How To Play Bass with Thumb [Top 6 Tips]

Bass playing with the thumb is one of the most prominent bass playing styles. It is different from the more conventional finger plucking. 

Beginners can add new dimensions to their playing by learning thumb picking. The following tips and tricks would help you to know how to play bass with thumb.

  • Resting position of the palm
  • Thumb positioning and impacts
  • Combining thumb and finger plucking
  • Muting
  • Slapping
  • Double Thumb Technique

The article will provide necessary information about thumb picking on bass. You will know about important aspects of the technique. You would also know about the genres that best suit this style of playing the bass. 

Top Tips-How To Play Bass with Thumb

Palm Rest

When your thumb plucks your bass, the palm rests below the bridge. This resting position helps in creating muffled and mellow bass notes. While in finger plucking, the thumb acts as a pivot. The Index and middle fingers are then used to pluck strings. 

If you want a brighter note, the palm rests at the bridge also helping in creating more vibrant bass notes. In the slapping technique, it is best to leave your palm free of contact and float above the strings. This will create a nice gap between the strings and your thumbs and will ensure better impacts. 

Thumb Impacts

Every thumb impact should result in the creation of a noticeable bass tone. The notes should be distinct from each other. They should also be decipherable to fellow players at least if not the audience.

You can play thumb picking according to your preference whether you want to go with his skin or his nails

You should manage your nails well and trim them. Otherwise, you may suffer a painful nail break which is never a good sight to witness. 

When opting for skin playing, thumbs will experience some pain during the beginning. Once they get used to it, you are all set to go. 

Combining Thumb and Finger Picking

Striking your bass strings with your thumb results in fatter bass notes. These are very distinctive from the traditional finger plucking playing technique. The technique gives the player an edge while playing better rock and roll rhythms.

The thumb-picking style can also extend and mixed with other playing techniques. The prominent examples include many guitarists who use a combination of both.

This adds a rich diversity to their bass notes. They do so by using their fingers to strike higher strings. Then keeping their thumb restricted to striking the lower strings. The technique also involves palm dampening by the bassist. 

Muting

Contrary to guitar play, muting is an essential part of playing bass. It is a necessity for bass playing especially while playing electric bass. In the conventional two-finger picking, the thumb, ring, and pinky fingers mute strings. While playing by your thumb, muting is dependent on the palm of your right hand. 

The thumb plucking technique and palm muting create a tone like foam muting. Thumb can also mute your strings while playing the two-fingers technique. In this scenario, the right-hand thumb mutes the lower strings. The left-hand thumb can mute higher strings. Muting creates muffled notes producing melodious notes. 

Slapping

You can also slap your bass with your thumb. The slapping technique relies on using the hard bony structure of the thumb for hitting the strings hard and then using the pull-off technique. The strings hit back against the fingerboard and create a very groovy kind of feel. 

Larry Graham was the first person who came up with this technique. The slapping technique produces a loud, percussive, and buzzing sound. It is like hammer-ons and pull-off techniques most guitarists use in their solos. 

Slapping is hard to learn considering the constant hard-hitting of strings with a bony thumb. Yet, once mastered adds a whole new dimension to your playing. 

Double Thumb

Conventional guitar players often use the “double thumb” playing technique where they use alternate picking with their thumb as guitar players do it with their pick.

Also coined by the term “pizzicato” style, giving them a greater pace of play. It helps play quicker rhythms. The technique is hard and takes a lot of hard work and patience from the bassists. 

Before mastering this technique on bass, you must be adept at the slapping technique. This will help you nail the double thumb technique quickly. While learning the double thumb, you should always start with a metronome. This will help you adjust your rhythm in the very beginning. 

Is It Okay to Play Bass with Your Thumb?

Thumb playing is a very effective technique that ensures great tonal quality and is effective in many genres. Many players from the past as well as modern-day bassists opt to play with their thumbs. Paul McCartney serves as the most prominent example of a thumb-playing bassist. Using your thumb to flip creates a more percussive base tone. 

The thumb-playing technique is best if you want to shift from playing guitars to bass. The right-hand positions are like fingerpicking on guitars. You can also play sweet melody lines and add a few chordal arrangements. It is very different from playing the bass with two fingers. 

How Do You Thumb Pick a Bass?

Thumb picking is different from finger plucking. In thumb-picking, you don’t pluck the strings but hit them. The downstroke with your thumb is hitting the strings.

You can then play the alternate upstrokes using your thumbnails. This technique helps a bassist play loud notes. 

Thumb picking can also extend to the slapping technique. In slapping, you slap the bass strings with your thumbs resulting in a groovier kind of feel. Reggae, Folk, and Country genres are best for playing thumb plucking. The fatter and louder bass notes a thumb creates are crucial to all these genres. These are fun genres to play.

Advantages Of Playing Bass with Thumb

  • People playing bass after playing guitars are more comfortable playing with their thumbs. The right-hand position is much like the one used while playing guitars. Transitioning to the two-finger plucking technique is a bit hard. 
  • The two-fingers technique is better suited to bass. It gives a better resting position to the right hand. It still requires more practice to learn as compared to thumb plucking.
  • Intermediate players who transition between both techniques get the best result. They get better breathing space for their right hand. It helps in prolonged playing sessions. 
  • The rhythms associated with the thumb-plucking bass songs are generally slower. It also requires playing lesser notes.

Conclusion

Thus, the thumb plucking technique is an asset in the forte of a bass player. Like every other playing technique, it has its pros and cons. It requires dedicated practice. Thumb plucking limits the speed of the playing.

Still, many renowned bassists learn to transition between both techniques during performances. Bill Wyman, Anthony Jackson, and Sir Paul McCartney are prominent examples. 

Beginners also find it easier to play bass using their thumbs. So, if you are new to learning bass, you should always begin by playing with your thumb. It will also make learning the two-fingers technique easier. 

Thumb picking is also a beautiful playing technique. You can also use it to play mellow fingerstyle bass rhythms. 

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