There are three main strokes we can do with the thumb and in this lesson we will look at the most commonly used stroke, the free stroke.
The thumb moves differently from the fingers and needs to be developed on its own. As a generalization, the thumb will take care of the bass strings in much of the repertoire. It can create a variety of sounds and articulations. Because of the angle of attack, it can be developed to make a clear stroke on the bass strings without the scratchy “zip” that the fingers might get on the bass strings.
It is pretty clear to spot the three joints in the fingers, there is a row of knuckles, middle joints and then the tip joints. The thumb also has a tip joint and a knuckle, but no middle joint. However, the fun doesn’t stop there. The main source of movement is from a joint behind the knuckle that is back towards the wrist. The fingers also have these joints but they don’t have the same movement as the thumb.
The first step is to locate this mysterious joint and experiment with the range of motion that is available. There is quite a variety of movement, with much more rotation available thanks to this deeper joint. Add in the movement of the tip joint and the knuckle and you will be in command of many individual movements that thumb can make.
The free stroke of the thumb follows an ellipse shape and we can follow the same four steps as the free stroke for i, m, and a.
- Prepare your thumb on the string finding the place where the flesh and nail meet
- Release the thumb so that it clears
Study no.3 is all about the thumb. I ask my students to play the whole piece with the thumb, because it develops accuracy and control. Unlike the fingers i, m, and a it is normal to repeat the thumb throughout several notes. It has a different way of moving and can actually be played ver fast (have a listen to some flamenco and you will hear what I am talking about). Along with accuracy and control, be mindful of your sound as you play the piece.
If you would like to learn more, the thumb stroke is covered in-depth as part of the Level 1 Technique & Musicianship Video Course in our membership packages!