Three Great Ways to Improve Your Thumb Technique and Make Your Voice Stand Out

1. Get an Education

The standard method of playing with the “educated thumb” requires the ability to maintain a rudimentary bass line on the lower strings while plucking a synchronised melody on the treble strings. See John Hurt or Chet Atkins’ “Mississippi” music for source material. Use the thumbstick for a stronger attack, the thumb for a medium attack, or the fleshy end of the thumb for a softer touch.

2. Stay Basic

Even basic play with an educated thumb requires a lot of practice to manage the many parts. But don’t despair. A lot of great material can be played with a basic thumb. Many great blues guitar players, such as RL Burnside, use a simplified technique where the thumb hits a low note on a sombre cadence in a particular rhythm, or whenever it’s clever, while the fingers strum a melodic lick from above, often using a slide in open tuning.

3. Use Thumb Picks

Any bass player will testify that rule of thumb for creating big, powerful notes. Practice playing the melody in the up and down position of the fretboard by using your thumb, and see how it automatically prevents you from noodling. Develop a little thumbnail to take full advantage of the various plucking approaches that are natural to the thumb.



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