Thumb position

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A painting of cellist using thumb position. Walter Ruttmann - Cellist.jpg
A painting of cellist using thumb position.

In music performance and education, thumb position, not a traditional position, is a string instrument playing technique used to facilitate playing in the upper register of the double bass, cello, and related instruments, such as the electric upright bass. To play passages in this register, the player shifts his or her hand out from behind the neck and curves the hand, using the side of the thumb to press down the string; in effect, the side of the thumb becomes a movable nut (capo).

Performance performing arts event, single representation of a performing arts production

Performance is completion of a task with application of knowledge, skills and abilities.

Music education is a field of study associated with the teaching and learning of music. It touches on all learning domains, including the psychomotor domain, the cognitive domain, and, in particular and significant ways, the affective domain, including music appreciation and sensitivity. Music training from preschool through post-secondary education is common in most nations because involvement with music is considered a fundamental component of human culture and behavior. Cultures from around the world have different approaches to music education, largely due to the varying histories and politics. Studies show that teaching music from other cultures can help students perceive unfamiliar sounds more comfortably, and they also show that musical preference is related to the language spoken by the listener and the other sounds they are exposed to within their own culture.

String instrument musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.


On the double bass

For the double bass, thumb position is used when playing above high G[ citation needed ] (on the third ledger line in bass clef notation for the double bass). To play passages in this register, the player shifts his hand out from behind the neck and flattens it out, using the side of the thumb to press down the string. When playing in thumb position, the use of the fourth finger is replaced by the third finger, as the fourth finger becomes too short to produce a reliable tone. Bass instruction books often teach thumb position by having the player place the left-hand thumb on the high G note (on the third leger line in bass clef notation),

In this same position, notes below the G can also be played. By barring the thumb across the G and D strings, the G and D notes can be played in quick succession. Alternatively, notes on the D string can be performed in quick alternation with notes on the G string. While traditional methods rarely discuss playing on the A or E string in thumb position, French pedagogue Francois Rabbath (and his disciples such as Paul Ellison) advocate the performance of notes on the A and E strings. While introductory manuals start teaching thumb position by stopping the G string on the high G, any of the notes on the upper part of the fingerboard can be stopped and held by the thumb.

Barre chord

In music, a barre chord is a type of chord on a guitar or other stringed instrument, that the musician plays by using one or more fingers to press down multiple strings across a single fret of the fingerboard.

Paul Ellison is co-principal bass at the Grand Teton Festivals, and is Professor of Double Bass at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. He was also on the faculty of The Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, California.

One issue with the use of thumb position is that it is harder to produce vibrato with the thumb than with the fingers, because fingers have much fleshier pads than the side of the thumb. While the difference between the vibrato sound produced by the fingers and the thumb may not be noticeable in a passage of moving notes, if there is a held note which is stopped by the thumb, which is vibrated, the difference may be noticeable. As such, some players use finger substitution to replace the thumb with one of the fingers.

Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterised in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation and the speed with which the pitch is varied.

Finger substitution

Finger substitution is a playing technique used on many different instruments, ranging from stringed instruments such as the violin and cello to keyboard instruments such as the piano and pipe organ. It involves replacing one finger which is depressing a string or key with another finger to facilitate the performance of a passage or create a desired tone or sound. The simplest type of finger substitution is when a finger replaces another finger during a rest; the more difficult type is to replace one finger with another while a note is being played.

Other bass instruments

Electric bassists such as Brian Bromberg and Steve Bailey have applied the thumb position technique to their instruments because they share a common tuning. In the jazz world, many bassists from the 1970s onward play both instruments, sometimes with equal proficiency (e.g. Stanley Clarke). The advantage of using thumb position on the bass guitar is that the left hand can cover two octaves or more without shifting position, which facilitates complex passages.

