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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 4 - Part 6: Thumb Action

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 39 **

Hi everyone. Unfortunately this Pro Concepts will be of no use to those of you with tiny hands, or more specifically tiny thumbs, because we are exploring the fact that you can utilise your thumb to extend your chord voicings by placing it over the neck and on to that bottom E string. I certainly don't have freakishly giant hands and hopefully there will be a lot of you out there with average size hands that can actually get something out of this.

The first player I saw to use this technique was Hendrix, who did have big hands, so it was probably a very natural and obvious thing for him to do. You could certainly hear his more interesting approach to chord voicings, and much of that sound was due to how he would grab the low string with his thumb, which would free up an extra finger or two to play the triads and diads at the top of the chord. Subsequently most of my favourite players seem to employ the thumb to create nicer and more musical chord voicings when needed. It goes without saying that for anything that involves a big stretch, then you do need to bring the thumb down in a more orthodox fashion. But for the examples I take you through, grabbing the bottom string with the thumb is the only way to create them.

First we look at the simple barre chord and how it can be revoiced with the thumb by omitting the 5th. With the extra finger or fingers you have at the top of the chord, it becomes easier to create movement with raised 5's, add 9's, 13's, 6's,7's and sus2's. We look at a little F to Am vamp that has movement within each chord. We also look at a key of G Jazz type sequence, where you can see how the thumb again leaves fingers free to create movement at the top of the chord. AND YES I KNOW I described one the chord movements incorrectly! The D part of the sequence should be named as C over a D bass (C/d) moving to a D7b9 NOT a b5. I had been filming reviews all day and my brain needed a cup of hot tea to become sharp again! I do apologize but hopefully you can see and hear the movement.

Lastly we take a look a little blues type shuffle where the thumb is essential. Take a look at some footage of how SRV was voicing some those Texas shuffles he played so well. He got a lot of that feel from the thumb being used to the full.

Purists may be appalled that I'm encouraging you to get the thumb over the neck. The same purists simply wouldn't be able to play what we go through here, so they can go and be pure somewhere else! So should we think of it as bad technique? I don't think so. Like anything on the guitar, if it sounds cool, then chances are, it is cool. There is no right and wrong in today's world of contemporary playing. If you want to play Blues with EMGs and a Floyd Rose, and it sounds great, then who needs a 63 'Strat? (been there done that)!

OK, I admit it, there will be a lot of you out there that simply don't have the equipment to pull this off. No amount of practice can compensate for tiny hands or tiny thumbs. But I am certain you guys make up for it in other ways, such as naming a D7b9 chord correctly at the end of the day or having superb tone and vibrato, big personalities, fine clothes and cool cars. If none of those things apply either, then at least you can channel it all into a good blues composition... but obviously, you won't be able to use your thu..........oh!


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