Chords that require the thumb over technique - I cannot do it. Am I alone?

Hey all. I have been trying to learn songs with chords that require the thumb to wrap around the top to cover a bass note. But I am frustrated as I simply do not have the anatomy to play those chords. There is just no amount of practise that can allow me to do them. I wanted to learn one of my favorite guitar pieces from the intro of pinball wizard from the who but its hard. My fingers are simply to short to perform those type of chords with a base at the top string. Trying to wrap my thumb around the fret board while holding the other finger forward to not mute other strings is impossible. Can some people just not play those types of chords because of hand anatomy limitations? Any tips? Guess i am just venting lol

Aaron its a struggle for me, so I will normally opt for a full barre chord, which is what you are emulating with a thumb on the E string. If there is a bass track playing you can always play the chord with an implied root, which would be played by the bass player and just finger the lower voicing on the top 4 strings. Horses for courses.


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Hi Aaron,
Of course I have no idea how small or strange your hands are,…But I know that some people take more than 2 years to learn and all that time think they will probably never be able to do it (that was Justin ), and some people pick up a guitar for the first time and can play it right away (like a friend of mine with super big hands,…and one after a few years with super small hands ),…but often is it a matter of the long breath/run,… at least keep trying now and then,…
Succes and greetings,Rogier


Even Justin says this in the opening of this lesson

Yes I say that,…

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I have thumbs that will not allow certain thumb over techniques at all.
For chords such as D/F# or A/G I can play the open position chords and hang my thumb over enough. For mini-barre with the thumb over technique a la Hendrix, I have no chance because of my anatomy. My thumb bends substantially back on itself, almost 90 degrees, but will not cooperate with me when I try to do those chords.

For Pinball Wizard I would play a full barre for the sus4 → major chords in the riff. Which doesn’t match exactly the famous riff.


I gave this a cursory try several times, but my thumb is just not long enough to fret the given note on the E string with the rest of the chord ringing out clearly. Doing tricks like Hendrix (I remember a bit in the footage of his Woodstock concert that he played chromatically ascending bass notes on the E string and only his thumb moved) as mentioned by Richard is not an option to me, either.

Then there have been players with unconventional technique, like Richie Havens in the video below. He was a late starter so he developed some idiosyncrasies of his own, like fretting only with his thumb (he probably used an open tuning so he could fret major chords with one finger only, but that’s just a guess) and using other fingers for embellishment.

Personally, I would focus on practicing E-shape barre chords where the 1st finger is used as the barre.

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Sir Justin nails this topic. There isn’t anything there that I would disagree with. If you want to make the thumb-over technique work you need to start “palming” the neck, which is bad form for the beginners course. It just takes time. Thumb-over is an intermediate to advanced technique. I would recommend starting out by muting the E string for open cowboy C, D & A chords.

EDIT: Get thee on to youtube, most if not all of the really good players palm the neck of the guitar.

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Yeah, I’d agree. I remember thumb over being impossible in my early days. It’s also the palming of the neck which now that I do, I find I don’t put the thumb back in the middle often enough.

if it’s too hard now, leave it along and don’t worry about it, use barres as others have suggested and then in another six months or a year, try it again.

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Its not an easy technique to learn. Its harder than barre chords but has a lot of benefits.

I’ve spent most of the last 6 months working in it (on combo with finger style stuff).

If I recall correctly the OP is working through Grade 1 therefore it would be best to follow Justin’s advice for Grade 1 to build up the muscle for the F chord in Grade 2.

Edit: Justin introduces the thumb over neck towards the end of Grade 2.

Note that mastering the thumb-over will free you from the potential of wrist fatigue, somewhat slower movement on the neck and limited embellishments of bar chords (in certain/many situations). All things have their place, strengths and weaknesses, and as always YMMV. Personally I would prefer a poorly executed thumb-over to a poorly executed bar chord (which I see too often).

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Good call out! Mastery of the technique will just take a bit of time. I think discovering the limitations of bar chords as one traverses the fretboard and introduces embellishment, fills and such --will become the impetus for mastering the technique. Straight rhythm strumming is where bar chords shine if you can manage the wrist and hand strain/fatigue.

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Love me some Richie Havens, he was such a force of nature. He did use open tuning but his strength was his sense of groove and rhythm. Another shining example of a great player who found their own voice on the instrument. :slight_smile:

The trick for me was to understand that using thumb doesn’t mean using its callus. The trick is to hold a neck like a bat all the way through and use whatever part of your thumb sticks out to push the string very close to the fret. I use this bit mostly to push the string, the moment it clicked for me I realized I can do it, although it took plenty of time. Edit. To be fair my sweet spot might be different to yours, just be wary thumb doesn’t mean thumb’s callus!

For Grader 1 or 2 I would leave off this technique for a while to be fair, better off to get foundations right first.

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