Bass Bad Habit Buster: Creeping Thumbs

Note: For the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on blogging about jazz bass in preparation for the publication of my e-book. This post was originally published on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.

Creeping ThumbsPlaying jazz bass isn’t just figuring out what to do, it’s learning what not to do… In this post, I’m examining creeping thumbs in the right and left hands – which leads to bad time-feel and sound-quality.

What is it?

Right Hand

  • Failing to anchor the thumb to the side of the fingerboard
  • Slipping into what I call “1.5-finger pizzicato” – halfway between 1-finger pizzicato (index finger is parallel to stings) and 2-finger pizzicato (index/middle fingers are perpendicular to strings)
  • Keeping your fingers at a 45° angle to the strings, causing your time-feel to suffer

Left Hand

  • Failing to anchor the thumb to the back of the fingerboard
  • Slipping into the most destructive form or creeping thumb – where it sneaks around the ‘E’ string side
  • Keeping your fingers and hand position collapsed, causing your intonation and sound quality to suffer

Why does it happen?

  • Right Hand: We don’t practice 1- and 2-finger pizzicato in isolation, fail to develop the necessary strength/callouses, get fatigued, and slip into bad technique
  • Left Hand: We don’t focus on developing good fingering position in practice, fail to develop the necessary strength, get sloppy, and slip into bad technique
  • Both Hands: We study with unqualified instructors (often guitar players who think they can teach bass too – don’t get me started on this one…) who don’t teach us how to build good habits

How do I fix it?

  • Right Hand: Take time at the beginning of each practice session to practice 1- and/or 2-finger pizzicato on open strings with a metronome, using a mirror to assess hand position and sound quality
  • Left Hand: After practicing right-hand technique, take time to practice fingering and/or shifting drills, using a mirror to assess hand position and keep it consistent

Whether you play electric and/or upright bass, examine your right- and then left-hand technique. Do you have a creeping thumb on one or more hands? How could you change your practice to prevent this bad habit?  While it takes some initial discipline, focus, and mindfulness, eventually you’ll be able to keep you hand positions consistent and avoid creeping thumbs.

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist, Instructor, Writer

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