What's wrong with holding the guitar like a baseball bat?

dennisg
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:26 am

I've noticed several comments over the months (from Neil and others) about holding the guitar like a baseball bat -- that is, holding the guitar in such a manner that your thumb protrudes well over the top of the neck. My question is this: what's wrong with that? What negative effect does this have on one's playing?

This question has been brewing because at guitar camp one of the teachers gave a 30-minute demonstration on the ergonomics of playing the guitar. She spent that time demonstrating various techniques to make playing the guitar more comfortable, and one of those techniques was to raise the thumb above the neck. Her reasoning: most of us play the guitar with a bent wrist which can produce fatigue in the wrist or, worse, carpal tunnel syndrome. She had us raise our thumbs higher, which had the effect of straightening the wrist. Interestingly, each person in the class found her position far more comfortable, allowing us to play longer and without pain. As an aside, I was playing far more than normal at guitar camp, and experiencing quite a bit of pain. Almost from the moment I raised my thumb, straightening my wrist, I felt instant relief. I also felt like this position gave me more strength in my hand to play barre chords.

It's not my intention to contradict Neil. Just wondering, if this position is more comfortable and doesn't seem to inhibit our ability to go where we want to go on the fretboard, why are we advocating lowering our thumbs?


Lavallee
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:59 pm

Hi Dennis, I found the the baseball bat grip is a far more natural position for open chords, for bar chords my thumb goes naturally behind the fretboard because I can apply more pressure (cannot see how you can do a bar chord with the thumb above the fretboard). It might depend also how high the fretboard is and at what angle it is held relative to the body to define what grip is comfortable and what's not. When I strum, the baseball grip comes out and I do not see much of difference because most of the strings are hit.

Since I do mostly finger picking since I joined the site and became more aware of clean notes from Neil's influence, I was noticing that I was getting muted strings because they are individually picked, especially on E, Am , C, open F and the likes (not so much problems on G or D shape). I then started paying more attention to lowering the thumb.

When you lower the thumb the palm move away from the fretboard and the fingers becomes more perpendicular to the string. When the thumb is high (baseball bat grip)the fingers will be at an angle giving more chance to the finger flesh to touch the neighboring strings to be muted.

But as you said, if ones is comfortable why change, as long as it does not affect your playing, if it does at one point, there are alternatives.

Marc


TGMatt
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:11 pm

This is a super question..and as I know we have something coming that does deal with this I kinda stopped for a second..but I think I may chat to Neil on doing just a special video on this alone, and his philosophy...


tovo
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:54 pm

Nice question and looking forward to more on this topic. Personally, I will always choose to use a thumb over where I can because I find it so much easier that stretching a finger to the low E. I know that Neil rarely recommends this (although he does on occasion).

My own thought is that there is a big difference between a conscious decision to use a high thumb or thumb over resulting in a baseball grip and doing it because you have never considered any other position. I agree with Marc on the difficulty of fingering a barre with a baseball grip happening.

I tend to think it doesn't need to be this OR that. It can be this AND that.


ceaser67
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:45 pm

hi dennis,
this for me is the hardest thing about getting taught from neil,i have got the baseball bat grip and its really all i know,problem is thats how i learnt (self taught),it was only after a couple of years playing that i had my first guitar teacher,and to be fair he had the same thought of reason as neil, problem was i didnt really listen,i was more interested learning the songs to play i guess,truth is if i was to start from scratch again i would definately stay away from it,so i think from a teachers point of view (neil)is that making sure you dont start of with a really bad habit,if you master the neil way straight away then you can progress a lot quicker and more importantly you can reach certain notes a lot easier.

i am trying really hard on this issue and yes youre right it can be painful,but i will keep persivering as it certainly gets me cleaner notes on the high E when fingerpicking,

it will be interesting to read other opinions on this subject,especially neils.

tommy


dennisg
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:15 pm

Marc: I just reread my original post, and I can see where the confusion is. I made it seem as if my camp teacher was urging us to raise our thumbs above the neck at all times, even on barre chords. What I meant to say was that she wanted us to straighten our wrists whenever it's practical to do so. In the absence of having a fatigued or sore wrist, we should be better able to play barre chords.

Tony: I wasn't referring to using your thumb to finger strings, although I can see why you might have thought that. I simply meant bringing your thumb up higher behind the neck, thus straightening your wrist.

Ceaser: I can appreciate that your guitar teacher told you to lower your thumb behind the neck. What I'm wondering is WHY we're being told that? Why do you feel you would "...progress a lot quicker..." if you had learned it the other way?

