How To Play Guitar -Using Your Thumb

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For years many masters have played and created mesmerizing art on guitar. The technique often varied due to the necessitates of the music being created. There didn’t seem to be much grief over it. But for some reason over the last couple of decades there seems to be a movement to re-establish what proper fretting hand technique is.

This seems a little odd to me, especially at this point of the game. It seems that academia is looking to re-write music history. I’ve always found this annoying. Mostly from the fact it can end up frustrating students.

Thumb Police

You will probably hear at some point early in your career of how to play guitar that your thumb should stay planted in the middle of the back of the neck. The reasoning is it’s supposed to lead to better control and speed.

The thing is, very few guitarists play that way. I remember having a lesson when I was younger. The teacher told me never to let my thumb creep over the fretboard. Stating that this was an outdated technique. Outdated for what?!?? So Freddie King had it all wrong?

This “rule” just didn’t work for the style of music I was into when learning how to play guitar . Certainly wasn’t right for Radiohead.

“You have to know the rules to break them”: This is also a mantra of how to play guitar that is repeated ad nauseam. Often it’s recited without any knowledge of the foundation of rules. It’s like gossip. At some point it had some truth, but as it passes through so many peoples mouths it changes dramatically.

What Rules? Rules For What?

Some approach teaching guitar as if you’re supposed to start with a method that has nothing to do with your direction, Simply to understand that’s the “correct” technique… Only later to change and not play that way!! Sounds ridiculous right?

It amazes me in this day and age with the power of youtube people still talk like this. It’s so easy to find videos of your favorite players and watch how to play guitar . If there is anything that blows the top off the “correct” technique rule book, it’s seeing with your own eyes.

Some of the early fender guitars had a distinct V shape to the neck to be more comfortable wrapping your thumb around.

Homeward Bound

When you learn how to play guitar you have to make many adjustments in order to accomplish goals. Every guitarist has a home base. Someplace they always go back to.
If you play flamenco, home would be your thumb behind the neck. If that same flamenco guitarist wanted to play some authentic blues, they would have to get in their car, leave home and take a trip to Thumbland.

Of-course, thee are other techniques that fall on breaking the rules category. One of my other favs is playing with 3 fingers on fretting hand. It’s been said Clapton breaks the rule and doesn’t use his pinky. Ahhhhh!!!!! What rules?

Most of the blues greats did NOT use their pinky. It
makes sense for the phrasing and amount of bending. That is the correct technique of how to play guitar for the style.

Eyes Wide Open

I say keep an open mind when learning music!!Understand it’s not just the notes, but technique that help facilitate the music. Don’t look at someone’s playing as wrong. If they created it, it’s not wrong. There is a reason they’re playing it that way.

Take the test: pick 8 of the greatest guitarists in your opinion. Pull up ye ‘ol youtube and locate footage of each guitarist playing. Do they play the same? Are they doing things the “establishment” would deem inappropriate? Yes, I’m sure they are.

There are way too many styles of music for there to be one way of how to play guitar . The only consideration to have is muscle injury. There are just a few simple things you should not do. Not because of speed or why others consider it better, but because you can irritate your muscles.

When I’m playing within a range of 4 frets I naturally place my thumb like this:

Good Fretting

Good Fretting

If I have to stretch further I play like this:


good technique

good technique


The one thing I never do as it increases tension in your muscles is this:


Poor Technique

Poor Technique


Mind you this applies to a lot of rock, blues, country and similar styles. Remember that when you’re on your journey to keep an open mind. It is very likely that how to play guitar can vary.


Contact me for any questions on Fretting Hand Technique


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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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