Hey! I'm new here, and... (thumb question)

janthorejanthore New
edited January 2011 in Welcome Posts: 6
I started playing GJ last october. I've never had technical difficulties past understanding what to do while improvising, but I noticed one kinda big problem for me when I accompany GJ.

My hands are wayyy small.

I'm a 25 years old dude, I've mainly played electric guitars for about 7 years previously, and even though the standard Selmer replica guitars have pretty slim necks, I can't seem to be able to create full chords and include the thumb. There's no way for me to reach the top three strings with my remaining fingers AND fret the top E string with my thumb, without getting inflamed wrist tendons (happened once already right before Christmas).

Now, I modified all the thumb chords I know to exclude the thumb root, and just play the remaining notes. It doesn't seem to remove much, at least. I've also been considering buying Gypsy Rhythm, but it seems to focus a lot on thumb chords.

I guess my main question is: Will not being able to play thumb chords remove a lot of the function Gypsy Rhythm has for my learning, and am I generally screwed when it comes to gypsy accompaniment in general due to my small hands?


  • seeirwinseeirwin ✭✭✭ AJL J'attendrai | AJL Orchestra
    Posts: 115
    Since you are a veteran guitar player, I assume you've already tried changing your wrist angle to accommodate thumb chords? I don't have large hands by any means, and the chords you are talking about were tough for me at first (it was like learning bar chords all over again), but now it's dialed in and I don't think twice about it. If it's still a problem, I would suggest a different approach than dropping the 6th string note. Many rhythm players go for a very dry, driving, sound using the low strings on the guitar (presumably because many soloists like it that way). There's nothing sacred about thumb shapes. You can still sound great without them. Jeff Radaich (Gonzalo Bergara's Rhythm Guitarist) doesn't play 7th chords with the thumb on the root like you may have seen, but I don't think anyone thinks less of his rhythm because of it. Get those bass notes in there, though (even if you have to let some of the high notes go)!

    You might also uplaod a photo if you can, and maybe someone can recommend a more ergonomical fingering.

    Good luck!
  • jovationjovation Austin,TXNew
    Posts: 21
    I recently attended a private master class with a well known Gypsy Jazz player.

    After years of playing, he has currently working through some hand and wrist issues.
    He advised me to drop using thumb chords altogether. The theory is that repeated
    use of the hand position needed for thumbing the bass note of chords can lead to
    issues similar to what he is experiencing.

    Clearly, Django had little choice but to use his thumb due to his left hand finger restrictions.
    But if you have four working fingers, most people should be able to handle Gypsy chords, including
    the bass note, with proper (i.e. classical) hand position.

    Has anyone else heard about potential repetitive stress issues caused by long term use of
    the thumb chord hand position?

  • When I play thumb chords (which I don't use very often) I can feel the strain in my elbow and wrist.

    If one is playing thumb chords the lower the neck the more natural the hand position for thumb chords and the more unnatural for barre chords.

    Having played a lot of classical guitar decades ago I am more comfortable with using a grand barre and to do that well I have to hold the neck higher than the usual GJ position. Eliminates much of the stress though.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • janthorejanthore New
    Posts: 6
    I could upload a picture for you if you want, but I've just gone over to regular classical barre on everything (thanks), and leaving out high notes I don't have a chance of reaching without straining!

    Just got Wrembel's "Getting into Gypsy Jazz guitar", and it's amazing! Lots of arpeggio etude exercises, chord exercises, rhythmic exercises, chord inversions etc... all built on the changes of Minor swing or All of me!

    Unlike metal, you can't just play through the changes and say "I can play that!", hahah. Internalizing all of this is going to take some time! The book has given me a few lightbulbs already, and I've only been trying it out for an hour or two!

    Excellent! :)
  • asd123321asd123321 ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 119
    Merle Travis used the thumb nearly all the time so it should not be presumed that it would be a problem.
  • If I remember rightly WEs Montgomery was a thumb player as well
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Larry MunsonLarry Munson Beaverton, ORNew
    Posts: 3
    By utilizing double stops where necessary you should be able to play most chord forms (regardless of music style) without using the thumb. Anything you do that causes pain in the muscles or joints you should avoid due to potential damage you may do to yourself.
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,659
    It's funny for me to hear of people having trouble with thumb chords and resorting to barre or other non-thumb chords instead. I had the opposite problem. I first learned to play guitar at the age of ten, and my little hands (they're still fairly small) did not have the strength to manage barre chords on the big old Kay archtop that was my first guitar (my parents didn't know any better). So I made up a bunch of thumb chords that. I guess somehow I adopted a hand position that worked without undue stress, because I never had any trouble from it.

    What did cause a big problem was when I started learning jazz about fifteen years ago and tried to adopt a more classical position with the thumb planted on the back of the neck. Six months of that, and my thumb was killing me! It still bothers me a bit when I play regular jazz chords. Lo! and behold! I come to discover my thumb chords to be very much like the ones used by gypsy players, in some cases identical. What a relief!

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • Larry MunsonLarry Munson Beaverton, ORNew
    Posts: 3
    An individual's physiology is a personal thing. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for everyone. You really have to find what works best for yourself.
  • B25GibB25Gib Bremerton WA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 164
    .....Here are some warmup hand stretching exercises for guitarists on this website. I have found them to be of value before practice or jam sessions. The hand warmup (I use) takes less than 3 minutes!


    Cheers, Rocky
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