The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary

View Poll Results: Where's your fret hand thumb?

Voters
27. You may not vote on this poll
  • In line with the middle finger

    6 22.22%
  • In line with the index finger

    6 22.22%
  • Out to the left (for right handers)

    8 29.63%
  • Other

    8 29.63%
Multiple Choice Poll.
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  1. #1

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    When playing single lines (or scales arps etc), where does your thumb usually live? In line with your middle finger? Index? or further out? If you move out of position by a fret or 2 (even momentarily), does your thumb stay put, or does it move accordingly? Mine's outside to the left of the fingers, and tends to not move to accommodate small position shifts. I think both these things are hindrances to efficiency, but it's so hard to change!

    EDIT: BTW, if you choose "other", please explain?
    Last edited by princeplanet; 09-17-2022 at 12:05 AM.

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  3. #2

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    My thumb is usually on the back of the neck at or near the bass side. I don't consciously place or move it - it just follows my hand as I go from position to position. And I rotate my whole hand arund the neck as I go to the bass strings rather than stretch my fingers and/or trap my thumb against the neck.

    I've been trying to learn to play with as little thumb pressure on the neck as possible, to see if that adds control or fluidity by letting my fingers "dance" without having friction hold my thumb stationary and exert extraneous force on my fingers and the rest of the hand. I don't even waste energy trying to hold it in a single position - I let it be comfortable and loose, and it just moves with my hand.

    Here's a split screen video I made quite a while ago of a duet with myself. You can see how my thumb floats behind the neck and moves passively as my fingers rotate around the neck to reach the lower strings.


  4. #3

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    If I left my thumb in one place I would suck at guitar playing. Maybe I meant suck worse.

  5. #4

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    Mine is beside the next fret down from my index finger. I don't know why.

    On a scale of
    Bill Frisell through Bob Bain to Dennis Budimir, I am towards the Budimir end.


  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    I've been trying to learn to play with as little thumb pressure on the neck as possible
    ... I don't even waste energy trying to hold it in a single position - I let it be comfortable and loose, and it just moves with my hand.

    Here's a split screen video I made quite a while ago of a duet with myself. You can see how my thumb floats behind the neck and moves passively as my fingers rotate around the neck to reach the lower strings.
    That's basically what I do/try too (using arm weight instead of thumb force), and I guess (hope) that filming my left hand at work would reveal something similar (plus the guitar support I use to keep the instrument in classical position ).
    I do try to be conscious about keeping the thumb aligned with my middle finder as that does indeed help with bar chords, but barring those I find that it's often trailing behind and trying to meet the index. Probably the effect of years of playing baroque violin (where the instrument is held up by the thumb and position changes can be so small the thumb has to stay in place).

  7. #6

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    OP is asking us a trick question; of course any single answer is never always correct or best. I rarely hear or read of people talking of the thumb pointing towards the headstock but it's a great device for keeping one's wrist straight. Keeping your wrist from contorting to sharp angles is essential to the health and wellness of the nerves utilized in playing.

  8. #7

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    Back of the neck lined up to the middle finger. This Maximizes stretch while minimizing effort.

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by vintagelove
    Back of the neck lined up to the middle finger. This Maximizes stretch while minimizing effort.
    I've always suspected this would be the most efficient placement, alas, I find I'm always hitch hiking to the headstock ...

  10. #9

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    Usually I try to keep it opposite the middle finger. For short one fret position shifts I might not move the thumb.

    From my rock years I have kept the habit of fingering certain stuff with the thumb. In rock there’s that D with the third in the bass, that’s e.g. in ACDC’s Highway To Hell.

    In jazz I would finger a G7 drop 3 (3 x 3 4 3 x) like this: T x 1 3 1 x, so the thumb is in line with the index. [I use the ring finger for the third so I can easily switch to the tritone sub and from there one fret down to the subdominant: Db7/9 (x 4 3 4 4 x ) –> fingering x 2 1 3 3 x]

    Again and again I try to consciously practice hand posture and ergonomic fingering so my thumb position is rather constant and switching between the above described is fluent.

