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Improve Your Skills > For All Styles > Correct Thumb Placement For Guitar Scales

Correct Thumb Placement For Guitar Scales

We all know that scales are extremely important for guitar players, both for their musical value, and also for developing our fingers. Proper scale practice is a very complex subject, and one often overlooked aspect is "what should my thumb be doing while my fingers are traveling around the strings?" That is an important question, and we are going to answer it right now.

At GuitarPrinciples, we train the left hand in a very different way than other guitar methods. We develop the whole hand, meaning the use of all the fingers equally, right from the beginning. There is no such thing as not being able to use the pinky around here! The first and most essential stage of left hand development is begun with the left hand training found in "The Principles Of Correct Practice For Guitar". The hand is further developed with "How To Master A Scale Note by Note", and finally, a very comprehensive training in the most important scales for guitar players is given in "The 6 Essential Scales For Guitar With Modes & Arpeggios".

In all this left hand training, tremendous attention must be given to the fingers, and sometimes the role of the thumb, which is behind the neck and supporting the fingers, is overlooked. While the thumb's action is certainly less complex than that of the fingers, it is very important that the thumb be working in a certain way.


This is because the role of the thumb is to support and counterbalance the action of the fingers. It is very much like the role of the feet while dancing. At any given moment, there is going to be a best place for each foot to be in order for the lower part of the body to support the upper body, which is constantly moving and changing its center of gravity.  If the feet are not placed properly, awkwardness and tension will destroy the ease of motion required to dance well. It is the same for the thumb and fingers while playing guitar.

If the thumb is not placed properly for each note the fingers play, the fingers will be less able, or even unable, to do their job. More than that, the amount and direction of the pressure applied by the thumb must be calibrated to the positioning and action of the fingers. This adjustment between the fingers and thumb on the neck of the guitar while playing impacts the entire body during playing, especially the upper body. Tense shoulders, back pains, and general difficulty in playing can all have bad thumb positioning as a contributing factor.

Developing a sense of the best thumb position for various playing situations is necessary for all guitar players, and in the video accompanying this lesson I am going to give you some guidelines for thumb placement during scales, specifically, how the thumb behaves during the fingers travel across all six strings.

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