Photo by Kristian Niemi
Keeping the thumb of our left hand flexible is a key component in achieving an agile fingering hand. Ideally, any pressure exerted by the thumb against the neck should be minimal. Below are a few exercises that should help you keep your thumb relaxed and your left hand injury free.
1. Thumb independence
- Pick a note, pick a finger (perhaps “2nd finger D on the G string”)
- Play the note repeatedly
- Meanwhile, lighten the pressure exerted by the thumb on the neck
- Slowly slide the thumb around to various places on the back of the neck
- Change the position of the thumb without changing the shape of the rest of your hand
- Slide the thumb around so that it is nearer the 4th finger
- Then above the first finger
- Then closer to the E string
- Then closer to the G string
- and so forth, be creative
- Strive for complete independence of the thumb
- Move the thumb without affecting the shape or angle of your hand
- Or the pitch
- Repeat this exercise playing individual notes on each string, with each possible finger
2. Release the thumb during every shift
Next time you are working a passage, or doing scale work, take your thumb entirely off the neck for each shift. Remove it just before you shift and replace it (gently) after you arrive in a new position. There should be a sense of lightness in the thumb and fingers when you shift.
Practicing a passage this way will help us train to have a relaxed hand before, during, and after a shift. Ultimately, the lighter the thumb pressure on the neck, the faster, smoother, and more accurate our shifts will be. Not to mention it will take less physical effort to play.
Finally, play the passage normally while maintaining the same feeling of lightness in the thumb you felt before. Allow the thumb to touch the back of the neck at all times, but keep any pressure exerted minimal.
3. Play an entire passage with the thumb entirely off the neck
The counter pressure exerted by the thumb on the neck should always be minimal. One way to ensure this is to try playing a passage (or scale) with the thumb never pressing against the neck. It may seem awkward at first, and you may not be entirely successful. However, it can be done, and without major contortions of the arm or hand. Keep the thumb off the neck while playing the passage, and aim to press the strings down using gravity, rather than by gripping the neck.
A little of this exercise goes a long way, so after playing the passage few times with the thumb off the neck, try playing it again normally. This time, aim for the lightest thumb pressure you can exert, without adversely affecting your tone. Strive for a feeling of lightness in the fingering hand.