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Thumbs placement?


(@piratelove38)
Active Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 17
Topic starter  

I noticed that when I'm standing and playing the minor pentatonic scales, I wrap my thumb around the edge of the guitar. Is this bad technique? Should I just keep my thumb behind the guitar neck?

~Alma


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(@embrace_the_darkness)
Honorable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 540
 

You should try and keep your thumb behind the neck - getting into the habit of playing with your thumb OVER the neck is going to hinder you when it comes to playing more complex open chords, and definately when playing barre chords, as the thumb HAS to be behind the neck for those- I have yet to see anyone play a (full) barre chord without moving the thumb behind the neck.

Try to keep your thumb behind the neck (at the very least, dont wrap it around like you are holding a baseball bat!)

Many people here (including myself) actually use the thumb-over-the-neck technique, using the thumb to fret the low E string, but only when it is needed - NOT all the time.

Pete

ETD - Formerly "10141748 - Reincarnate"


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(@vic-lewis-vl)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 10340
 

This discussion's come up a few times - last time, I think both Pete (Embrace The Darkness, above...) and myself posted pictures in the same thread.

One thing you don't mention, Alma, is how big your hands are - if they're fairly large (or your guitar's got a thin neck) it's not too much of a problem. However, if you've got fairly small hands, or a wide neck, it's always a good idea to keep the thumb behind the neck, or at least as much as you can. The thing is, whichever way you're playing, try to use the minimum force possible to press the strings down - more force = more work, which means the harder you press down, the more force you're exerting, the more work you're doing, the quicker your hand will ache or get tired.

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


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(@piratelove38)
Active Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 17
Topic starter  

Thanks guys. I happen to have pretty small hands, so yeah, working my way around the fretboard isn't always easy.

I don't think I have a problem with the thumb placement for chords. But I'm actually talking about when I play the minor pentatonic standing up (cuz everything's harder to play standing up! lol) But yeah, when I play the pentatonic, I wrap my thumb round the neck, which is kinda problematic at times. So if you guys have any comments on that specifically, technique-wise, I'd be more than grateful.

~Alma

:)


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(@embrace_the_darkness)
Honorable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 540
 

Wrapping your thumb over the neck when playing scales (or any sort of "individual note" playing) is partly (I believe) a confidence thing. By wrapping your thumb around the neck, you feel like you have a better "grip" on the guitar - unfortunately, this can slow your playing down, as moving your hand up and down the neck will take a lot longer than if your hand is 'free' from the neck.

Look at this photo (my fretting finger is angled slightly so you can get a better idea; it should be as close to 90 degrees to the fretboard as possible);

Notice that there is a definate space between the neck and my palm - I am not supporting the guitar in my hand (which you shouldn't really be doing - it either hangs (standing up) or rests on your knees (sitting) ), but I am using a sort of "pinching" action to fret the strings, as you can see here;

Because my hand is 'free' from the guitar neck, it is very easy to quickly and smoothly move my hand and fingers anywhere. Technique-wise, this will take some getting used to, for two main reasons;

1) When playing chords, you have a firm grip on the neck, which feels 'secure'. When playing this way, you lose that feeling of grip=security, as you are just replying on a series of fingertip-touches to play.

2) The action of moving your fingers and hands is different to the chord-playing scenario, as you have your hand in a different position (especially if you are used to the basball-grip style).

Having said all this, it is of course up to you how you decide to play; what works for some doesn't work for others.

I am often a user of the thumb-over-the-neck, especially to play a quick F;

But strictly speaking, I should have my thumb in the middle of the neck, like this;

and you can see again how my palm is free from the neck, but as I have quite big hands, I don't find this to be a problem.

Just see what works for you, but do try and keep good form, whatever you decide, as developing bad form does not make for happy playing later on 8)

Pete

ETD - Formerly "10141748 - Reincarnate"


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(@piratelove38)
Active Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 17
Topic starter  

Thanks a bunch Pete, that was extremely helpful. I think I'll use the technique you showed me; it's true, I do move faster around the fretboard when my thumb isn't latched over the edge. It does feel kinda weird and unstable at first, but somehow freer. Anyway, thanks for your help, I appreciate it!

~Alma :D


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(@causnorign)
Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 559
 

Most people will probably say that the thumb should be centered on the back of the neck, and for a newbie thats probably the best advice. Many people will use their thumbs to fret (or mute)the lo E string, as you learn more you will find your own style.


