Thumb Position

I’m on Grade 1, Module 6.

I’ve been keeping my thumb horizontal the whole course; about halfway up the back of the neck.

Throughout the videos I noticed Justin’s thumb is frequently almost vertical (i.e., pointing two-o’clock).

I had a tutor come by last week and tell me to keep thumb more vertical; I tried it and it feels like I have more grip on power chords with my thumb vertical (I know I haven’t reached power chords yet but I couldn’t wait).

I could have sworn Justin mentioned in the earlier videos to keep thumb horizontal, but now I’m wondering if I imagined it.

With horizontal thumb; some of my chord changes, like anything with D, are sloppy.

With vertical thumb; my chord changes are even slower right now, but I am assuming this is because I’m not used to it.

My questions:

  1. Should I keep thumb more vertical than horizontal? I checked out some YouTube videos and it seems most guitarists have their thumb almost vertical.

  2. Do I need to start over? My chord changes are now much slower now with vertical thumb.

  3. Should the palm touch the neck? I notice that sometimes Justin has his thumb hooked around the neck; I don’t think that’s possible to do without having your palm touch the neck.

1 Like

Your thumb can move, and it really depends on what you are playing and how.

A lot of Justins early lessons are good techniques for beginners but not the only way to crath the guitar egg

Have a read of my replies to this thread - Why am I finding thumb muting with A so hard? - #8 by mc

I do use the term ‘sloppy’ in that response as I couldn’t think of a better term (and still can’t!), but have a read of my first reply, and the rest of the replies from there.

Your thumb can move, and it really depends on what you are playing and how.

So like, in the A-chord video; the text says “You want to position your thumb roughly in the middle at the back of the guitar neck”.

Even though Justin himself has his thumb high up (I can see his thumb; it’s not hidden at all).

So assuming he wants us to play it with thumb hidden for A-chord, does that mean your thumb is constantly changing elevation on the neck? Because it’s not hidden in the D-chord video neither.

A lot of Justins early lessons are good techniques for beginners but not the only way to crath the guitar egg

That’s what I’m worried about; if I google the issue I’m worried I will find a tip that’s meant for more advanced users. In other words: I’m looking for help in the context of JustinGuitar.

Wow; okay that’s good to know; thank you.

One question regarding this quote:

it’ll be using bits of your fingertips without callouses

Why would you end up using un-callused parts of your finger if you start playing more ‘sloppy’?

Yes, beginners generally wont have th hand strength,speed or flexibility to do a lot of what justin does later, I assume he should have not been positioning his thumb like hat whilst talking about having the thumb centrally.

Wait till you find out you can play an A chord with only 1 finger…

1 Like

Depending on your hand size/finger length, your fingers might need to be touching the strings from a slightly different angle, which means they need to be positioned on the strings slightly differently to avoid buzzing/muting.

I’m currently sat noodling on my PRS SE with quite a slim neck, so even doing something like F#/D chord the fingers fretting the D chord don’t move that much when reaching over for the F#.
But on my Tele with a noticeably fatter neck, playing the same chord the fingers fretting the D have to lean over a bit so my thumb can reach over and fret the F#.

1 Like

Hi Divanov,

Specifically in the context of Justin and where you’re at - I think you’ve interpreted “in the middle of the neck” wrong. Your thumb should be vertical, not horizontal. Justin asks for it to be in the middle of the guitar neck (and vertical) when you start as it’s a strong position and starts to build thumb strength for barre chords later.

Don’t worry about wrapping your thumb around or alternate positions yet, you’re too early for that stuff. It comes later.

1 Like

Dan, holding your thumb horizontal is really bad form. Please break that habit asap.
Justin says many times in many lessons for early beginners to keep it behind the neck but he never says horizontal. I am not 100% sure he says vertical to be frank without rewatching multiple video lessons. But that is the way.
A small angle away from pure vertical is fine but not pointing towards the nut and tuners.


Like JK said above, start with your thumb vertical roughly at the centreline of the neck.
Then adjust the position of your thumb behind the neck so that the chord you play sounds as it is supposed to. Sometimes mine has to be a little lower so that my fingers can reach the low strings, other times a bit more tilted to bring my palm closer to the neck.
Eventually, as you learn your guitar better (I mean how the neck feels for you), as you learn chords and songs, you’ll stop thinking about it and it will be finding its place on it own.

1 Like



I had the same problem, my thumb would be horizontal on the neck. I started focusing on making it more vertical and I noticed what you did, my barre chords were stronger. It took some time to adjust and get my chord changes back to where they were. Overall I think it’s a positive change.

Why is it bad for the thumb to run parallel along the back of the guitar neck? From my understanding from Guitar Thumb Position - Justin Guitar - Guitar Lesson [QA-001] - YouTube Justin was saying it was fine to have the thumb parallel. Doing so is one of the habits I have from past playing so I often subconsciously do it regardless of whether I’m playing on the bottom strings, top strings, or playing chords.

That video clip is a great find @Melody_Mosaic

If anything, it reinforces the point.
Justin is talking explicitly about playing a scale up and down and when he reaches the thin string his thumb has rotated and is away from vertical, pointing more towards the headstock. At no point does his thumb reach horizontal. At most it reaches about a 45 degree diagonal from horizontal. And he then shows how it goes to more vertical when actually playing music with scales, soling etc. And in the same video he talks about keeping the thumb upright.
A horizontal tumb makes for awkward finger positions on some chords, fails to properly develop the muscles needed for certain chords and is not optimal - even it is possible.

For me, personally, it also does not make sense to have the thumb parallel to the neck.

When I hold something in my left hand, making a fist, the thumb goes over the other four fingers, not at the side of the index finger.
In my mind, that’s the analogy of having the guitar’s neck in my hand.
It’s just unnatural, for me, to have the thumb in another orientation other that vertical to the neck.

Having said that, I have noticed my thumb getting at an angle, but not running parallel, to the neck. That’s happened when practising a quite fast lick ascending from the 5th string 7-9-10 frets to the 2nd string 10-12-13 frets.
I haven’t debugged the reasons why the thumb got down but I believe it’s because this is a fast lick for me so perhaps it’s some sort of compensation…

Thank you for explaining. I don’t know why me default ended up being a horizontal thumb position, but since some days ago when I saw your post saying not to, I’ve been experimenting with it more diagonal (the 45 degree one in the video that you mention) or vertical and noticed it makes some chords less awkward (more range of motion and easier to pivot the hand when changing chords). I don’t know what percentage of the time I have my thumb horizontal vs. diagonal or vertical, but I’ll keep trying to be aware of when it’s going into unideal positions and why so I can work on fixing it. I’m working on retraining multiple bad habits from the past that I didn’t know were bad habits when I learned them.

1 Like

I’ll add my two cents. Recently I played more with the vertical thumb because it’s the only way to play barre chords and it’s a good position for scale-like melodies across few strings. But still I lean more towards ‘blues’ hand position with the thumb over the neck. It’s much more stable, I feel the neck and frets much better and for me it’s almost the only way to play open chords because of the thumb muting. But, of course, everyone is different so it’s important to find what’s comfortable for you and what gives you an ability to play the best.