to learn guitar I tried to look up the road a bit and do as NoteBoat suggests - work out why and when the various techniques should or could be used. I'm something of a fan of John Williams (I used to own a CD shop specialising in classical music shop) so I naturally checked out how he works, plus others who play somewhat more modern music (like Chet Atkins) who apparently have reputations as good technical stylists. I quickly decided that though I admired their skills that I wasn't aiming to play their type of music, or aspire to their degree of accuracy and perfection. So I wasn't going to be too fussed about mastering all their techniques. However, many of the rockers, folkies and blues guys seemed to have the combination of comfort, ease and music that appealed. So that's the way I went.

COST: I won't be doing too many 8 fret stretches. Solution: Perhaps I could try moving my hand more instead of stretching, but in reality I haven't yet come across a piece that required me do do those big stretches anyway. If I did then, if I couldn't adapt it, then I'd pick another song - there's still a few million left to choose from...

BENEFIT: It's easier and more comfortable for me. The way I play - which is usually with the thumb not exactly 'hooked', but more pressed into the side - gives me a pivot or anchor point to rapidly and accurately swing my fingers around. It also helps me keep the neck stable and under control without having to be so careful about overall posture. Above all, it just feels right.

It's not what JW would do, but it suits me fine. I'm having fun, and (despite not starting until I was 58) I'm now playing every week in a trio that performs in a local music shop. At my present stage I can still pick up my classical guitar and, (as long as I sit in the posture that John Williams is using in that photo), play with my thumb planted behind the neck. Badly of course, and only on very simple beginner pieces, and I'm unlikely to go much further down that road. Mostly I'm happy to stay as admirer and listener with that style. With the stuff I usually play, I find that when the thumb does actually need to move round the back (which so far mostly seems to be for bar chords or playing some tunes further up the neck) then it seems quite happy to slide round while it does the job, and then slip back into the comfortable position when it's done. :)

Like tens of thousands of other kids, I had my early interest in music bashed out of me by a school piano teacher who was obsessed by formal technique and correctness of detail over enjoyment and outcome, and I didn't try and play again for over 40 years! I'm not making the same mistake twice. I like Chris' (Cnev's) golf analogy - if it works for me, and isn't causing any major problems, then that's the bottom line. I absolutely agree with NoteBoat's opinion that it pays to know why you make a choice - but once I've made it then it's no regrets from then on. 8) :D

Cheers,

Chris


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(@jwmartin)
Noble Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 1437
 

I've tried and I just can't play w/ my thumb behind the neck, except for barre chords.

Bass player for Undercover


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(@yournightmare)
Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 108
 

I was unaware that John Williams even had a thumb on his left hand. I think Chris C is lying when he claims to have seen it.


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(@kevinbatchelor77)
Trusted Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 75
 

Just because universities teach to play with your thumb behind the neck doesn't mean its always correct. Who ever said that universities are always correct. I had a lot professors that were nuts :) Sometimes I play with the thumb over the neck sometimes I don't. It just depends on what I'm playing.

I have a friend with a degree in Classical guitar and if he is playing a classical piece he keeps the thumb behind the neck but if he is playing something like Hendrix's Foxy Lady the thumb goes over the neck.


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(@trguitar)
Famed Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 3711
 

I have a friend with a degree in Classical guitar and if he is playing a classical piece he keeps the thumb behind the neck but if he is playing something like Hendrix's Foxy Lady the thumb goes over the neck.

BINGO!!!!

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


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(@tinsmith)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 830
 

I hook my thumb all the time. Sometimes I'm thumpin' a bass rythmn while I'm fingerpickin' a few notes on the other strings.

I can't do everything in A-D-E


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(@yashicamat)
Reputable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 272
 

I find myself hooking my thumb most of the time, except when playing barre chords or the odd song which requires a 5 fret span low on the neck where I just need the reach. However, I don't have any issue swapping between different positions to achieve what I'm after. I find the thumb hooked infinately more comfortable than behind the neck and to be honest, as long as I am able to play what I want I think that's all that matters.

As has been said above, playing the guitar (or any musical instrument for that matter) is about the sound you produce, rather than the method of producing it. Players all have varying styles . . . surely it should just be a case of each person to their own? :)

Rob

If something's not worth doing it's worth forgetting about.
Epiphone Les Paul Std - Yamaha Pacifica 112XJ - Takamine EG340SC - Taylor Baby - Grainger Hammerhead 50 - Grainger Valve Five
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(@ak_guitar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 48
 

Check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN7YHbQjwjo

It changed my perception of how the thumb can be used.

Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 33:2-4


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