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I've seen lots of artists playing with their thumb resting on the top of the neck, but my guitar teacher says it's a must to place the thumb on the back of the neck. Opinions?

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Sometimes, it's considered polite to hold off on accepting an answer until at least 24 hours after you ask a question. No judgement, and Matt's answer is decidedly fine. But this community lives across a lot of time zones and as a matter of courtesy, the lifespan of an un-accepted question should accommodate them all. –  gomad Jun 6 '11 at 22:32
    
@gomad...noted. Thanks for the advice! –  balentaw Jun 7 '11 at 7:56
    
Two examples of guitarists using the thumb for the bass string: ( youtube.com/watch?v=GXcMk6OG1Xc and youtube.com/watch?v=N-TOiT9Gwa0 ). I believe John McLaughlin (mahavishnu orchestra) had training on proper hand technique. I am doubtful Hendrix did. –  horatio Jun 7 '11 at 16:31

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Playing with your thumb on the back of the neck generally means you have to bend your wrist more, but gives your fingers greater range since they can extend further from below the neck. If you have long fingers or a thin neck it might not be an issue, but I have above-average sized hands and find that with my thumb on the top I have to lay my fingers flat on the strings (making it impossible to play many notes on higher strings if I'm fretting lower ones). On the other hand, some also play bass notes with their thumb wrapped around over the neck.

In short, there are downsides and upsides to both methods. I think you should do whatever you prefer as long as it doesn't hurt.

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If you are a rocker who is just determined to hold your axe in that low-slung "sexy" position, then wrapping your thumb around the neck is about the only way to avoid eventual tendinitis... And that only marginally. If you want the most efficient position and the one least-disposed to cause injury, then adopt the position used by classical guitarists with the thumb below the half-way point of the neck and the wrist essentially straight. Of course, there are intermediate positions as well.... Flatpickers often hold the guitar essentially level, but they are rarely playing wrist-stretching barred chords either. So...Little strain on those important tendons.

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I play acoustic guitar and singer/songwriter style music. I find that when playing barre chords, it is easier to have my thumb on the back. However when I play open chords putting my thumb on the back of the neck seems to cause more tension. –  balentaw Jun 6 '11 at 21:14
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Note that there's a huge difference in individual physiology and in guitar structure as well. Classical guitars have wide necks and require a bit more "reaching" to properly finger. Some folks have long, flexible fingers... Some don't. In general, any position that results in a greatly-bent wrist reduces efficiency and increases the chance of injury. But that's only on averages. Some folks can get away with it without problems. –  M. Werner Jun 7 '11 at 11:51

This has been covered very well in the following questions:

Simple answer though is - it varies, depending on hand size, style, which chord etc. Find out what is comfortable, and avoid painful positions:-)

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