Left hand tendon discomfort
Hello. I am new to double bass, but have played electric bass and violin for years, so I am progressing quickly on the DB. I am using Simandl book one, and stand to play. I find that when I am in 2nd or 3rd position on the E string I get a lot of tendon discomfort in my left wrist. I constantly remind myself of playing on the finger tips, 1/2/4 position etc. and try to incorporate vibrato whenever possible. I am trying to use minimal pressure, and likewise with the bow I try to let the weight of the bow bite the string, without extra pressure. I play French bowhold. I found if I turn the bass to the left, and get more behind it I do not have to twist my wrist so far around, but that then puts me out of position for the higher strings. I move my bass a bit anyway in order to bow the E-G etc. . I am a bit worried that I have a technique that could cause injury. I have tried raising my elbow, standing straighter, but the only way I really remove the discomfort is to get behind the bass, as if on a stool. I don't have any issues with the A-D-G, mainly just the E. I have high tension 3/4 size helicore orchestral strings, but my string length is only 38 1/2 inches, so that drops the tension to medium, and they still bow/pizz well. Does anyone have any suggestions or recommendations please, as I am worried about potential injury.
1. Have a reputable luthier take a look at the bass. If the instrument has not been set up properly (bridge too tall, fingerboard too curved or scooped) it could injure you. Sometimes it's ok to blame the instrument.
2. It simply isn't possible to give a real assessment of your technique on here. You need to meet with an expert in person for at least several sessions. In other words, please find a teacher.
I am going to contact a bassist who is a retired orchestra player. I used to play a dodgy second fiddle on sight reading practice nights! As far as the bass goes it is set up as low as can be practically possible given the quality of the instrument, and still with the option of playing in the higher positions without buzzes on the fingerboard. Although I did put on higher tension strings for bowing, they are not as high tension as some lower quality medium tension strings. I'll make that call to Henry the bassist tomorrow. Thanks for your advice.
So, as you are discovering, the bass is different from any other string instrument; you simply can not finger it with hand strength alone. Instead, your hand must hold its form, and the stop pressure comes from the weight of your whole arm. Let your shoulder be free to drop your arm... only there's a bass string in the way.
That's the principle, but finding how to apply that with your hands and musculature is a job you will have to work through with a teacher.
Thanks, I think I have an idea of what you mean by arm weight and shoulder weight, and I will try that with slow practice tonight. I was also trying to incorporate vibrato in order to relax the 'grip'. I'm trying to avoid gripping. Hopefully vibrato will release the grip and I could incorporate the weight as you suggest. I'll particularly try to use that technique on the E with my grip at a minimum, though I'll start with the G and work back in to the E. I do not have a teacher, and only know of one trained player in the northwest England, who I'm going to call later. I definitely need a trained eye to see my position and posture, as I'm doing it all from books and YouTube videos at the moment.
One easy thing to look out for in your technique: when you play those painful notes, what kind of angle exists between your wrist and forearm?
It should be as shallow an angle as possible. Any time you introduce a sharp bend in your tendons, you're opening up the possibility for injury.
Thanks. I practiced tonight trying to incorporate the arm and shoulder weight, and used the windows (as it was dark outside!) as a mirror. I tried to keep a constant awareness of my wrist angle, which was until observing, almost at a right angle when on the E. I'm working hard to keep as much of a C shape in my hand but to keep the wrist much straighter. I imagine this is going to take several weeks to just keep my posture and wrist as well as dropping weight onto notes, but I'm not going to attempt to move on until this is entrenched in my playing. The mirror helps, and your advice is really helpful. It's going to be some time before I get my index finger playing nearer the finger tips while maintaining a straight wrist, and still maintaining the C shape, but now I know what I definitely should not be doing. Another bonus is my bow course is straight as an arrow, so that's one less thing to concentrate on!
It sounds to me like you were just bending your wrist more and more as you rotated from G string to E string. When in reality you should be rotating not just the hand but the arm with it, so that the elbow and to a lesser extent the shoulder rotates forward and around too. This is what makes it possible to apply the arm weight through the fingers, into the strings. But part of the problem could be where your body is in relation to the bass, part could be that your elbow is dropping as well. As I believe Paul said, someone knowledgeable needs to be there to watch you.
