Fretting Hand Thumb

Hello everyone!
As you can imagine, I’m also pretty new to bass, but I’ve been loving every minute of it. I’ve also never really purchased any sort of online lesson, etc, however, these videos captivated me from the free youtube videos.
Anyway, I’ve done some strolling through the forums to see if I could find any other posts with this problem I’m having, I may have missed it but I’m not sure.
My Problem
I’m left handed, but I believe the general issue is still the same (even if I was right handed). My thumb that rests parallel to the fretboard feels like I’m giving it too much pressure and almost feels like it’s jamming while I play. The pain isn’t terrible or anything and it subsides once I’m done playing (and it really doesn’t get in the way), but when I’m trying to practice proper technique (and not letting the top of my palm hit the fretboard), I feel like this inherently makes me push my thumb into the back of the board harder.

Am I supposed to be keeping the thumb loose? If so, I have no real idea on how to really manage that, outside of paying super close attention to how I’m holding my bass at all times, but it does feel more natural to me to be applying pressure.

Has anyone else experienced something similar? Or if you have some tips of what I may or may not be doing properly, I’d appreciate it immensely.


Yeah that’s a fairly common issue, I’m still working on it as well. Check out the Death Grip thread. There’s all sorts of tips there, including practicing without using the thumb (I guess to make you less reliant on it), but nothing has really worked for me other than:


Thanks! I’ll check it out. It’s nice to know I’m not alone on this.


A few general tips:

Ideally your thumb is softly resting on the back of the neck, not being pressed in to the point of discomfort.

Fret the strings as lightly as will allow you to get a clean note. Pressing too hard will needlessly tire your hand out including your thumb, and can actually cause your notes (especially higher on the fretboard) to be out of tune.

Check the action and neck relief on your bass. If needed, take your bass to get a professional setup, or learn to do one on your own. Even brand new basses need a setup, and as temperature and humidity change through out the year, wood will shift and the setup will need to be adjusted. Playing all well setup bass feels 1000000% better than playing one that is out of whack. This alone can help relieve stress on your hand if your action is too high.

Good luck. It is a problem I’m pretty sure 99% of bass players have needed to figure out. Keep practicing and focusing on good habits.


There are some exercises (unfortunately, can’t seem to find a source for them right now), where you are supposed to fret WITHOUT using your thumb at all, i.e., you kinda fold your thumb out of the way; in any case it is not touching the neck at all. This actually works… you perhaps need to provide some counterbalance with the arm of your plucking hand, but it works. The idea, I guess, is to demonstrate that you don’t need to choke the neck and that a light touch of the thumb is sufficient. And the same is true for the fretting fingers themselves, as already pointed out by others as well.

EDIT: well, found Adam Neely talking about this here:


The video above is very good. My thumb rests lightly in a relaxed position, I use it mostly for pivoting during shifts. As others have said if you’re squeezing that hard you need to focus not just on your thumb, but on how hard you are fretting. These two videos are very helpful.

The first is about how to practice fretting with the least amount of pressure required, the second is about practicing fretting with your thumb completely off the bass. Experiment with the first before you try to work on the second. Practice each of these for a while and you’ll be able to play with a relaxed hand.

Gary Willis On Finger Pressure

Fergie Fulton - The Thumb & Fretting Hand


Hi @Mitiya !

I came here to say more or less what @BassFaceDisgrace said. I have been practicing a little less regularly recently due to work and just in the last week found myself falling into a trap of feeling like I needed to fret harder and then found my thumb behind the neck feeling a bit numb after…

Came across a couple of resources saying a very similar thing:

  • Rest only your thumb against the back of the neck with the most comfortable amount of pressure (only needs to be very light)
  • Rest your fretting finger on a string (let’s pick E first) over a fret but do not fret yet
  • Keep plucking away at that string, as you apply gradual pressure towards the fret until you get a clean note from it. You should hopefully notice that neither your thumb nor finger are pressing that hard at the moment.
  • After you’ve found that perfect amount of pressure, repeat a few rounds of lightly plucking away while applying that minimal pressure
  • Do the same thing with each of your fretting fingers
  • Then on each string!

After doing that exercise for a little while I definitely felt my playing ease back up a bit.

Also remember that you don’t have to play harder, that can make it harder to fret cleanly (especially a beginner level, I’m still very guilty!), try turning up your amp first! (unless your attacking the strings hard on purpose of course!)

Everything new you’re doing with your hands will take a little bit of time to feel more normal but one you day you’ll be playing and suddenly realise a problem you had before isn’t as much as a problem anymore!


That’s excellent advice but I would go even farther.

Try doing what @renouf just described but don’t use your thumb at all. Try playing for a while without touching the back of your bass with the fretting hand thumb. Do this every day at the start of practice for a few minutes.

On a properly set up bass, you should not need your thumb to fret notes. It should take very little pressure to actually properly fret a note. You should be able to fret without the thumb and only a little counter-pressure with your plucking hand forearm on the body of the bass.

If you find that you absolutely need to squeeze with your thumb to fret a note, your bass very likely needs a setup. It could bee that your action is too high, there is too much neck relief, or the nut is too high, but it’s hard to say without being there in person.


Everyone here has mentioned trying it without the thumb at all, I haven’t knowingly tried this myself yet but I certainly will after reading through all these. I bet it’ll feel weird at first! :joy:


It’s super weird! But very instructive :slight_smile:


@howard pointed me down the no thumb direction after I began to strangle the neck on my bass. It really does make a difference and increases the playing pleasure significantly once you’ve learned it’s not necessary to apply a heap of pressure to get a clean note. Dare I also say it makes you a little quicker around the fretboard


That is the way most instructors recommend, and is also the way I do it.


Yes that’s normal especially if you are new as bass player. What I am usually do is that relaxing my body and my mind and automatically the hand will be more flexible. Actually Josh in one of his video, explain the technique that we should keep the space within the hand and the fretboard. By the way I think is just relax the body and your mind. Or what you can do it’s also focus for sometimes on your hand without playing any notes. Hope you will getting better


As a fellow lefty I am having the same issue with my right thumb. Thanks all for the insight and will try the no thumb/the light touch approach in today’s practice


Interest to think of. Sometimes I find HOW you position your thumb affects speed on fills, especially if the fill uses the pinky. In those it resting lightly in the middle of the neck with fingers extended a bit higher seems to help. I guess that is more true on a 6 than a 4, but still notice on the 4


I had the same issue when I first picked up the bass. I found by being cognisant of thumb pain I was experiencing, I really relaxed, chilled, and concentrating on frett pressure and finger placement, I beat the problem. Pick up your bass and and play around with various fretting pressures. You should find that with good technIque you need very letting pressure to get a good tone. Hope my rambling helps.