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Critique my pain causing technique. Please.

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by SteIIa, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. Hi all,

    Been playing bass for about two months now. I'm having the best time of my life. But. I'm also in a bit (read: more than a bit) of pain. Instead of describing what I felt, I figured making a video to demonstrate what I'm doing and getting critique on it would probably be easier for those more knowledgeable than I to drop some proverbial knowledge bombs on me.


    Here's the video. The first 8 mins is talking about where the pain is (left hand soreness and back/left shoulder blade pain), what I've been doing to correct it. At 8:18, I play a Paul Chambers walking bass line to demonstrate me playing (from multiple angles).

    I'd very much welcome your comments and critiques because I'd love to continue playing the bass.... which, will be impossible if I keep going the way I am.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
  2. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    What does your teacher say?
    bass183, Michal Herman and Sam Sherry like this.
  3. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I think your form looks good, and it's good you're thinking in those terms. You're not doing anything obviously wrong, so the first thing to eliminate is just working too hard to control your arm. When you're concentrating on getting things right on the bass, you may be applying too much tension or unnecessary continuous tension. While you play, have a smart friend place a hand on the area that hurts to gauge muscle strain there, and see whether you can get an idea which muscles are overworking. With the hand you may be able to feel it yourself more clearly. Explore through the shoulder down the arm. Everything's connected.

    The intensive practice will help get you through the early stages more quickly, but it will also naturally concentrate the pain of adapting your bod to the bass. That's probably where your hand pain derives. I'd consider bringing your endpin back in an inch or two to see whether that improves the forefinger in particular.
    Chris Fitzgerald and lurk like this.
  4. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    A couple things:
    Ply basses are harder to play - so there is that. A Hybrid or carved bass played properly will take a lot of strain away.
    You can move a bit more, try stepping back and letting the neck rest on your shoulder for TP.
    Primarily practice arco. This give you better insight into how the instrument resonates and functions.
    Keep your elbow up more. Focus on using your chest and back for everything until an uptempo line makes you need two fingers.
    I recommend having both a standing and seated position. Get a stool, it can help with endurance and focus.
    bass183 likes this.
  5. My teacher (a Masters student at UofT) hasn't mentioned seeing anything terribly off with my form and, because of scheduling conflicts, I haven't seen him in the last 3 weeks to be able to raise the issue yet. I most certainly will this coming Monday though. :)
    charlie monroe likes this.
  6. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    So, good advice thus far. I'll chime in that there are as many position options for bassists are their are bassists. It's great that you're already aware of arm weight and not squeezing. You might try different positions to see how you like each one - standing the bass up perpendicularly into the ground, laying it back, rotating the neck as if you're sitting down, etc. If I had to guess, I'd say that you haven't yet developed the coordination and strength to allow you to play for 3 hours a day after only two months. If you were a pole vaulter would you start vaulting 3 hours a day after two months? IME, athletes typically do strength training, aerobic exercises, and coordination exercises to master their sport. Maybe play the DB for 30 minutes, play a fretless BG or piano for 30 minutes, alternating for another couple of months? and some yoga?
    Chris Fitzgerald and lurk like this.
  7. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    I'd echo Steven's advice above. Be aware of overdoing how much tension is needed to raise your elbow. It's possible to keep your elbow up without squeezing the muscles between your shoulder and neck so hard. Sometimes, to me, it looks like your left shoulder is creeping up higher than it needs to be.

    Do some trapezius stretches before practicing. Take a break 15 to 20 minutes into practice and do some more. Then do some when you're through for the day.

    Also, how's your footwork? Are you keeping your weight evenly distributed through both legs? Sometimes I find that when any back tension creeps in, it's because I'm favoring one leg/foot over another.
    bass183 likes this.
  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Looking from the back, it looks like your left shoulder looks very tight and a bit high - probably because the you set the height way up. It's really high for playing jazz IMO - I only see mostly classical players setting it that high. Experiment and try dropping it really low and practicing maybe even with the pin all the way in. It could also be because you're tensing the left shoulder for some reason. (I could just be seeing things too).

    If the index finger is where your pain is mostly at, then maybe you should switch up where your form revolves around the index finger being able to pressure using the tip and not the pad. We all have different body types even if we have similar height/weight. You have to find your own happy medium.

