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Billie Jean

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Kim Heldorf, Apr 6, 2016.

  1. Kim Heldorf

    Kim Heldorf

    Apr 6, 2016
    Hello everybody, im playing "billie jean" by Michael Jackson in my band, and im playing the main bass riff. But the problem is that everytime i had played the riff a few times, my fingers start to cramp. And i cant really do anything else than stop playing and start again when my fingers feel better. But do you have any ideas to what i can do so my fingers dosent cramp so much? Any tricks or any thing? Im open to it all.
  2. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    It's a stretch for the fingers, playing constant octaves/fifths down that far on the neck. It will get easier. Make sure you keep your fingers arched, and you can get away with shifting your hand slightly back and forth to save on the stretching. Remember. on the F#m chord, you are not playing it smoothly compared to the Bm, so it's a little easier there.

    You can also cheat by playing it further up the neck, but you loose the low note at the start of the riff.
    Blue Dragon likes this.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Usually when my fingers cramp, it is because I am not moving my hand enough. Even when playing simple/repetitive lines, it is important to keep the hand and fingers moving, to prevent lactic acid buildup. Many teachers emphasize "economy of motion" (that your hand does not make unnecessary moves) but in my opinion/experience this can backfire with very repetitive lines. Next time you feel your hand starting to cramp, try moving the notes around to different strings, or on a different part of the neck, or fretted with different fingers. Mix it up, even if it means you are not playing the "optimum" fingering 100% of the time.

    Another tip is to make sure your fingers, thumb, hand, palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, neck, head, spine, body, hips, legs, feet, etc. are all comfortably positioned. In particular that left thumb, you want to make sure it is relaxed so there isn't any tension in the palm of your left hand. Beware the "dreaded death grip." If you can post some video or photos of yourself playing "Billie Jean," I bet the community can come up with some good, specific suggestions to improve your comfort and endurance. :)
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2016
  4. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Capo at the second fret maybe?
  5. jonlimo


    Jul 20, 2015
    Is the action of your bass at a comfortable height? High action can make fretting tiring and quickly fatigue your hand.
    pacojas and Mushroo like this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    All good advice so far. Also look at strap length. A small change there can make things easier on your hands.
    leurw and Mushroo like this.
  7. bass12

    bass12 Have you seen my tonsils lately? Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Are you trying to play the synth part or the bass guitar part? The bass guitar part can be played in one position with no real stretching of any sort. If you're trying to blend the synth and bass parts then I guess it would depend on what you are doing (though you should still be able to play the whole line in one position). Just keep playing the line to build up stamina - I don't think there's any shortcut there. Also, watch those eighth note skips on the Bm - most people seem to get that part of the line wrong.
    Robroy, onosson and elgecko like this.
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    There's no shortcut to practice, that's true, but bad setup or poor technique could be making it more difficult than necessary.

    For years my main bass had a nut that was way too tall. I never understood why I had about 1/3 the endurance playing repetitive lines that spanned the first three frets than I did higher up the neck, and I got hand cramps easily. When I finally figured out what the problem was and dialed in the nut slots to the proper height it was a revelation.

    Along with more practice she should double check that her setup and ergonomic situation is on point, just in case.
    ExaltBass, Mushroo and bass12 like this.
  9. bass12

    bass12 Have you seen my tonsils lately? Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Very true. Good points.
  10. A way I check my string height at the neck is with a business card, if the card does not stay in place under the first fret action could be to high.
  11. Mekana

    Mekana Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2009
    That one I usually play on my 5 string, so I can play the low notes up higher on the neck. Much more comfortable. The capo idea above could work in a similar way, too.

    When I play it on my 4 string down by the nut, I have to really focus on keeping my fretting hand relaxed. One thing that really helps is to use your plucking hand forearm to push the body of the bass closer to you. You can lighten up the thumb pressure on the back of the neck to almost nothing by using your arm that way.
    tmw, R Upsomegrub and maxbel71 like this.
  12. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY
    It's just stamina. The more you play the more you build it up
    Joe Clark, tmw and guy n. cognito like this.
  13. ^ This.
  14. bearhart74


    Feb 26, 2009
    ^ this

    Start slow till you can play it 5 times thru without cramping.
    Then up the speed gradually till you can play thru faster than the original tempo
  15. Roxbororob

    Roxbororob Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2015
    Are you doing off instrument hand/wrist/arm exercises and stretches as part of your practice routine?
    If not you should, as well as mundane seeming strength building fretboard routines.
  16. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    Billie-Jean is a tough one... very repetitious. Had to cover that one once, and it wore me out too.
    Technicality and /\/\3phist0 like this.
  17. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    The answer to stamina issues on the money frets is more repetition and better technique. It is NEVER to insert a mechanical device to shortcut the issue.
    Pacman, Remyd, WBasstrolo and 2 others like this.
  18. john_g

    john_g Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2007
    It is really about stamina so its just keep working at it. We were playing it in my band and I moved where I was playing it from 5/7th frets to 2nd frets incorporate some open strings and it helped.
  19. Are you fretting one finger per fret? If so try bumping back and forth with index finger and pinky....way easier on the hand.
  20. kulit17

    kulit17 Wal Collector #35 Supporting Member

    Imagine doing a cover on Billie-Jean and then having to do Comedown by Bush........talkabout a 10 minute workout!!!

    i have to agree with all the points already made
    * build up stamina
    * if your hand is feeling fatigued, play in a different position higher on the neck
    * index and pinky are your friends for this song (and Comedown if you want venture on that as well)
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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