Country Blues > Country Blues Licks and Lessons

The Thumb Has It

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Johnm:
Hi all,
I've recently had occasion to work on the music of two players not previously mentioned in this thread whom I believe to have used the thumb for picking and brushing in the treble as well as the bass.  The first is Arthur Crudup, a player who has gone relatively unexamined by present-day players in terms of figuring out exactly how he played what he played.  The piece I was working on was his version of "Mean Old Frisco Blues", and after transcribing the intro and first verse accompaniment, I'm convinced he handled the great majority of his right hand articulation with his thumb, only very occasionally using the index finger of the picking hand to do little brush strokes or occasionally hit the first string.  In the main, he really sounds like he was playing almost everything he did with his thumb.
The second player is Blind Blake.  I've been working on his "Detroit Bound Blues", and like many of his C position tunes in standard tuning, it has passages,  particularly in his instrumental responses, where the bass drops out and he plays single string runs in the treble.  Many of these runs resolve downward in pitch and eventually flow right back into his bass alternation.  The fat, penetrating tone he gets on several of these runs makes me think that he played them with his thumb in the right hand rather than his fingers.  It's pretty much impossible to get the big, round, rich tone you can achieve with the flesh of your thumb by picking with your fingers.  So I'm inclined to put Blind Blake on the list of players who used the thumb to play all over the guitar, including single string runs in the treble.

All best,
Johnm

big joe weems:
I have recently been trying to play with a thumb pick and finger picks after playing for some time with bare thumb and fingers, because I like the increased volume with picks, especially in the single note treble runs. However, I have noticed a decreased level of dexterity (specifically, speed of movement) with the thumb while using a thumb pick. I'm wondering from you more experienced players, if this is something that will improve over time to the point where a thumb with thumb pick can have just as much dexterity as a bare thumb, or if it will always be a trade-off between increased volume but less dexterity with a thumb pick.

eric:
John, I would interested in your take on Lemon's thumb technique.

I'm no expert, but some tunes just seem to make more sense using the thumb on the treble strings; sounds better and easier to do, to me anyway.

Johnm:
Hi Eric,
I do think Lemon used his thumb on the treble strings quite a lot, both for brush strokes and for single-string runs, as in a lot of his material in C position, standard tuning, especially the sort of archetypal C tunes he recorded over and over later in his career.  I think he probably used the thumb pick for his tremolo, too.
All best,
John

One-Eyed Ross:

--- Quote from: big joe weems on January 05, 2017, 08:12:48 AM ---... I'm wondering from you more experienced players, if this is something that will improve over time to the point where a thumb with thumb pick can have just as much dexterity as a bare thumb, or if it will always be a trade-off between increased volume but less dexterity with a thumb pick.

--- End quote ---

By no means am I an expert (an ex is a has been, a spurt is a drip under pressure!) but yes, you will get better with time and practice.  As a former 5 string banjo player, it just takes time and practice and time and practice.

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