You should not be squeezing the strings against the fingerboard, by opposing the fingers and thumb. If you rotate the whole arm with the hand, that force can be directed through the hand into the fingerboard. You should feel the bass being pushed ever so slightly into your body. It also (in my opinion) helps if the bass is held quite upright, and not leaning backward onto your thumb. It also helps if you don't allow your elbow to drop downward toward the basses shoulders.
While I can not honestly state that I can play well without the thumb in contact with the neck, I have been able (in recent years) to change the origin and path of the force that stops the notes. My thumb and wrist no longer hurt, and my hand stays more relaxed (and I'd like to think that my playing has improved accordingly). I can also bow all the strings (at moderate volumes) without holding the bass with my left hand, just through careful positioning and balance (I don't actually make practical use of this while playing a concert or practicing), but it does have an effect on the left hand.
You should be very concerned about repeated tendon discomfort as it can lead to permanent damage and pain. Office workers get RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) now also known as OUS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome) from working on keyboards with poor hand-to-forearm alignments. Most of our problems come from wrist pronation that is inevitable to some degree on the E string, even when seated to play. There are ways to sit and stand that pretty well flatten your wrist for the top three strings and minimise it on the E string.
I have re-copied my approach from a thread started by Thumpie on 11-20-2012 in this forum, where I also refer to earlier threads by MaxJacob titled Standinding vs Sitting, 8 - 31 - 2008, and by bassistpatrick in May, 2009.
"Standing or sitting I try to keep an arrow from my chest pointing towards the bridge or close to it. I also position the bass upright enough to have the strings forward and about level with my face. The combined effect is to have my hands and arms doing the work in front of me and weighing back towards my body. My left elbow is forward of and lower than my shoulder to avoid neck and shoulder problems and give enough room between hand and shoulder for relaxed ease of shifting and vibrato. Also, standing or sitting, I set the height of the bass so that the nut is about 1 inch higher than the top of my left ear when using lower positions, which a compromise of posture between ease of use of left hand and ease of maintaining good bow contact points with the bow arm.
When standing, the bass leans towards my body so that the corner between back and upper rib is resting in my left groin and the bass balances around to the right so the left thumb carries little weight, and shifting and vibrato are as free and relaxed as possible. If you check this stance out you will see that the arrow from your chest is pointing at the bridge and the French bow will just miss your trouser leg when playing on the E string.
When sitting I have the back corner (between rib and back) further across my body to the right and tucked in under my right ribs where the bass ribs are lower. The bass is angled in towards my right leg and body and leans back across my body towards the support of my left knee. Both my feet are on the floor and, at 5 feet 7 inches tall, I am half sitting half leaning on the stool (a taller person can sit right down on top of the stool) The lower right rib is against my right calf, the arrow still points towards the bridge and the bow on the E string still misses my trouser leg. The height of the nut is again 1 inch above the top of my left ear, the bow contact point reachable and the left arm free to shift and vibrate. Both arms still weigh in towards the body.
This seating position allows pretty good posture and works for me when practicing or doing orchestral playing but I would choose to sit differently to play high solo material. I would also choose a smaller bass than mine, with more dropped shoulders too!!!!!
Much depends on your height and shape as well as the size and shape of your bass, and whether your are a French or German user."
Martin, it sounds like you are resting the ribs of the bass against your body and you are side on to the bass. Just about as bad is to stand behind the bass with its back against your body, mainly because of the increased difficulty of using both hands successfully. If you can't get to a teacher then perhaps take your instrument to a session with a Physiotherapist or Alexander teacher.
Ice or something frozen like a packet of peas held against your tendons will help reduce pain when it happens but is not a cure!!
Fantastic, and thank you for the 'Arrow' tips. I've got what I think is the start of correct position. I have the bridge arrow, left elbow slightly raised, left shoulder more forward than usual, minimal curve to wrist. Not quite on fingertips but still a C hold. Bass leaning back a fraction. Things are looking good. Will crack on with that right now. Thank you to you all, the information has been invaluable.
Martin. "correct position" may not be the right term. Others may disagree with my approach. I do shudder when I see pictures of players' wrists not only pronating from front to back but also sideways when in lower positions, usually because of using a very long end pin, having the bass very upright and standing beside it.
Best of luck,
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