View Full Version : Chords with thumb.

01-28-2017, 11:14 AM
I am a newbie, I am left handed so I play left handed, and I'm wondering if it's OK if I play chords with the thumb or if it's bad practice that will ruin me. I'm using a Tenor, but stacking fingers feels tight.

For example, it is virtually impossible for me to stack my fingers for a D-MAJOR, fingers are just too thick for it, I can barely do it, it's slow, and I often don't get all the strings held down right. So I find it's actually easier to just use my thumb over all 3 strings. There's actually a few chords where I can better use a single finger to manipulate multiple strings. I know that for a few chords this is bad practice, for example, pressing C-MAJOR with ring finger is the easiest because it allows you to more easily transition to other chords like like G-MAJOR. For me, any 2-3 strings in a row along the edges, are just better held with a finger on the bottom end, or a thumb at the top end. For another example, I don't mind playing the A-MINOR with a ring finger or thumb. And if a song has an A-MINOR that transitions to/from a D-MAJOR, it's actually pretty simple to transition, since all I have to do is go from pressing 1 string to 2 more strings in a row along side it and vice versa.

I am self teaching, so I'm just wondering if this practice would cause any issues that will force me to retrain myself down the line as I learn more.

01-28-2017, 11:47 AM
For a D, my local uke shop owner suggested using the middle finger to barr the three strings, if your first joint will bend backwards to arch over the A string. Then for a D7 use the ring finger to catch the C (3rd fret) on the A string. It takes a little practice, but is easy, if you fingers will bend that way.

01-28-2017, 03:25 PM
There's a recent thread on the subject here:

For D major, I use 2 fingers, index and middle, to cover the 3 strings. It's a hard chord to play when just starting out, so practice to build the flexibility and muscle memory. Relying on the thumb to make a D chord may be something you'll have to unlearn later to quickly change chords.

Doug W
01-28-2017, 04:22 PM
I agree that you should leave the thumb behind the neck for support. Your fingers will be more obedient over time.

01-29-2017, 05:21 AM
How big are your fingers? I have a size eleven ring finger. I think that if you start wrapping your thumb around the top to play chords, it is going to be hard later on it will slow you down. Once you start inventing like that, it just causes you to have to invent more as you progress. You need a good solid foundation to build on.

01-29-2017, 06:09 AM
Try playing the D in a couple other formations, like a G7 (but in the same fret) or with two fingers where the index finger covers the first two strings and the middle finger the third. Other people like playing it with fingers 2, 3, and 4.

Eventually, you will want to play E, and one of the solutions is the moveable chord shape of D, so it is a good chord to work out.

01-29-2017, 10:49 PM
I'm wondering if it's OK if I play chords with the thumb or if it's bad practice that will ruin me.
Regardless of being left or right handed, IMHO this IS bad practice and should be avoided by any means. After all you're playing ukulele, not hard rock guitar...
Even though there are lots of different opinions on this topic my recommendation would be to hold the ukulele a bit like a classical guitar: neck pointing upwards (~45 is not a problem), headstock approx. on level with your fretting shoulder - and all over sudden it will feel almost naturally to keep the thumb behind the neck. And your wrist will be less bent and pain-free in the long run.
Use a strap to support the ukulele, do not try to rest it on your legs (as you would with a classical guitar).

And as the others already said: there is no need for a single finger fretting only a single string all the time. Part or full barre is perfectly OK whenever it helps.

01-30-2017, 07:14 AM
I do a D chord on a tenor uke with my middle finger and ring finger bent back a bit to cover the three strings. I takes some practice, but I agree all the way around, using your thumb is actually going to make playing in the long run more difficult (unless you're Richie Havens who if I'm not mistaken tuned his guitar to use only his thumb, something like that).

02-05-2017, 03:55 PM
I'm unlearning this. I think unlearning is harder than learning!!

02-05-2017, 03:59 PM
(unless you're Richie Havens who if I'm not mistaken tuned his guitar to use only his thumb, something like that).

That's why I started doing it! haha I thought it was okay because he did it.

02-06-2017, 06:35 PM
I've always heard that it will hurt you in the long run if you finger with your thumb. It will likely take your longer to change chords that way, so best to avoid it!

Doug W
02-07-2017, 06:29 AM
As with most things, one style will not fit all situations, you are allowed to learn a variety of techniques and you should learn a variety of techniques.

I agree that there are guitar players out there who can play circles around me and they use their thumbs. I think using the thumb as an innovation is a different thing than using it because you haven't developed the dexterity in the other fingers to use them to quickly form chords. I wouldn't change my advice to a newbie. Don't use the thumb until you are doing something so innovative that you need another digit to dazzle the world.

Jim Yates
02-07-2017, 07:18 AM
While I do occasionally use my thumb on guitar, I have never found a time when I needed to use it on the ukulele.

02-07-2017, 12:41 PM
I agree that you should leave the thumb behind the neck for support. Your fingers will be more obedient over time.

I agree. The four fingers must be able to traverse the fretboard at all areas and in different fingering configurations. The thumb on back of neck allows for flexibility and room for fingers to roam and precisely fret without having the fleshy part of upper palm or lower fingers area to get in the way on the fretboard.

02-07-2017, 02:11 PM
I've been playing for 40 years, and I've always used my thumb for fretting. I learned in the mid-70s using a Mel Bay book that showed how to make the chords, but didn't say which finger to put on each string. No ukulele player I met since then ever suggested to me that it was a bad practice, and I was never unable to play something I wanted to play because it was too hard to get from one chord to another. It was only after I'd been playing for 35 years and joined the UU user forum that I heard for the first time people saying "that just isn't done". It's like anything else. It can be done, but you still have to practice to do it well.

In early years, I'd do a thumb bar on the D and E chords. I'll still do that on songs I learned in the '70s and early '80s, just because that's my muscle memory for playing those songs. I rarely use the thumb bar now otherwise, but it's occasionally useful. I still use my thumb to fret the G string on many chords. For an E, I'll put my thumb on the G string, middle finger on the C, ring finger on the E, and index on the A. This makes it very easy to go between an Esus4 and E, and also to free my fingers up to play some melody notes around the chord.