Brian Bromberg is an American jazz bassist and record producer who performs on both electric and acoustic instruments. Though he tends to gravitate towards the genre of smooth jazz, Bromberg has released some straight-ahead jazz records in which he performs with a trio, and has even ventured into more rock-oriented jazz fusion territory as of late. His innovative and technically demanding style of playing extends to both electric and upright bass. On his acoustic bass albums, Bromberg performs jazzy interpretations of various pop and rock staples from the 1960s and '70s completely solo. Regarding his work with electric bass, Bromberg, among other bassists, helped popularize the piccolo bass, or bass with each string tuned an octave up, by releasing several albums in which he plays both the bass line and melody. For instance, upon first listen many will be surprised to learn that, although soaring guitar can be heard throughout the album, Bromberg's 2005 release Metal contains only Bromberg on two overdubbed basses, one of which is heavily effects-laden to make it sound like an electric guitar.

Steve Bailey American musician

Steve Bailey is an American bassist who is famous for his pioneering work with the six string fretless bass. He was voted runner up for "Bass Player Of The Year" in 1994 and 1996. In 2012 and 2013, Steve toured with Victor Wooten on the Sword and Stone/Words and Tones tour, playing electric bass, upright, keyboards, and trombone.

Stanley Clarke American bassist

Stanley Clarke is an American bassist and founding member of Return to Forever, one of the first jazz fusion bands. He has composed music for films and television and has worked with musicians in many genres. Like Jaco Pastorius, Clarke gave the bass guitar a prominence it lacked in jazz-related music.

On the cello

The cello thumb position is introduced on the second or half-string harmonic, the note "A" on the highest string.
Play (help*info) Cello thumb position.png
The cello thumb position is introduced on the second or half-string harmonic, the note "A" on the highest string. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
The note D is difficult if impossible to reach with the fourth finger in 7th position without removing one's thumb from the neck, while it is easily reachable with the third finger in thumb position. Cello thumb position example.png
The note D is difficult if impossible to reach with the fourth finger in 7th position without removing one's thumb from the neck, while it is easily reachable with the third finger in thumb position.

With the cello, in the "neck" positions (which use just less than half of the fingerboard, nearest the top of the instrument), the thumb rests on the back of the neck. However, in thumb position, the thumb usually rests alongside the fingers on the string and the side of the thumb is used to play notes, along with the other left-hand fingers. The fingers are normally held curved with each knuckle bent, with the fingertips in contact with the string. If a finger is required on two (or more) strings at once to play perfect fifths (in double stops or chords) it is used flat. In slower, or more expressive playing, the contact point can move slightly away from the nail to the pad of the finger, allowing a fuller vibrato.

Thumb position can be, and is (by virtue of the requirements of the extensive repertoire) employed many times, and not only in the higher range of the instrument. [emphasis added]

Potter, [2]

The cello thumb position is introduced on the second or half-string harmonic, because of the ease with which this note may be found, the succession of notes from seventh to thumb position being in "a natural sequence and range," and the stretch required to reach seventh position without removing the thumb from the neck. [1] Bylsma attributes the tendency of many composers of the 19th century to prescribe thumb position only on the A string to the fact that they were not string players (in contrast to Boccherini, for example, who routinely used A and D, and also used G). [3]

Anner Bylsma is a Dutch cellist who plays on both modern and period instruments in a historically informed style. He took an interest in music from an early age. He studied with Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and won the Prix d'excellence in 1957.

Luigi Boccherini Italian composer and cellist

Ridolfo Luigi Boccherini was an Italian composer and cellist of the Classical era whose music retained a courtly and "galante" style even while he matured somewhat apart from the major European musical centers. He is best known for a minuet from his String Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5, and the Cello Concerto in B flat major. The latter work was long known in the heavily altered version by German cellist and prolific arranger Friedrich Grützmacher, but has recently been restored to its original version.

In thumb position, the, "'standard' finger pattern," between the thumb, first and second fingers, is whole, whole, and half tone. [2] Thus if the thumb is placed on A, the index and middle fingers are placed on B and C#.

As with the double bass, one issue with the use of thumb position is that it is harder to produce vibrato with the thumb than with the fingers, because fingers have much fleshier pads than the side of the thumb. Some cellists use finger substitution to replace the thumb with one of the fingers.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Potter, Louis Alexander (1996). The Art of Cello Playing, p.183. ISBN   978-0-87487-071-8.
  2. 1 2 Potter (1996), p.84.
  3. Laird, Paul R. (200). The Baroque Cello Revival: An Oral History, p.70. ISBN   978-0-8108-5153-5.