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?
- You always want to keep your arm relaxed, and
- KEEP YOUR WRIST AS STRAIGHT AS POSSIBLE! This may be hard if
your arms isn't used to holding a bass, but it is important. Not only
will it help prevent wrist, arm and finger injuries, but it will
ultimately make it easier to play the bass well (IMHO of course, but this
has been my experience)
- Don't clench the neck of the bass with your hand, but rather use
your whole arm to pull the string onto the neck. This is perhaps a
little more applicable to the upright, but it's a good ideal to aim for.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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