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.
The only problem with this, at least in terms of credibility, is that I don’t do it that way. I think I did originally, but since those days my fingerstyle technique has evolved significantly. Now, I tend to move my thumb to the next highest string from the one I’m plucking (Fig. 2). If I’m plucking the bass’s lowest string (E or B, depending on the bass), then most of the time I—egads—don’t anchor my thumb at all. I think I’m at the point, strength-wise, where I can get away with this. My shifting thumb anchor gives me a greater sense of control and helps me play quicker.
Either way, spend some time considering what your thumb is up to. When it comes to plucking-hand technique, I don’t believe a doctrinaire approach works too well. Regardless, try some other methods to see if they feel comfortable and help your plucking-hand confidence.