Where to Put the Fret Hand Thumb | Hub Guitar

Where to Put the Fret Hand Thumb

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I'm Grey and this is Hub Guitar Let's see if we can clear up some of the questions surrounding the proper use of the fretting hand thumb. When we start to play the guitar, it is difficult to push down on the fretted notes. Keep in mind that some guitars are easier to play than others–sometimes much easier. When you are pushing down on the notes, you will want to make sure that your thumb is giving you the support that you need. Normally, if you look down at your hand, the thumb will be somewhere between the index and middle fingers, Providing support as it does when you grasp objects. For some open chords, you can rest the thumb on the back of the headstock. Or sometimes, it will lay unused lazily hanging out of the side of the guitar neck. So don't think that there is one single correct place for your thumb to be. That would depend on what your thumb is doing. Sometimes the thumb is even used to fret notes, by coming up behind the neck and fretting a note on the 6th string. The placement of the thumb is just one small piece of the overall guitar technique puzzle. In my view, many teachers tend to over emphasize its importance. As long as you can push down the notes comfortably, it doesn't matter much what your thumb is doing. It's even possible to play the guitar without the thumb. If you hold the guitar firmly with your opposite hand, and pivot it off of your sternum, you can play the guitar by pushing the strings into your fingers instead of pushing your fingers into the strings. So use your thumb as it's intended- for support for the other fingers as they grip the guitar. But it may need to be in different places at different times. Do whatever works best for you.

Let’s open this lesson by saying that the importance of the fret-hand thumb is often exaggerated. Many teachers and methods seem to be urging correct technique here, but there is not only one correct way to use the thumb.

Specific Suggestions for the Thumb

The fret hand thumb normally supports the hand behind the neck.

Most beginners are encouraged to follow this advice:

  • Position the thumb behind the guitar neck.
  • The thumb is most often placed behind the index finger.
  • Push the thumb into the neck to provide support to the fingers.
  • Press the thumb so that a large amount of its surface area contacts the neck.
  • In many cases, the thumb should not be floating about freely.
  • In some cases, the thumb should float freely (to achieve a better angle of the hand and fingers.)

A Note about the Thumb

The thumb can play an important role in supporting the fretting hand. However, so can holding the guitar correctly. Holding the guitar properly can provide much support to the left hand. It is even possible to play guitar without the fret-hand thumb.

It’s quite natural for most people to use their thumb to support their fingers when grasping objects, and most people don’t have a problem with their thumb. So for many learners wondering what to do with their thumb, it may be better to make sure they’re holding the guitar properly first.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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