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Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 6:22 pm
by Chuck
Question for the experts on this board:

Are there any tried and true techniques for strumming with a thumb pick? I am right now working on a version of Classical Gas in my (acoustic steel string) guitar duo.

Trying to incorporate what I like about different versions. At one point in Tommy's version, he goes up the neck, stops fingerpicking and starts strumming. I'd like to use this part but am struggling keeping the thumbpick under control in that mode.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions. Chuck/Cincinnati

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 8:48 pm
by Norm
There are two or three versions of this song by Tommy. 'Classical Gas' is not a song I particularly like although I do like the version he does in the video I watched

Being able to use a thumbpick like a flatpicker uses a flat pick is something that should be easy but tends to be difficult for some. I know I never got good at it. Chet, of course, could do it flawlessly too and seasoned players (Bresh comes to mind) can do it so it's not like it is a secret.

Any guitar technique is attainable...

...if you are willing to isolate it, figure out what is required to achieve it and apply the time (and often monotonous) practice until your eye, hand and mind allow it to happen.

It's like when we learned to get something like the "independent thumb" It seemed impossible for months until one day it stars to kick in.

Isolate what you want to do. Do it SLOWLY until it balances and gradually increase your speed. There are no shortcuts.

Having said that, some folks who have the technique down may propose tips...wrist angle, holding the pick, etc. but it still boils down to play it right slowly before you try to play it up to speed.

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2014 10:51 pm
by Drail
Chuck, the first line of your post disqualifies me from answering your question, but being the hard head I am, I will attempt to answer :D

In my limited experience I have found that the shape of the picking point makes a big difference when trying to strum with a thumb pick. I had trouble strumming with some of the thumb picks I have used but I found one that has a more rounded point similar to a flat pick, that makes it a little easier to strum. You may all ready have a thumb pick like that, in which case, I'm out of suggestions. Hope this helps Chuck.

Btw..... I like your picking so keep up the good work!

- the (not) expert -

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Sat Aug 30, 2014 9:33 pm
by Norm
Here's an interesting thought.
I stumbled on this on gretschpages where a guy is talking about having problems getting up to speed using a flatpick.


So, off to the general interwebs, where I was trying to find primers on mandolin technique or anything, really. I happened upon a book about right hand picking by a Mark Burgess called Right Hand Picking (duh). Smack dab on page 4, I see my problem. I'm not holding the pick correctly at all. I've held it pinched between my thumb and the pad on my first finger.

NormNote: This is, I think, the way most of us grab the blade of the thumbpick when we try to do the flatpick business.

Burgess' technique is to lay the pick on the side of the index finger between the two joints and clamp the thumb down on the top of the pick to hold it in place.
The fingers stay curled in towards the palm.


I just now grabbed my guitar and tried this and there IS a difference. You have to re-think things a little. Instead of using your first joint on your finger to hold the blade you use your second joint. There is a definite difference.

I would definitely suggest those who want to double on the pick to try this.

The picking motion is more of a twist of the wrist than a forearm-driven strum.

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Sun Aug 31, 2014 4:08 pm
by rickr
Chuck. I tried to contact you offline no response.. Rick

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Sun Aug 31, 2014 11:13 pm
by Art Sims
Chuck, Experiments have produced a personal conclusion for me that the main reason thumpick strumming is difficult is because of the angle at which the pick strikes the strings. If you watch closely where video clips show close ups of Chet’s right hand you can sometimes see him changing the position of his hand in order to strum with the pick. I think that’s necessary because muffle licks position the point of the pick directly at the strings whereas a good strum needs the underside of the pick to glide over the strings, at least to a degree. With upstrokes the task is greater and where both downstrokes and upstrokes are desired even greater yet. I think some guys are able to do it by relaxing the thumb enough for the joints to actually rotate just a little bit with the pick and/or for the flesh to move just a bit to aid in the angle of the pick being mildly variable. These are among the difficulties that make flatpicks preferable for some fingerstyle players except that the trouble with that is you then have only the pick and two picking fingers instead of three picking fingers, unless you give up the pinky as an anchor and develop it instead as a picking finger. In my opinion, these options are limited solutions but do seem workable for some finger pickers. I think a player just has to try until he or she figures out something workable in their own case.

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 7:23 am
by Chuck
Norm, as to your first post, exactly right. It is going to take time to get it right. For me there are 2 stages, the first to be able to do any given technique reasonably well at home, and the second to see how it holds under gig pressure. As Tommy himself would say "GTW", and I am doing just that (aren't we all).

Darryl, thinking about your post, agreed to that as well, the thumb pick shape must play a part. Like most of us I've got a collection of different thumb picks I've been going through, I normally use National lg. But I'm working through with different results, thanks for that. (and thanks for your comment about my videos!!!!)

Norm your reference to the Burgess book- I tried that immediately. It does take some re-thinking. What I discovered is that (for me) the pick angle, normally closer to say 75 degrees, was reduced to about 40 degrees. For downstrokes obviously. That in itself gave me more glide. I am working that technique. The Burgess book by the way looks like a great resource (so much to learn on this board).

Art, that plays right into your comments about the angle. And possible use of a flat pick instead in a finger style situation. I can see how someone could come to that conclusion. I'm going to look into that too, and experiment (losing the anchor as a result as you point out).

THANKS everyone. Tommy is in town in 2 weeks. 5 years ago when he came through he did a workshop (I was there of course, what a great session). He is doing it again this time, so I'll be there, and if he opens the floor for questions, which he usually does, I will ask him about this.

P.S. Rick, I tried to email you but that address bounced back. I can't get PM to work either. My email is Looking forward to hearing from you!

Re: Thumbpick strumming

PostPosted: Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:18 pm
by Norm
Too many people treat a thumbpick like they need to find one that has a blade that is just right.

Better you should find one that feels good and fits on your thumb and do some shaping on the blade. Chet did. He tended to round the points off the blades.

I've talked about this before but it's worth retelling. Take a flatpick and noodle around comfortably with it.

After a bit, take a look at how much (or how little) of the pick sticks out from the edge of your thumb.

If you think about it, that is all you really need sticking out to make the thumbick work. It is probably less than the untrimmed thumbpick is.