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Thumb Position Below the Half Point of the String on Double Bass

Although I sometimes use a 1-2-3-4 fingering technique below the half point of the string (12th fret, if we had frets), I often find a thumb position fingering to be more efficient, easier on the hand and, most importantly, more accurate.

Of course, many bass players first learn thumb position starting at the half point of the string (G harmonic on the G-string). It’s an easy place to learn it, and thumb position is the most common fingering system used from this point of the string and higher. Because of this, it’s nice to have some introductory exercises for using thumb in the lower positions.

For those who are just starting to use thumb position below G-string the exercises below are a good introduction. They are simple and tonal, which helps ensure proper finger spacing. They work the region between the half point of the string (12th fret, if we had them) and traditional 4th position (7th fret, if we had frets).

Here they are:
Thumb Position Below the Half Point of the String on Double Bass

* Most hands will require the use of a small “pivot” to the second and third fingers.

Once you are comfortable with these, feel free to expand on them and incorporate these ideas into your scale practice. Use of thumb in the lower position will open up a myriad of possibilities on the bass.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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that bass guy

that bass guy

I think it’s worth noting that “thumb” position does not strictly mean you’re playing a solo up in the stratosphere. Using the thumb is just a tool to allow you to play more music in more places. I have a very large string bass, and I sometimes use the thumb as low as the C-natural on the G string. Some orchestral stuff is a whole lot easier if you use the thumb in lower positions. Check out this video around the 6:14: you’ll see the principal bassist switch to thumb in a very low position. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iF1mTdPhE0

Another tool to consider is using the thumb in higher positions in combination with the fourth finger. For example, if your hands are big enough, on the G string place your thumb on C#. Now, besides having the D, D#, and E-natural under your fingers, you may find that it’s an easy reach to the F-natural and F# as well if you use the fourth finger.

One thing to always remember when using the thumb is getting your left elbow high enough to keep a straight line from your elbow down to your finger tips. You’ll have more power to bear on the string. Imagine how long you’d last trying to hold a pushup if you went only half way to the floor with your wrists bent, compared to the starting position with your arms straight.