Thumb-Over Barre Chording

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Kaviler, Feb 24, 2009.

  1. Kaviler

    Kaviler Member

    Oct 16, 2008
    I am playing around with some Hendrix right now and have noticed most (good) players of his music seem to use a thumb-over playing style. Is there a good reason for this or is it just tributing Jimi's music? Im not sure if i should use it because thumb-over chording feels awkward to me. My thumb wont stick on the E string and I can't figure out how to switch into a minor and other formations. I think I can develop this technique with some work but i don't know if it would be a waste or time or if it would open up whole new style to me. What you think? Know where i can find anything good?
  2. davya

    davya Member

    Sep 15, 2007
    Longmont, Colorade
    The only time to use this (for me) is when you can't play it any other way...seems that's what Jimi was doing...
  3. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

    May 19, 2003
    Sometimes, you want to play a bass note but you've run out of fingers and you don't want the 5th string to sound by using a barre. Wrap that thumb around. It plays the bass note on 6 and mutes 5.
  4. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    we eat a lot of cheese and drink a lot of beer
    There's been lots and lots of discussion about this. I don't understand what you're talking about when you say I can't figure out how to switch into a minor- it'd be the same with or without the thumb. The thumb is almost always used for a root note in that style.

    I play with my thumb over the neck. The pros are it gives you more leverage when bending (although I don't bend much) and it can aid in muting strings, along with being able to snag bass notes here and there. For me it's just something that came about naturally with the style of music I was playing. I often use it to grab notes on the A string as well as the low E.

    The negatives are it's uncomfortable for some, and it can slow down your other fingers. It will probably change the angle at which your fingers fret the string, so if you're going for a classical "pad of the finger" type technique it will be hard to do with your thumb hanging over.
  5. dk123123dk

    dk123123dk Member

    Sep 15, 2007
    I think its a valid way to form chords. Once you learn it, your hand will become more comfortable. Its just another way to grab a chord, and when used right can sound different. Plus the A chords sound cool when you thumb the fifth fret, leave the a string open, and then use your second and third finger to finish the chord. Plus all those cool Hendrix pull offs that you can do on every chord. I think its a cool thing to learn and add to your playing. I think the key to this strategy is to relax your hand and let it fall into place instead of forcing things.

  6. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

    Mar 20, 2005
    It's needed for being able to play some lead line type stuff and/or to embellish the chord and sustain the bass note at the same time.

    Also, (this is a big one that some miss) as your ear gets better, you realize the guitar's ability to tune is not so hot. So by using your thumb, you can mute or bend other stubborn notes more in tune with the chord. Lots and lots of tricks to it.
  7. gennation

    gennation Member

    Feb 25, 2006
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Many of the classic rocks greatest tunes were movable chord with the thumb playing the low note, not all but many. From Stones, Zep, Hendrix, Townshend, etc...they ALL played the chords using their thumbs.

    Try playing Pinball Wizard using the full-first-finger-barre, then do it using the thumb...THAT's the difference. It's more of a "grip" than a "form" per say.

    Hendrix used it to comfortably add embellishments to his chords.

    But, bands like The Kinks, they were using either full-first-finger-barre or R-5-R "power chords" most of the time. It was their sound. The Beatles used a lot of full-first-finger-barre too, I think mainly because they shifted in and out of straight Major chords to dom7 chords quite a bit, plus they also utilized the "spread" form for the RnR/Boogie Woogie progression/riff, so they needed that first finger on the low Root of the chord.

    The technique was handed down from older delta blues players and Chicago Blues players, that's were the young British Invasion guys got it from. But even someone like John Mclaughlin uses his thumb for this barre chords almost all the time.

    Either way you play it is fine and it depends on the part you're playing for sure. But, using the three or so different ways is good to have under your belt when you need it (full-first-finger-barre, thumb over the top, or not low Root at all)

    I only start using it later in my playing, the last five years or so. But, it gives me more muting options and most of the time is a more relaxed grip of the neck.

    Even when I don't use my thumb I rarely ever play a full-first-finger-barre anyways and only grip the 5th to the 1st string. Again, it's just more of a relaxed grip.

    And, when you start using it realize your thumb really doesn't have to plant itself in the low string too hard, it just kind of needs to sit there...almost like it's acting like it's pressing down. Just start giving you thumb some "presence" in the chord and you'll see it's not a high precision think the use your thumb there but more of a relaxed thing.

    Spend sometime on youtube and watch some of these great guitarists play, you'll see it's a common thing in many players style.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  8. willhutch

    willhutch Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2006
    I use thumb over constantly. I adopted it early so it is very natural. I find it useful in Hendrix style material, of course. But I use it a lot for chord melody style also. The thumb grabs a lot of notes in a walking-bass situation.

    That digit is right there. You may as well use it!
  9. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

    Feb 10, 2007
    really depends, the thumb over top is harder if you play an acoustic, which is why I stopped doing that, strats are loud enough that I don't have to have an amp on to play them, also sitting down when you play will make them harder, and trying to play all the strings, if you kwow what strings can be mute the chords get really easy.

    A major
    e---5 or x with index finger,
    b---5 with index
    g---6 with middle finger
    d---7 with pinky or ring,
    A---7 or x ring if played, muted with thumb or ring finger,
    E --5 thumb

    A minor really simple if you just play

    e---5 index barre
    b---5 index barre
    g---5 index barre
    d---x with index
    a---x with thumb
    E---5 thumb

    D A string
    E----x with ring finger barre
    b----7 ring finger barre
    g----7 ring finger barre
    d----7 ring finger barre
    A----5 thumb
    E----5 thumb just don't play

    D minor A string

    E---5 index finger
    b---6 middle finger
    g---7 pinky
    D---7 ring finger
    A---5 thumb
    E---5 thumb just don't play

    open A

    e---x mute with index barre
    b---2 barre with index finger
    g---2 barre with index finger
    d---2 barre with index finger
    E---0 just don't play

    I also have variations for the 7th chords, already to many graphs, let you find them, if you understand which notes need to be played, the bass root and 3rd to sound the major or minor, or just do a power chord which is easy with the thumb over the top.

    personally I find the barre chords hard to play licks out of, the thumb over the top is so much easier to play licks out of.
  10. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

    Sep 10, 2007
    In a van down by the river
    I don't like using the thumb over technique, and I have big hands. I will use it if I have to only.
  11. rongtr1

    rongtr1 Member

    Jul 11, 2006
    I agree-I learned with the full 1st finger barre, and then I started noticing a lot of the English guys from that era- Clapton, Page, etc. (along with Hendrix) using it. It's like the difference playing a E string root minor seventh with full barre and the third finger two frets above on the A string, and a minor seventh using just the second and third fingers and muting the A string, or Freddie Greens seventh chords, also not having that fifth interval on the bottom- it makes the chords stand out more!
  12. CharAznable

    CharAznable Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Leesburg, VA
    It's a valid technique, but barre chords should be learned as well, and first, I think.

    Which one is appropriate really depends on the part you're playing, as well as what you were playing immediately before and immediately after.

    For Hendrix/SRV chord embellishments and Chuck Berry style bending, it's mandatory. But if you're playing runs with big stretches, especially in the 5th or 6th strings, right before or after a chord, then it's easier and faster to just do a full barre.

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