#1
I've been attending group sessions in an 'all-styles' type of course where the instructor gets upset if my left thumb goes above the neck (he says it's a beginners mistake). However all the rock guitarists I see play with their left thumb above the neck - who's right here please?
Thanks in advance.

Confused
Last edited by pppguitar at Nov 16, 2014,
#2
It's not really wrong to do it, people that learned to play more "traditional" guitar are anal about that, but they don't realize that the traditional guitar has a wider neck than an electric guitar, so at times is more comfortable to rest the thumb above the neck when playing an electric, mostly when playing solos on the higher strings, it's also useful to have it up there to mute the lower strings.

Keeping the thumb behind the neck is important when you need to play (barred) chords and powerchords, that way your hand is in the correct position to play them (with your fingers perpendicular to the neck and strings), when you have the thumb above the neck your fingers end up in an awkward angle.

With enough practice you won't even think about it, unconsciously you will place the thumb where it needs to be.
#3
It's a classical guitarist thing. If you're playing electric it's completely different. There are advantages and disadvantages behind where you place your thumb, and in time you'll naturally learn where to place it for whatever music you're playing.
#4
Quote by Niiko_Xeneize
It's not really wrong to do it, people that learned to play more "traditional" guitar are anal about that, but they don't realize that the traditional guitar has a wider neck than an electric guitar, so at times is more comfortable to rest the thumb above the neck when playing an electric, mostly when playing solos on the higher strings, it's also useful to have it up there to mute the lower strings..


The instructor is correct. Generally speaking, you want to have the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck. Neck size has pretty much nothing whatever to do with it. Further, you want to have your thumb and your first finger describing a "C" shape, and you generally do NOT want to be pressing so hard on the back of the neck that your thumb is bent backward. You also don't want to be supporting the neck of the guitar with the palm of your hand.

There are some rare reasons to have your thumb draped over the top of the neck (muting can be one of them, and some strange and wonderful chord positions can also be done that way). You do NOT want to have the thumb above the neck when playing solos on the higher frets. If you're doing that, you're using your palm muscles, particularly at the base of the thumb, to give you a bit more leverage for bends and vibrato. What that does in the long run is slow you down and discourage you from moving up and down the neck.

I fully realize that there are some rock players of note who have bad technique but who have managed to become famous nonetheless. A whole lot of them have never had a lesson from a good instructor in their lives and simply waded in to playing. There are also guitar players who've managed to work with missing fingers, missing fingertips and more. But this isn't what you want to teach a bunch of beginners.

What might feel more comfortable now can lead to problems and even injuries later on, and can make you dependent on baseball bat-size necks (ever hear "Oh, I cramp up on those thin necks?") to prevent hand pain.

The instructor is right. Learn to play guitar with good technique and you'll benefit from it in the future.
Last edited by dspellman at Nov 17, 2014,
#5
both should be learned. I had the same advice from my teacher and never put it above. Years ago watched some satch and vai and thought fuk my teacher, he's a douche. Glad I learned behind good though, but over for more emotion. Never seen a rock guitarist have emotion or great control of bends and vib with the thumb behind, some do it ok, but nowhere near what over can do. Big stretches and arpeggios need it way behind sometimes to sound good, impossible to do with it over anyways
#6
For me, this depends on what technique I need to apply at that moment. Mostly, my thumb is hidden behind the neck, and the position changes slightly depending what strings I'm playing. Legato in particular.

But if I'm playing bends I squeeze my thumb and fingers together (if bending towards bass strings), so here my thumb is peeking over the neck.

With wide vibrato, my thumb is typically peeking over the neck too.

Ultimately, it's what let's you play comfortably, and without tiring your fingers too much.

But if you're aiming towards high speed soloing, then wearing the guitar really low may be a bad idea. First, if you try legato with thumb behind neck, your wrist is bent a lot. Think danger of RSI over time. And if thumb over neck, wrist is straighter, but speed is a challenge.

cheers, Jerry
#7
Interesting, it seems that it depends a lot on what style of music you want to play. Justin at justinguitar plays with the thumb above the neck but recommends beginners play with it behind to build up strength for barre chords, so I guess I'll stay behind the neck until I can play them well. Interesting though that I can't find a single famous rock guitarist on Youtube who doesn't have the thumb above the neck most of the time either; ditto for the instructors on Guitar Tricks, yet most books I've looked at seem to advocate the classical method.

This guy here has some strong opinions on the subject:

http://www.jimbowley.com/2011/12/the-definitive-lesson-thumb-placement/

The “Classical” Technique Controversy

So why do so many method books advocate keeping the thumb behind the neck in “classical” position and treat wrapping the thumb as if it’s evil? Good question, ’cause it’s an absolutely bogus argument. Here’s why you should NOT listen to that noise:

Classical players can afford to keep their thumbs back and not wrapped over the edge of the fretboard for one simple reason: they don’t play with a pick!

