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Thumb Position: Major Scale Fingering for Bass

There are a multitude of fingerings for any particular scale, and no single fingering is appropriate for every situation. In fact, the most effective fingering for any specific passage will be related to musical issues, not technical ones. Some scale fingerings, however, prove to be useful in a great many situations and are worth having ingrained. Today I want to share a thumb position fingering for a major scale that has proven very helpful throughout the years.

I first learned the fingering below when I was studying with bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer. It allowed me to reach a full octave on two strings without any true shifting and proved to be exceptionally useful in a variety of musical situations. It also allowed for a great deal of speed.

I explored it deeply while learning the Bach Cello Suites, and subsequently applied it to a great deal of classical music. Because of the facility it allows, I use it often when improvising as well. I find it to be a good workhorse of a fingering that allows for more a fluid phrasing than a fingering that requires either a shift, or that one play on three strings.

The fingering is given below in the key of D major, but it can, of course, be used for any major scale.

Here it is:

Scale fingering exercise for bass

If we divide the ascending scale into four-note groups, you will notice that the finger spacing is the same for both the first and second groups of four. This finger spacing is often referred to as “diatonic,” i.e. whole step, whole step, half step between the fingers.

One thing to note is that on the way up you must place your thumb on the fifth scale degree (“A” in our example) while you are playing the fourth scale degree (“G” in our example). Your thumb will contract and move closer to your first finger to make this happen. Once you are playing the fifth scale degree (“A” here) you should expand your fingers again into the diatonic finger spacing.

When descending, you should make a similar contraction while playing the fifth scale degree (“A” here). Contract the hand to place the third finger on the fourth scale degree (“G” here) while still playing the fifth scale degree with thumb. Expanding again to our diatonic finger spacing, as soon as you can, for the remainder of the descending scale.

This expanding and contracting technique has been around since at least the early 1900’s, but has probably existed ever since people had hands with 5 fingers (or four and a thumb!) and played in thumb position. Some folks nowadays refer to this sort of thing as “crab” technique.

It will also be helpful to rotate your forearm in a “turn the doorknob” fashion as you place the fingers down as well. This sort of pivoting technique will help ensure accurate intonation. I hope you find this fingering as helpful as I have through the years. Enjoy!