Guitar: Is It Ok to Use Your Left Thumb to Fret?

Guitarists over the years have developed a lot of different methods of playing guitar. 

From classical to jazz, every playing style has its unique identity. 

Depending upon your choice of guitars, that style, and its techniques can vary as well. 

What’s frowned upon by players of a certain genre could be the standard for another.

If you are a new player, and you have particularly big hands, you might have wondered if you can use the left thumb to fret.

Using your left thumb to fret your guitar or mostly the bass string is completely OK. This technique doesn’t put you in any disadvantageous position. If anything, it can be a good technique to have for open voicing chords.

You might have seen your favorite guitarists using their left thumb and now wondering if you need to learn the trick. 

Shortly put, if you can learn it, that’s great but if you can’t, don’t stress yourself much.

Is fretting with your left thumb a bad habit for guitar?

Not at all to be honest. 

Fretting with your left thumb can give you leverage while playing difficult chord voicing. It is about being able to balance your hand perfectly so that every note sounds just right. 

There have been legendary guitarists who do this constantly. 

If you are playing bending notes and also hitting bass notes, left thumb fretting can give you an edge as you need to wrap your thumb around the neck to bend right. 

The only thing you should make sure of is not losing the tone on any of the other strings while trying to wrap your finger around the neck. 

What are the benefits of left thumb fretting?

For some, it is just a lot easier to play with your left thumb fretting. 

If you are playing chords like Fmaj7, it can be a bit difficult to hit bass notes without your left thumb. 

Especially, when you are playing complex compositions for a longer time, fretting with your left thumb can come in very handy.

Once you fret with your left thumb, you just give yourself more flexibility while playing. It means, you now can play an extra note but also provides more room for your index and middle finger to move.

This technique can give you the flexibility to try out interesting chord voicings and note choices if you are trying to produce music as well. 

Famous players who use the left thumb for fretting

Jimi Hendrix was famous for his beautiful bends on the guitar and that lead him to fret a lot with his left thumb. John Meyer also regularly used his left thumb to fret. 

Then there are fingerstyle players like Chet Atkins and Merle Travis who loved playing their bass notes with their left thumb. 

Players like Les Paul and Steve Ray Vaughn showed how this technique can be used in jazz while Eric Clapton showed some wonderful examples for Rock. 

Is it mandatory to use the left thumb to fret on some occasions?

In almost every possible case, there is some sort of alternative. Probably in less than 1% of cases, you will need your left thumb to fret. 

You can almost leave the string open in a lot of cases and get a very similar sound. If you aren’t playing professionally, that might do it. 

But even if it doesn’t, you can almost always substitute your left thumb with mostly your index fingers and play the same notes.

If you are playing fingerpicking style moe, there might be some scenarios where you need it. 

As for fingerstyle guitarists, especially on acoustic, really a lot on their bass notes and often have multiple notes to play at once. 

Do you need big hands to fret low notes with your thumb?

Having big hands, in general, is a good thing while playing guitar. It just gives you more room to maneuver and have more options while playing. 

Big hands mean you can easily wrap your thumb around the neck and that helps. 

Playing the guitar well is essentially a lot about stability before anything else. Without stability, you are more likely to make an error and just not play constantly enough. 

Larger hands make it easier to provide stability while wrapping your thumb and that is a bonus. 

But this isn’t mandatory at all. With a regular-sized hand, you can easily replicate the technique with some practice. 

There are many ways of playing guitar. In the end, it is down to each player and their comfort. Being stable in a position and giving your fingers maximum mobility is your utmost goal. 

Having different techniques like this helps you grow as a player. But if you can’t master it, you still can be a very good player.