When you strum with a pick, you can’t just magically miss the 6th string while playing a C chord, for example, especially if you’re rockin’ out. This is where the thumb comes in handy for muting. Classical players also don’t bend strings, so no need for wrapping the thumb there either.

#8
Learn both. Thumb behind the neck is the correct "classical posture" and is good for almost everything but bends and vibrato, because that posture makes doing them with a wrist quite hard and doing them with just finger muscles alone all the time can lead to injury, especially with tight strings.

Thumb over helps with bends and vibratos and it also supports the guitar when standing up. Dspellman is obviously against this idea but that is still a truth. Hell you may see Mariachi guitarists, the guys who play classical guitars and the huge-ass guitarrons standing up, also often have the thumb over the neck. Now should you be doing that? That is the endless debate between guitarists. But the point is, both styles have their pros and cons.
Last edited by MaaZeus at Nov 17, 2014,
#9
Where your thumb goes depends on what you're trying to play. For some things, it's better to have it behind the neck; for some things, it's better to have it over the neck. Here's a master - watch his thumb position move all over the place, depending on what he's playing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15eu7ar5EKM

The whole idea of technique is to facilitate playing. Technique does not exist for its own sake.
#10
Quote by Harmosis
Where your thumb goes depends on what you're trying to play. For some things, it's better to have it behind the neck; for some things, it's better to have it over the neck. Here's a master - watch his thumb position move all over the place, depending on what he's playing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15eu7ar5EKM

The whole idea of technique is to facilitate playing. Technique does not exist for its own sake.



Buckethead does it too. His thumb goes all over the place, all depending on what he intents to do next. And I doubt anyone can honestly say these guys have a bad technique.
#11
Quote by pppguitar
I've been attending group sessions in an 'all-styles' type of course where the instructor gets upset if my left thumb goes above the neck (he says it's a beginners mistake). However all the rock guitarists I see play with their left thumb above the neck - who's right here please?


all the rock guitarists

Quote by vayne92
It's a classical guitarist thing. If you're playing electric it's completely different. There are advantages and disadvantages behind where you place your thumb, and in time you'll naturally learn where to place it for whatever music you're playing.


+1

Quote by dspellman
The instructor is correct. Generally speaking, you want to have the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck. Neck size has pretty much nothing whatever to do with it. Further, you want to have your thumb and your first finger describing a "C" shape, and you generally do NOT want to be pressing so hard on the back of the neck that your thumb is bent backward. You also don't want to be supporting the neck of the guitar with the palm of your hand.

There are some rare reasons to have your thumb draped over the top of the neck (muting can be one of them, and some strange and wonderful chord positions can also be done that way). You do NOT want to have the thumb above the neck when playing solos on the higher frets. If you're doing that, you're using your palm muscles, particularly at the base of the thumb, to give you a bit more leverage for bends and vibrato. What that does in the long run is slow you down and discourage you from moving up and down the neck.

I fully realize that there are some rock players of note who have bad technique but who have managed to become famous nonetheless. A whole lot of them have never had a lesson from a good instructor in their lives and simply waded in to playing. There are also guitar players who've managed to work with missing fingers, missing fingertips and more. But this isn't what you want to teach a bunch of beginners.

What might feel more comfortable now can lead to problems and even injuries later on, and can make you dependent on baseball bat-size necks (ever hear "Oh, I cramp up on those thin necks?") to prevent hand pain.

The instructor is right. Learn to play guitar with good technique and you'll benefit from it in the future.


disagree

more often than not when i see an electric player who stubbornly refuses to put his/her thumb around the neck, I see a player who has piss-poor vibrato and little to no control over bends.

Quote by Harmosis
Where your thumb goes depends on what you're trying to play. For some things, it's better to have it behind the neck; for some things, it's better to have it over the neck. Here's a master - watch his thumb position move all over the place, depending on what he's playing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15eu7ar5EKM

The whole idea of technique is to facilitate playing. Technique does not exist for its own sake.


+1
Last edited by Dave_Mc at Nov 17, 2014,
#12
Classical positioning typically gives you more reach. Trying to play certain notes down the neck with your thumb wrapped around the fretboard would make it harder to bend those joint in your finger to reach them comfortably.

The only advantage I've seen that wrapping your thumb around brings is that it can be used to mute the upper string and can even fret a note from time to time. The reason "rock guitarists" typically use their thumbs that way is because they were self taught, and felt they needed to use their palms to grasp the neck properly. Classically trained guitarists don't use their thumb that way.

Most of the more technical guitarists will revert to thumb at the back for soloing anyway.
#13
Quote by megano28
Classical positioning typically gives you more reach. Trying to play certain notes down the neck with your thumb wrapped around the fretboard would make it harder to bend those joint in your finger to reach them comfortably.

