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Old 05-11-2020, 06:39 PM
Tannin Tannin is offline
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Default Old thumb, new tricks

I'm training myself to use my left thumb to fret notes and I'm 60 years old. My fingers are as supple as they ever were (for which I'm thankful) but I rapidly run into some fairly significant pain when I use my thumb. It feels as if I'm dislocating it. It does vary from chord to chord - some shapes are not too bad, others seem to have been invented by Torquemada or the Marquis de Sade.

I'm doing a little bit of thumb work every day, typically a few times a day, not as formal exercises but just as I play. I do a bit until it gets too painful or too frustrating (if I'm not getting the notes to sound clearly enough) or both.

I have reasonably sized hands (slightly longer fingers than average, maybe?) and am playing instruments with standard neck width and thickness. Is there anything else I should be doing to speed progress and avoid injury?

Thanks!
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Old 05-11-2020, 06:58 PM
OregonJim OregonJim is offline
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Could it be a bit of arthritis creeping into the joints? I'm 58 and starting to see that. Just a thought.
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Old 05-11-2020, 06:59 PM
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ljguitar ljguitar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
I'm training myself to use my left thumb to fret notes and I'm 60 years old. My fingers are as supple as they ever were (for which I'm thankful) but I rapidly run into some fairly significant pain when I use my thumb. It feels as if I'm dislocating it. It does vary from chord to chord - some shapes are not too bad, others seem to have been invented by Torquemada or the Marquis de Sade.

I'm doing a little bit of thumb work every day, typically a few times a day, not as formal exercises but just as I play. I do a bit until it gets too painful or too frustrating (if I'm not getting the notes to sound clearly enough) or both.

I have reasonably sized hands (slightly longer fingers than average, maybe?) and am playing instruments with standard neck width and thickness. Is there anything else I should be doing to speed progress and avoid injury?

Thanks!
Hi Tannin…
Just spit-ballin' here.

Have you experimented with how easy/light you can fret notes with the thumb and still have them properly seated? They don't need to be pulled-into submission.

Do you try to support the neck with the thumb while playing?



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Old 05-13-2020, 03:13 AM
Tannin Tannin is offline
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Thanks OregonJim and Ljguitar.

I don't think it's arthritis Jim. I have an arthritic toe to compare it to and that seems quite different, though it's something to bear in mind.

Good questions LJ. Do I support the neck with my thumb? I don't think so. I do use either my thumb or the top edge of my palm on the back of the neck to press against when I'm playing, but I don't think that's what you mean. Vertically, the guitar is usually balanced and held in place by my right arm. I usually play seated or with one foot on a stool.

I'm still at the stage where I'm more worried about actually getting the thumbed note to sound clean without messing up my fingered notes and I may well be using more force than is needed.

Mostly what I have trouble with is pain from trying to extend the thumb into unnatural positions it's not used to. I'm not game to simply play through it as I reckon the body is trying to tell me something, so I'm just doing a little each day and making very slow progress. No tips to progress faster without doing damage to myself?
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Old 05-13-2020, 07:28 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
I'm training myself to use my left thumb to fret notes and I'm 60 years old. My fingers are as supple as they ever were (for which I'm thankful) but I rapidly run into some fairly significant pain when I use my thumb. It feels as if I'm dislocating it. It does vary from chord to chord - some shapes are not too bad, others seem to have been invented by Torquemada or the Marquis de Sade.

I'm doing a little bit of thumb work every day, typically a few times a day, not as formal exercises but just as I play. I do a bit until it gets too painful or too frustrating (if I'm not getting the notes to sound clearly enough) or both.

I have reasonably sized hands (slightly longer fingers than average, maybe?) and am playing instruments with standard neck width and thickness. Is there anything else I should be doing to speed progress and avoid injury?

Thanks!
Can I ask why you're using your thumb for fretting? It's very rarely necessary (and never necessary in classical guitar), unless perhaps you have some unusual finger problems.

If your hands are a good size - and still fairly flexible - and you're playing a standard guitar neck, there are very few chords (if any) that need the 6th fretted with the thumb.
Obviously some players find it easier to fret the 6th with the thumb sometimes, but if you have trouble doing it there is usually an alternative.
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Old 05-13-2020, 05:34 PM
Tannin Tannin is offline
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Cheers Jon, thanks for responding.

Sure you can ask: it's because the thumb is the only way to play a fair variety of chords and chord variations. For example, Fmaj7th (same as a standard barred F but with the first string open). Exactly the same shape but a fret up provides, F#7. Up another fret for a nice G6th. And so on up the neck. There are many other possibilities with different basic shapes which I'm only beginning to explore.

As you say, there are usually alternatives which can be employed at a pinch for a roughly similar sound. Looking at the first example, one can simply bar the whole thing for a plain F major, or leave out the bottom F, or play the first and second strings both open which gives a major 7th with a flat fifth (which is weird enough to not really have a name, but can sound good used sensibly - I use it quite often), and probably a few other things I haven't thought of.

I've been using workarounds like these for decades, because they are easier, and perhaps because I never really thought about using my thumb until I watched some really good guitarists in action recently and realised how important the left thumb is to them. But these alternatives are indeed workarounds and being forced to use them restricts my ability to play the notes in my head. So I'm working on it. (Not that I'll stop using the workarounds. They are good too.)

(Working on it 40 years too late, perhaps, but better late than never!)
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Old 05-14-2020, 06:49 AM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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There are easier and better ways to play a Fmaj7, but to play with the thumb on the 6th string means that you need to really roll your wrist under the neck, it's a completely different hand position than for regular barre chords. That, and a really narrow neck help a lot.
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Old 05-14-2020, 05:54 PM
zztush zztush is offline
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Hi, Tannin!

I think we need only light pressure on thumb when we play. We can play even without thumb (see photo A below). When we grip a hand, we do not jam our fingers even with big power (photo B). It is right direction of our joints. I think C is wrong direction and we may jam our thumb, and D is right direction for the joint of our thumb.

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Old 06-20-2021, 12:50 AM
Tannin Tannin is offline
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An update 12 months on. Sadly, I think OreganJim had it right the first time. It doesn't feel or behave like the arthritus in my toe joints, but I reckon it is arthritus just the same. I have found that I can use my thumb OK so long as I am very sparing with it (just the odd note) and only use it for the 6th string. Any more than a few times a day and the pain comes back, and if I push through it it gets much worse and stays for days.

So just a little bit, pressing as lightly as I can,l and I think carefully about my songs so as to employ the thumb only when it's really needed. Within those limitations, it's becoming a handy extra string to my bow.
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