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What are the Dos and Don'ts of thumb position in guitar playing? Are there bad habits or just alternative techniques?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you consider the purpose of the thumb to be to counteract the pressure of the fingers, then the ideal placement (for playing a chord) would be directly opposite the "center of gravity" of the polygon formed by the fingertips.

But this ideal may be difficult to achieve depending on the length of the strap. I set my strap quite short so the guitar is positioned rather high against my chest; this (for me) seems to help the thumb to naturally rest in an appropriate place.

For a moving line, I try to keep my thumb opposite the middle finger. For a barre, it should be opposite the finger performing the barre.

All of the above is intended to put the least amount of stress possible on the delicate tendons in the wrist.

As KeithS mentions, there are of course exceptions, but I've tried to succinctly state "the rules" without droning on too long. If you need the thumb to mute or fret a lower string, do it; don't say I said don't. Thumbs are fingers too. ("They call 'em 'fingers' but I never seen 'em 'fing'.... Oh, there they go." --Jasper on the Simpsons)

With a low-slung, rock-n-roll setup, you may have no choice but to hang your thumb over the top, but at the extreme this really puts your wrist in a bad position and inhibits your dexterity, IMHO.

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Not to disagree, because what you describe is good technique, but many chords are most easily formed using the thumb to dampen or even fret the low E; for instance, the open D major chord and its D/F# variant. It's simply natural to bring the thumb around in the "baseball bat grip" to form these chords. – KeithS Jan 17 '13 at 19:29

Lat month I had surgery on my left hand to rebuild my arthritic basal joint in my left thumb. My Doctor concluded did not cause arthritis, but my thumb position while playing guitar "may" have contributed to quick degeneration of the joint. Specifically, I would place my left thumb perpendicular along the neck when playing barre chords. I was taught to play about 45 years ago and I mimicked the person I learned from. According to my Surgeon, the best placement of your thumb is near the center of your hand. I apologize if that explanation is confusing.

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Instead of using E shape bar chords I tend to use an F shape with all four fingers and then use my thumb to press the base E string. I was getting pains when performing your classic bar chords because I think I was pressing too hard and causing my thumb to bend back more than it should have. Now I use one or the other version of the chord. It all depends on what way my hand position is before the dreaded barchord. I go by the general rule "whatever's comfortable".

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if it feels good and if it works than do it. it works for me. jimmy page and billy corgan both does this when both are playing traditionally and when jimmy does his cello bow solo

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