Technique

My little homily

An new bass player writes:
> OH one thing I wanted to mention.   My left hand started hurting SOOO bad
> after playing about the first 3 songs... I guess Ill have to get used to
> that :)  Pretty soon Ill have "Working mans" wrists. Big thick muscular bass
> players wrists and fingers :)  ha ha  Well maybe not for a while....
DANGER! WARNING! Pain is always a sign of trouble. I understand you're not 'in shape' so to speak, so it may be nothing to concern yourself over, but just in case, let me try and put some thoughts into words:

There are two different kinds of pain, broadly speaking: dull aching tiredness which comes from lack of practice or soft callouses (grin - me!) and sharp localized pain, which can indicate overuse and abuse of muscles and tendons. If your pain is the latter, it could be your body telling you that somethings being damaged. Many musicians have come to grief by ignoring these pains for too long.

Assuming the latter, what can you do? The first step is good technique and posture, and it is almost always the cure. Sometimes cutting back to only 5 or 6 hours practice a day as opposed to 8 or 9 can also help, but few of us have that problem :)

When I first started taking lessons my teacher impressed on me good posture, but not until I began learning classical double bass did I hear it put into words clearly (this applies mostly to the left hand, but is good advice in general, I hope):

How can you accomplish this?
  1. Have the bass in a comfortable position, high enough so that you can keep your wrist happy. This is somewhat a matter of taste -I like my bass as high as my strap will allow - but if you lower your bass there is a certain point after which no amount of dexterity will enable you to play with good posture.
  2. Imagine a straight line from your elbow to your fingers and try to keep it that way. A slight bend of the wrist is okay, but it should be relaxed and natural. Try laying your forearm flat on a table and relaxing it, resting your fingertips on the table. Aim for this feeling and posture when you play. With the electric bass it helps to keep your elbow low and close to your body. With the tree, it's the opposite: high and somewhat horizontal.
  3. Try to keep your thumb on the back of the neck. On the electric, you can sometimes get away with a little more towards the top of the back of the neck, especially in lower positions. Try to keep your thumb and fingers parallel to the frets (or perpendicular to the strings). If you decide not to adhere too closely to this, be careful: I consider myself somewhat of a purist, and even so, it is still easy for me to slip into a lazy thumb around the neck posture at times.
  4. Try stopping (fretting) notes with just the tip of your fingers. This is what sticky piano teachers will tell you, too. This is not as firm a principle as the others, because you will at times want to do barres (yes, even on bass), and it can be hard to do very rapid string crossings without fudging it sometimes, but it's a very good idea when you're starting out.
The last two really work in conjuction with the position of your arm (#2). It really helps to get the neck up high enough(for the electric) so you can keep your elbow almost by your side, and really straighten your wrist.

This is all my own opinion and experience, some of which is not completely necessary to avoid injuries. Comments, other viewpoints, and critisisms are welcome (no flames please, I don't have time to wade through tons of hate mail :)

I must say though, I really appreciate my teachers who taught me these things, and I feel it has helped me progress very swiftly, once I had the fundamental technique, and theory. I would recommend this style of technique to any beginner without exception.


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