The only advantage I've seen that wrapping your thumb around brings is that it can be used to mute the upper string and can even fret a note from time to time. The reason "rock guitarists" typically use their thumbs that way is because they were self taught, and felt they needed to use their palms to grasp the neck properly. Classically trained guitarists don't use their thumb that way.

Most of the more technical guitarists will revert to thumb at the back for soloing anyway.


Hmm. That's not entirely true, for non-classical guitarists. Both vibrato and bends can be made way more expressive when the thumb helps out by peaking over the neck (depends on style here). For high-speed legato, it's easier, less physical, to play with the thumb at the back.

Many players re-site the thumb as needed. I do agree that using the palm itself to grip the neck is a bad idea, but playing with the thumb peaking avove the neck does not mean the palm is on the back of the guitar.

Classical vibrato is very different. And classical guitar doesn't require bends.

cheers, Jerry
#14
Considering he's talking in the context of a beginner, I'm making the assumption that he's holding it as a beginner would, which is typical of the palm making contact with the neck. In that position, most of what I said stands.

I personally use both, because the thumb to fret F#/G is very useful. For the other positions, better vibrato doesn't require your thumb come over the neck. Now, if you're assuming that thumb on the neck means it's in classical position, where it's on an imaginary line, bisecting the neck vertically, with it lining up right behind the midpoint between index and ring finger, fair enough. But that's jumping from one extreme to the other.

In classical playing, they teach you to not use your thumb as a clamp, and to keep the control and strength on your playing fingers. It's primarily placed there, because of how it frees up your fingers and places them in the ideal position to fret the notes. Because of that, I don't understand how it's a detriment to non-classical vibrato. Most of time, my thumb detached anyway.
#15
Well, classical technique is appropriate for classical guitar, not necessarily for electric guitar (especially the rock/blues idiom). One big factor (perhaps the primary factor) is the position of the guitar relative to the guitarist. Here's another master. You can see how putting the thumb over the neck would be absurd here, considering the position he's got his guitar in (look where his elbow is relative to the guitar neck - compare with a typical rock guitarist, standing up with guitar slung low).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COc1ljZEb-M
#17
Quote by Harmosis
Well, classical technique is appropriate for classical guitar, not necessarily for electric guitar (especially the rock/blues idiom).


Quote by megano28
Now, if you're assuming that thumb on the neck means it's in classical position, where it's on an imaginary line, bisecting the neck vertically, with it lining up right behind the midpoint between index and ring finger, fair enough. But that's jumping from one extreme to the other.





I agree with what you're saying, but I didn't state that classical playing was the holy grail of techniques. If anything, I was stating that they both carry benefits, and even mentioned that I go in between. On top of it not being exactly binary. You can hold your thumb out behind the neck so that your thumb lays sidesways, out to the left of your hand. That position would be neither what you describe nor classical, despite the fact that the thumb is resting on the neck.

As mentioned before, a beginner who hears that the thumb can wrap around the fretboard is 9/10 times going to use his palm as well, on top of including the "flattened fingers" when playing. Keeping the thumb behind will help him keep his positioning so that his fingers approach the string at the appropriate 90 degree angle.

Like I said though, keep his thumb touching the back of the neck doesn't automatically make him play in classical position. As much as a myth as it'll try to be made, there's a reason so many books on guitar playing push for no thumb. Most guitarists who do it, do so because they lacked actual teachers.
#18
If you're saying that it's not an either/or proposition, then I agree

Of course, it's important to be able to play with the thumb behind the neck; it's just not needed or appropriate at all times (for electric guitar).
#19
Basically. And yeah, I agree.

I'm just saying that learning how to would help out some of your core technique. While it may not strengthen things such as vibrato, it does make you fret the note the appropriate way, which would be more important to a beginner. Thumb on the back of the neck eliminates the 90° wrist, with the neck resting on the palm, which inevitably leads to players trying to fret the notes with flat fingers. Once the idea of bending the joints in your fingers becomes natural, and you hold your wrist in the appropriate position, then it's alright to begin employing your thumb, either for fretting the bass string or for leverage.
#20
Quote by megano28
Basically. And yeah, I agree.

I'm just saying that learning how to would help out some of your core technique. While it may not strengthen things such as vibrato, it does make you fret the note the appropriate way, which would be more important to a beginner. Thumb on the back of the neck eliminates the 90° wrist, with the neck resting on the palm, which inevitably leads to players trying to fret the notes with flat fingers. Once the idea of bending the joints in your fingers becomes natural, and you hold your wrist in the appropriate position, then it's alright to begin employing your thumb, either for fretting the bass string or for leverage.



Good point. I broke my own rule of trying to answer a question allowing for apparent skill/knowledge of the person asking!

cheers, Jerry