Extended Technique: Retrofitting the Thumb, Part 1

This month I’m going to talk about a thumb technique that isn’t quite as pronounced as slapping, but also not as subdued as playing palm-muted thumb grooves.
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This month I’m going to talk about a thumb technique that isn’t quite as pronounced as slapping, but also not as subdued as playing palm-muted thumb grooves. I’m not sure if there’s an official name for it, but I’d describe the technique as a hybrid of those two approaches. Great bassists (like David Dyson, who is a master of this) have their own version of the technique, but I was never really able to cop it their way. Ultimately, I borrowed liberally from slap techniques I was already using, but just moved those techniques back toward the bridge.

To get started, the first thing to be aware of is plucking-hand placement. Often times with muted grooves there’s a tendency to anchor your hand, but in this case, it needs to float a bit more. Figure 1 shows how to position your hand. Notice that the index, middle, and ring fingers have access to the upper strings.

Example 1 is a simple exercise/groove that uses common fretting-hand techniques found in slapping and gives the plucking hand something musical to work with.

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Example 2 is a groove that features the plucking-hand thumb, index finger, and middle finger. It’s somewhat similar to a groove from one of my compositions off my first album, Mad Science, called “Thought Police.” Pay attention to the feel; these are grooves, not just exercises.

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As always, go slowly with anything your hands might not be used to. Next time we’ll look at more advanced uses of this technique.


Steve Jenkins is an artist-in-residence at the Collective and longtime teacher at Berklee College of Music’s BassLines Summer Program. He’s also a renowned player and performer, recording and performing with Vernon Reid, Thomas Pridgen, Keith Carlock, John Scofield, Screaming Headless Torsos, and many others. stevejenkinsbass.Com

Steve Jenkins, Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter [2013], Mad Science [2004]



Technique Tip : Anchors Away

Teaching beginners always forces me to confront my so-called comfort zone. It happens to all of us: Once we feel like we’re beyond beginner status, we tend to take the fundamental stuff for granted. I was teaching the student about fingerstyle pluckinghand technique. I reinforced the alternating-finger concept, pointing out the importance of a solid thumb-anchor. I had the student pluck a few notes with his thumb free-floating, and then with the thumb anchored on the pickup (Fig. 1). The immediate difference in strength and control is obvious.

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Technique Tip Fingertip Talk

IT WOULD SEEM THAT WITH JUST FIVE fingers and 4-6 strings (oh, alright, sometimes more), there’d be a relatively short list of potential right-hand techniques. But if there’s one thing my incessant Lockup on MSNBC habit has taught me, necessity breeds invention. Take the Funk Brother himself, James Jamerson. Everyone knows that he played all that phenomenally dexterous stuff with just one finger, “the Hook,” as it came to be known. We’ve all wondered how he pulled it off, but sitting in on the Motown mastertape listening session for this month’s cover story made this question more urgent than ever. With Jamerson’s tracks soloed, the near physical impossibility of some lines was striking. So, capitalizing on the rare opportunity, I asked fellow listener James Jamerson Jr. Sure enough, James confirmed what I long thought: On uptempo tunes, Jamerson Sr. would occasionally pluck with both sides of the Hook—fingerpad and fingernail, like in Figs. 1 and 2. It was a rare occurrence, but ap