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(@voidious)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 153
 

The main disadvantage I've found in wrapping the thumb around is that some things (barre chords were mentioned) absolutely require me to put my thumb behind the neck. If I have my thumb already in that position, it's a much quicker and smoother transition to barre chords than if I have to reset my grip first, as well. (I need all the help I can get in getting a barre chord off smoothly! :D)

-- Voidious


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(@voidious)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 153
 

Hey Embrace_the_Darkness - I just have to say that your post in this thread has turned out to be possibly the most valuable technique advice I've encountered yet. I didn't even realize that I was doing it, but I have always been supporting the neck with my left hand instead of considering it stationary and leaving my hand to move more freely.

In just a few days, all my playing - and chord changes in particular - are going way more smoothly. I'm so stoked! It also kinda drives home to me that these are the kinds of things a teacher would be showing me, so that will probably move up my to-do list because of this, as well.

Thanks! :D

-- Voidious


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(@embrace_the_darkness)
Honorable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 540
 

Thanks for the Thanks, Voidous!

And yes, that is the kind of thing a teacher would point out to you (if he/she is a good teacher that is!)

Glad that you're playing is improved.

Pete

ETD - Formerly "10141748 - Reincarnate"


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(@rahul)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2764
 

Very nice illustrations there, Pete.

Its heartening to know that Voidous has found a marked difference in his playing due to correct technique.

That's what these forums are all about. Rock on people !


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(@kevin72790)
Prominent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 840
 

Great post Pete. Yea, like other people said, if you have small hands, it's probably bad if your thumb is wrapped around the neck.


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(@chris-c)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

Hi,

There are many ways to place your thumb when playing, but there are at least two obviously different styles – what you might call the “Classical Style” and the “Rock Style”.

Although most trained teachers will undoubtedly draw your attention towards the 'Thumb at the back' style, there are also many who acknowledge that most rock players simply don't play that way, and will even go as far as to give good reasons for the 'Thumb alongside' method. Often the 'Thumb at the side' style is attributed to a need to stabilize the neck for doing bends, but I think that in reality it's sometimes just more comfortable to play that way, depending on what your style is. As Pete points out, it's good to keep some free space between your palm and the edge of the guitar – because if you grip too tightly the high E string can get muted by your hand and it can slow you down and feel ‘choked'. But other than that there is no need to worry too much about having your thumb alongside the neck if that's what suits your hand size and general style.

Check out this video. None of these five gents have any problems with confidence, experience or ability. Yet they all have their thumbs clearly visible alongside the neck. (The five are BB King, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck – five of the best blues rock guitarist of all time. So I don't think you can accuse them of not knowing what they're doing.)

5 Greats together

Here's another with Gary Moore and BB King. Both exponents of the “Thumb where I feel like putting it” school.

The Thrill is Gone

Over the last few months I've checked out numerous youtube videos of rock players and I've yet to come across one that doesn't have their thumb alongside the neck most of the time. I'm sure that there are some out there somewhere who keep their thumb always behind the neck, but I haven't come across them yet. I also have several Teach Yourself books with pictures of famous rock guitarists sprinkled throughout (mainly to distract you from the rather old fashioned songs in the books) and all of them also have their thumbs alongside the neck and not behind. The exception being if they're playing a barre chord or have a particular need to move the thumb round behind the neck.

Here's Mark Knopfler, another great player.

Mark Knopfler

So far, the only non-classical guitarist that I've found on youtube who plays more closely in the “classically approved manner” is Chet Atkins. Chet's not exactly a hard rocker, but he's a brilliant guitar player and a great stylist. His thumb spends a fair bit of time behind the neck, but pops up alongside from time to time. As far as I could tell this is usually when he's about to use it on the low E string. To my amateur eye, his technique looks about as precise as you could get, and if you want to play his style of music then it's a pretty good demonstration of why it's worth persisting with that method. Chet at work However, if you want to play like pretty much every other well known rocker or bluesman then thumb alongside, except when you play barre chords, or particular passages, seems to be just fine. 8)

Some classically trained teachers get pretty anal about the thumb thing (and here's a thread, from a couple of months ago, where I poked mild fun at it all with some photos). Thumb Clinic But in my opinion, although it's well worth being able to play with the thumb behind the neck (and not only just when you barre) it's by no means essential to play like that all the time. For some styles I find it actually feels inhibiting and ‘wrong' to have my thumb always behind the neck. It can also cause considerable pain in my thumb if I try to play always that way (I have big hands) without changing other aspects of my posture to balance it all up. Yet when I play some other styles it feels absolutely ‘light and right' to have the thumb behind the neck.

Good luck with developing your own styles. :)

Cheers,

Chris


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