As with a lot of things in life, I'm far less interested in the rule than I am with the reason for the rule.


lueders
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:09 pm

This is a topic of great interest to me. Certainly this thump over the top/baseball bat grip maneuver is a handy tool to have in one's toolbox. (I believe.) I use it about 50-60 % of the time.I think there are certain situations were it is the most logical option. The first position D major chord with F# in the base comes to mind. In this instance, I believe Neil has stated he has no problem with/even suggests utilizing the (T.O.T.T.) method.

I believe in a lot of cases it is the only (if not best) way to facilitate certain musical passages. It might also be chosen to have your hand in position for the next attack. I like it because the hand positioning allows for better mobility & dexterity with the lower fingers for hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, & other embellishments. (Ex. Hendrix style "Little Wing" type stuff.) I ran into this a lot, with trying to learn "Under the Bridge." John Frusciante, Chili Peppers guitarist is a proponent of this school of thought.

I ran into the this dilemma on Neil's intro to "Losing my Religion" I experimented with both the full barre & the T.O.T.T. on the first position F barre. Both worked but I found the T.O.T.T was a smoother change and felt much more comfortable and even satisfying. I was spending less time in "release-land" and not losing time the way I was with the full barre. Also, the notes & overall-attack was much crisper.
I faced the same decision on the fingerstyle melody of Bohemian Rhapsody as well. Again, I chose the T.O.T.T. because it allowed for better movement to the next series of notes.

There are a slew of guitarists who use it & put this style to good use. (in my opinion)
I've seen & heard that the late Waylon Jennings used to play his 3rd position G barre that way. I read an article where Robbie Krieger uses it extensively, and calls it a "bastardized style." (whatever that means) Ritchie Havens does this alot, too.(in open D) I have heard John Mayer uses it. And, there are probably tons more out there who also use it.

The only real draw back is...(at least I keep hearing) is that it can lead to physical problems later on. Also, if you are playing stuff where you want to palm mute a (up-the-neck) barre like in a percussive Melissa Etheridge type-song. With the baseball grip, you can't simply just adjust the pressure to mute the strings...like you could with a full barre. But it certainly is a practical approach for certain things.

EDIT: AHHA! Dennis, I see now (after I typed a novel) you weren't talking about the
thumb actually fingering notes. Just lowering the thumb...Oooooops!!


wiley
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:56 pm

I don't really know that there is a 'correct' way. I don't think Neil has ever said "Baseball grip is to never be used". He does, for obvious (to me anyway) advocate the thumb behind the neck position, as most teachers do.

My own reasoning is the angle of which the ends (tips) of my fingers reach the fret, I have those bulbous fingertips and easily foul strings if my angle of attack is too far off. IOW - I, personally, need to concentrate more on the tips of my fingers making contact.

I was recently talking with Glen, the guy who owns the Decatur store, he suggested I was doing what most do, "Killing the Wood". In other words, pressing too hard. I now try and find the least amount of pressure it takes to ring the note. Surprisingly, one of the 'drills' he suggested was doing certain things, like running a scale or the Giuliani left/right hand exercises and do so without ANY thumb, completely remove it.

I also use a 'classical' position, and have even done chords, including barre chords and changes using the "No Thumb" technique! Difficult, but....


jcrocket
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 10:04 pm

This is an interesting topic to me as well. In all the years I've been playing, I've never paid any attention to the grip I've used - but, as the video's I've posted reveal, I'm a major offender when it comes to the baseball bat grip (for anything other than barre chords).

While my first impulse is to say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", I suspect I need to explore this further. There are various chord fingerings that I struggle with, and have always assumed it was just a matter of having fat fingers. However, Marc makes a good point here - changing the thumb position definitely affects the angle of the fingers on the strings, and many of the fingerings I struggle with and shy away from may become easier with a change of grip, which I honestly had never thought about before.

On the other hand, I have to pay close attention to the ergonomic implications. In the past few years, my average number of hours spent playing guitar has increased tenfold, if not more - and I've recently started noticing issues with my left wrist. From what the teacher at Dennis' camp is saying, it sounds like lowering the thumb (thereby bending the wrist) may aggravate the situation.

I'm eager to hear others weigh in on this question.

Jeff


tovo
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Sun Sep 12, 2010 10:14 pm

dennisg wrote:

Tony: I wasn't referring to using your thumb to finger strings, although I can see why you might have thought that. I simply meant bringing your thumb up higher behind the neck, thus straightening your wrist.
Den I know you weren't, but using the thumb over results in a baseball grip which is in line with the topic you raised.

Cheers.


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