Left Hand Thumb Independence for Bassists
Last time, we talked about left hand “pivoting” and its potential to make difficult passages more accessible. In order to execute a pivot with ease, however, we must have a supple thumb. In fact, for masterful left hand technique of any sort we must have a thumb that is light, flexible, and easily moveable. It should be independent of the fingers and any counter pressure applied to the back of the neck should be minimal.
One of the most common left hand problems I see is lack of thumb flexibility. Some players, especially beginners, tend to clamp down their thumb on the back of the neck and squeeze as it they were trying to choke the bass to death. Unless you are trying to mute strings with your left hand, or using some other special technique, this is not advised. It causes a host of technical issues, all of which will compound over time if thumb independence and flexibility is not addressed.
Below is a simple, yet effective, exercise that can help you address a thumb which insists on clamping down.
While playing the exercise below we should:
- Begin with the thumb “back,” i.e. behind, or even past, first finger.
- Keep the thumb always in motion. Don’t stop the motion of the thumb at any point. This may prove challenging at the note change.
- Change directions of the thumb at the beginning of each bar
- Keep thumb pressure as light as possible at all times
- Concentrate on ease of motion, minimum effort and a feeling of lightness
- Remember that it may feel awkward at first to keep the thumb light when dropping your fingers on the string. This is normal. Keep in mind that we are shooting for thumb independence
- Practice this exercise with the bow if at all possible – it is far more effective:
Once you get the hang of it, make up your own exercises or do them with scales or repertory to further train your thumb.