Over the years guitar has evolved from a basic acoustic instrument to the electric guitar. Its sound has the ability to be manipulated from simple to the outlandish and everything in between. As the instrument itself has evolved so has the techniques being used to play it. Thump is one of the most modern and unique ways to play guitar.
What Is Thump?
Thump is a technique made popular by Animals As Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi. He quickly became one of the most admired guitarists in the world and sharing the stage with Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Thump combines the slap guitar technique used primarily by bassist with classical finger picking. The sound can be described as percussive in nature. It is great for syncopated single note rhythms and standard or odd time signatures.
How Do You Thump?
That’s an odd sounding questions, but since you asked…
Using the Thump technique like Tosin Abasi does can be extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. We will look at using it at an introductory level that is more accessible for most guitarists. And you don’t need an 8 string guitar like Tosin.
Step 1 - Put down your pick. You will use your picking hand thumb to strike downward on the lowest pitch string, we will assume it is low E on a standard 6 string guitar. When doing this strike through the string and land on the next string, A. It is similar to how a bassist slaps, but instead of making the string against the frets you move in a downward motion so that the string continues to resonate more. This is done in 1 movement. Just go straight down and rest on the next string. It is one of the easiest things to do on guitar. Also, make sure your thumb is sticking straight out like you were hitchhiking.
Step 2 - From the ending position of step 1 where you are now resting on the A string you will simply do the reverse of step 1. Lift your thumb straight back up through the low E string. You will now be hitting it with your thumb nail and skin.
Step 3 - Practice steps 1 and 2 a lot. In crease speed a little at a time. It will be like picking the string down and up with your thumb over and over. Except this will be more aggressive and you will land on the lower each time. You don’t have to stay there long, just hit it and go back up. Over time you will be able to tremolo pick with your thumb when doing this technique.
Step 4 - Practice different rhythm combinations using the thump technique with only your thumb. Here are a few simple examples from easiest to hardest. Do each measure by itself over and over.
You can also come up with your own patterns/rhythms.
Step 5 - Here is where it gets weird. You will add in other fingers 1 at a time. You will first do step 1, then step 2; Pick down and up with your thumb. The right after you finish you will pick up with your index finger on the same string. So it’s down with the thumb, up with the thumb, then up with the index. That is a total of 3 picks on the same note, three different ways. Your index needs to be curled in towards your palm.
Step 6 - Add in the middle finger. Step 1 (thumb down) Step 2 (thumb up) Step 5 (index up) then Step 5 with the middle finger up. So it’s thumb, thumb, index, middle. A total of 4 picks on a single note.
Adding in the ring is optional, but it creates 5 notes which is an odd grouping much less common in most music. I would recommend getting really comfortable with the index and middle before working in the ring. Not that you can’t start using the ring now, but it is harder to coordinate and can get very frustrating. The other fingers can get you pretty far and you might not even need the ring finger.
Below are some more example exercises to get comfortable with this technique. The fingers used to pick are indicated by the “PIMA” system. P = thumb, I = Index, M = Middle, A = Pinky. This is the main thing you want to pay attention to along with the rhythm notation.
Again make sure to repeat each measure many times in a loop before moving on to the next one. Take your time and have fun!