  11. #10

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    I like to flip it around to the fretboard when I’m high up like Pasquale.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by whiskey02
    I rarely hear or read of people talking of the thumb pointing towards the headstock but it's a great device for keeping one's wrist straight.
    Always a straight wrist - that has always been how I do it.
    Very good form for using all four fingers, too. So thumb is
    middle of the back of the neck, pointing straight to the nut.
    Lower positions, even with the index, by the 7th fret index
    it's one fret more toward the nut, by the 12th about 3 frets.
    Way up with index at the 17th fret, thumb's about the 12th.
    The higher, then more fingering shifting for thumb position.
    Shifts are led and positioned by fingers, thumb as needed.

  13. #12

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    I was just watching a video and noticed the guitarist's thumb seemed to adopt two positions; during soloing the thumb is up above the finger board, showing well below its distal joint. I think the pressure opposing the fingers is being applied by the base of the thumb near the edge of the finger board. However, when playing chords, the thumb jumps back and disappears behind the neck. Because he was soloing with intermittent chords, this moving of the thumb from "up" to "behind" back and forth was very noticeable.

  14. #13
    Alreeeet, all 19 votes are in, it's official, I'm hanging with the majority... hmmm, not sure I'm happy 'bout that!

  15. #14

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    My thumb wanders all over the place behind the neck, occasionally over the top of the neck to grab a bass note, but is pretty much an undisciplined rogue. I have enough trouble managing the other four fingers, so I let my thumb take care of itself.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bop Head
    Usually I try to keep it opposite the middle finger. For short one fret position shifts I might not move the thumb.

    From my rock years I have kept the habit of fingering certain stuff with the thumb. In rock there’s that D with the third in the bass, that’s e.g. in ACDC’s Highway To Hell.

    In jazz I would finger a G7 drop 3 (3 x 3 4 3 x) like this: T x 1 3 1 x, so the thumb is in line with the index. [I use the ring finger for the third so I can easily switch to the tritone sub and from there one fret down to the subdominant: Db7/9 (x 4 3 4 4 x ) –> fingering x 2 1 3 3 x]

    Again and again I try to consciously practice hand posture and ergonomic fingering so my thumb position is rather constant and switching between the above described is fluent.
    I've really tried to stop using my thumb to grab notes on the low E but it's a bad habit that's very hard for me to break. I've reduced it to what you descibe, a - Dom. 7th (T x 1 3 1 x) and also a 13th. But I wish I could keep my thumb behind for everything.

  17. #16

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    Classical technique teaches the pressure on the left hand fretting fingers comes from the left arm and its extension towards the fingerboard. As to the thumb, you will see most advanced and professional playrrs use it as a fulcrum and move it as required to support the fingering used.
    Sure beginners are taught to keep it even with the middle finger. Ut thats just a crutch till theres so e mastery of technique.

    But for jazz…. There is no codified method of instruction. Soi move mine as required by what the other four are up to.
    And my thumb hanging over is a happy little bass line player on E and A.

  18. #17
    OK, so those of you who voted "Other" did so because your thumb moves around too much to say it aligns with any one finger? Or that it often hangs over the neck for bass notes??

  19. #18

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    No. Other because the thumb should be variable in placement depending on what you’re asking the rest of the hand to do.
    Just reiterating what I said above and although it goes against the ‘common wisdom’ I say it’s quite right.

  20. #19

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    I just try to keep it where it won't do any damage to my left hand. That changes according to how my hand feels. I think you have to have big hands to do the chord work Jazzkritter's teacher (Tal Farlow) did with it. Mine are small, and I never do it, for fear of messing up my LH.

  21. #20

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    Yes, Main reason I like my Ibanez necks… a lot easier to go thumb over. Gibson baseball bat neck aficionados don’t know what there missing.