After seeing many people recommending, I started following the book "Beginning Fingerstyle Blues". I was following the book perfectly till now but with the following piece I got a problem. The author recommends to use thumb to fret the low E string. Now the problem that I am facing is, my open high E string is getting touched by the part of my palm touching the index finger. The author also insists that I hold the chord form always unless the melody requires me to lift a finger.

The chord form is

-------3-------------- Ring (3)
--2------------------- Index (1)
--2------------------- Thumb (T)

One part of the piece is




Fretting fingers in brackets

T => Thumb 1 => Index 2 => Middle 3 => Ring 4 => Pinkey

Any solution for that? Also if it is possible to do this piece without using the thumb it would be great. I am playing Guitar for about 2 years and never used thumb to frett. It feels strange and seems I am almost grabbing the neck of the Guitar. I hope the awkwardness will go away with practice though.

  • As it seems this use a static fretting on 2 on that string, a "cheat" could be to tune up the E string to F#, so you can play it open... That is, if you don't need lower tuning on that string in other parts of the same song...
    – awe
    May 3, 2013 at 10:32
  • Unfortunately there are many other practice lessons and songs that uses this chord and not all of them have the low E at same pitch for other chords :(.
    – Tanmoy
    May 3, 2013 at 12:13

3 Answers 3


There are two opposing schools of thought as regards thumb-fretting. Many use it, citing Jimi Hendrix and others, but others say it isn't the way it "should be done"

My take is- do it if it works for you. On my 7 string I use it on some occasions where a barre wouldn't work but generally I find my hands aren't quite big enough to do it comfortably. For these pieces, if your hand is big enough, or your guitar neck is reasonably narrow fretting with the thumb should be relatively easy.

The pieces you have included are completely playable using your fingers only, however you will need to ensure a good arch to prevent your hand touching the strings, so for this your thumb really needs to be at the very back of the neck. So for your main piece, use either your 1st or 2nd finger instead of the thumb. (Which one you use will depend on how you angle your hand - I would use my 1st finger, as this allows my other fingers more freedom to move.)

  • 1
    I agree with this. People often forget that Jimi Hendrix was a big thin guy with big thin hands, and a Strat has a thin neck. Jimi could fret the top TWO strings with his thumb. This is unusual. If th OP has smaller hands and is using e.g. a gibson, then thumb use becomes much harder depending on what other notes are required.
    – horatio
    May 3, 2013 at 14:10
  • Agree with @horatio: Some people have gigantic hands with long skinny fingers, and these are the people who wind up playing lead in rock and metal bands, where they hold the guitar at crotch level (where it would be impossible to do bar chords without thumbing). I myself could never play clean bar chords with my thumb (even on a Rick 620), which is one reason I play keyboard and bass now.
    – Robusto
    May 5, 2013 at 13:15

I have struggled mightily with precisely this problem when playing country fingerstyle blues, and you have to solve it if you want to play them right. Never mind all the people telling you that it's "wrong" to use the thumb; if you work in depth on this style of music, it becomes blindingly clear that all the old blues players used their thumb to fret the low E string -- if you do that, all the patterns just fall underneath your fingers.

But if your hands are not big, then the problem you describe is real. I have a number of thoughts on this:

  1. I have found that it happens less when I am careful to hold the guitar fretboard perpendicular to the floor -- i.e., no tilting the guitar back so you can look at your fingers while you play! That way you let gravity help you keep the palm meat off the high E string. In effect, you let your hand "hang" off the neck suspended by the thumb hooked over the top.

  2. You can also play around with exactly where on your thumb you catch the low E string. If you play very close, almost on top of the frets, you can stop the string with the edge of the thumb nearer the tip, and that will give you a few precious millimeters of extra stretch to keep your palm off the high string.

  3. It may be a case of the guitar not fitting you. I use a Gibson J-45 with a 1-11/16" width neck, and there's stuff I can do on that axe that I cannot do if the neck is even 1/16" wider (1-¾"). Also, the shape of the neck matters, especially the "shoulder." Since this is the style of music I like, I spent a lot of time in guitar stores picking up guitars and trying to play a thumb-fretted F chord. Some rounder, fatter necks were much easier than more flat ones.

  4. You can ask a guitar repairman to cut you a new nut with the low E string or the high E string in a slightly different place. The last time I got a new nut, I asked for the low E to be "cheated" over toward the edge of the neck, so I could more easily grab the string with my stubby thumb. You could definitely cheat the high E string a little bit away from the edge of the neck and that would make it less likely that your palm would mute it.


Some use thumb, some do it the 'orthodox' way.Whatever works ! However, it sounds like your span is on the small side, like mine, so it's going to be difficult.Try using the index finger somewhat like a barré.It'll certainly work on the chord part, and on the other,a bent index will probably do the job.Your hand anatomy is different from other's - we're all differently shaped and sized - so don't take fingering as gospel. It's what worked for the writer.So try other options to find what will work for you.Same goes for most chords,riffs, etc.etc.

  • Problem is when I have to play Low E (2nd fret) and high E (Open) it creating the same problem for me. So I am right now trying to stick with the thumb fretting and give it a try for a couple of weeks. It sounds fine if I very carefully do the chord form but not when I change from different chords but I hope that will go with practice.
    – Tanmoy
    May 10, 2013 at 9:04

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