    That said, 3 hours a day for your first 2-3 months is quite a lot. You need to give your body breaks and give it a chance to adjust to the new activity. Take a couple days off and all the muscles to rest. It's possible that cycling in combination with bass playing might also be exacerbating your issues. Hard to say.

    My bass technique all revolves around avoiding wrist pain and tingling sensations. Raise the pin too high and I get RSI-like symptoms, so I def have the nut at eyebrow level and fairly vertical.

    I've been dealing with lower back pain for a couple years now and seeing a bodyworker regularly. It's all related to posture and sitting down all day at the office. If you looked at me, my posture isn't great but it's not bad but I still have backpain. Getting bodywork and my guy helps me adjust my posture. A shift a couple inches here, a minor tilt there, and the pain goes away. You may need to see someone professional (not just a bass teacher) to help you figure out what's going on.

    Anyhow, you look young enough that you should catch this stuff early and avoid long term issues. Give your body a break and come back after a few days.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  9. powerbass

    powerbass Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    Your bass looks too high lowering it down will lower your left elbow/shoulder. Try positioning the string nut level w/your eyes. Lowering your elbow will relax the back, neck and shoulder muscles - they are working too hard holding it all up. Your left hand position will also change - the index finger will probably not be at a right angle to the strings in first position. Start w/your left arm hanging down, bend your elbow and raise your hand to the strings - the elbow is naturally lowish the index finger points upward not sideways. Check out Ray's stance and elbow, he does get his fingers perpendicular, elbow is low and behind the neck. He is standing to the side w/the bass vertical.

    Attached Files:

    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  10. I just wanted to thank everyone for the advice and comments. I'm definitely going to take a long hard look at what I'm doing to correct whatever's causing pain and your comments have raised a few points I didn't think about. I rearranged my apartment last night so that I'd have access to practicing in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom (the only mirror in my house apparently, lol). Unfortunately I can't do 100% of my practicing in there (right beside the neighbour's living room) but at least 30 minutes a day to focus on position.

    Happy days all!
  11. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Some basic stretching will also help. You want to differentiate between tendon pain vs. muscle and skin/callous pain. Tendon pain is a technique issue, muscle pain can be either but early on it is often a stamina issue.
    This is not a comfortable, ergonomic instrument to deal with. You get used to it, but, it takes time.
    What I have found is the bass played properly makes my body feel better after the other things I put it through.
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Good advice above, especially as regards experimenting with the height of the bass. The "rowing" motion that pulls the hand back into the string is a different animal when the elbow is high than when it is lower. A couple of items from the video:

    - I don't see any issue with the angle of the LH index finger. It's pretty common for the thumb side of the finger to be the primary playing surface. Look at a lot of bass players' fingers, and you'll see the calluses focused on the outside of the index and pinky fingers and more centered on the middle two fingers. This makes sense if you think about what the hand is doing.

    - In spite of the fact that it's a part of traditional bass pedagogy and immortalized by pictures like this famous one:
    Simandl 1.

    I'm not a big proponent of the "spread hand" LH position Simandl 1 2. because I don't feel it's a natural position for the hand. If you are forcing your hand to spread open all the time, that may be a source of pain. Experiment with splitting the difference between spreading the fingers to reach notes versus rotating the wrist. Here's a recent thread on Joel Quarrington's left hand concepts that might lead you to some interesting resources. Traditional teachers often argue that Quarrington's concept is for advanced players only, but I feel that because his concept centers around the ability to produce vibrato at any point, it is essentially healthier than the fixed/spread hand because it requires the hand to stay in a more relaxed and natural position.

    - The angle of your bass has the side of your bass turned in toward your belly. Having the bass rotated in this way makes you have to reach around the neck to finger the strings. Try experimenting with opening up the bass toward the front (i.e. - with you a bit more behind it instead of beside it) and see if the resulting angle takes pressure off your left hand. I would be experiencing left hand pain if I had the bass turned the way you have it in spite of a long wingspan because reaching around the neck that way takes up available slack in the tendons controlling the fingers (as does spreading the hand).

    Above all, experiment and find a healthy way to approach the bass for your body without pain! The body is often wiser than we are, and we need to learn to listen to it. Good luck.
    SteIIa, Tom Lane and Reiska like this.

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