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Plow the mule in the daytime, pick the guitar at night - Bud Spires

Author Topic: The Thumb Has It  (Read 3598 times)

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Offline RobBob

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  • Blues is truth.
Re: The Thumb Has It
« Reply #30 on: February 10, 2020, 06:03:05 AM »
This thread hits a lot of my favorite players. To take it a little off but still on topic, my late friend Will Keys played two finger banjo and he would at times hit the first string with his thumb and his fifth string with his first finger.  He called that "Appalachian long thumb". Watch how his hand works. The banjo was played before guitar.

Offline Johnm

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Re: The Thumb Has It
« Reply #31 on: February 14, 2020, 12:06:18 PM »
Thanks for posting that, Bob.  Will Keys sure had beautiful time.  That move where he brings back his index finger to pick the fifth string has to be seen to be believed!  It's the kind of thing I don't think I could ever figure out without having seem him do it.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: The Thumb Has It
« Reply #32 on: Yesterday at 10:05:59 AM »
Hi all,
I had occasion to work on two Rev. Gary Davis tunes, both from "Say No To The Devil", recently, in order to do lessons on them.  The songs were "I Decided To Go Down" and "Lord, I Looked Down The Road", both of which he played in F position in standard tuning.  Here are his performances of the two songs from that recording:





In working on the songs, I noticed that in both instances, his use of the thumb in the picking hand to maintain any kind of time-keeping or alternation in the bass was very intermittent, with it just being left out most of the time. Thinking about that, I came to feel that he was probably playing most of his melodic leads in the treble with his picking thumb, for a couple of reasons:
   * The thumb is much the most coordinated of the digits, even more than the index finger, and will always produce a bigger sound when playing single-string lines than a finger would; and
   * The bends he uses at the fourth fret of the first two strings will always work easier if the attack in the right hand is coming from the opposite direction from the bend in the left hand. And since bends on the first two strings will go towards the middle of the fingerboard, having the thumb attack from the bass side helps the bend.

Apart from those two reasons, I also figured that if Rev. Davis had wanted to maintain any kind of conventional time-keeping in the bass with his thumb while playing those treble runs, he certainly had more than the technical wherewithal required to do that. It seemed the most logical reason for the bass to drop out was that the thumb was otherwise occupied, playing those treble runs.

Rev. Davis's coverage in the fretting hand on these two F tunes is beautifully efficient--you can simply assign a finger to a fret, right across the neck, with the index finger handling the first fret, the second finger the second fret, the ring finger the third fret and the little finger the fourth fret (even of the sixth string!).  And since both tunes avoid the IV chord, Bb, you don't have the common issues of how to fret that that you usually encounter when playing a blues in F position in standard tuning.

More and more, I'm coming to feel that in this music, if you have a player who habitually kept time in the bass with the picking thumb, and that time-keeping disappears simultaneous with treble or mid-range runs, the player was probably using the thumb to play those runs.  Give it a try and see what you think.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 10:11:03 AM by Johnm »

 


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