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Fret hand techniques.. please read.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by PrimusNut, Oct 9, 2006.

  1. PrimusNut


    Mar 23, 2006
    Nova Scotia
    I have just realized that the way you guys have been saying to hold your thumb on the back of the neck has been hurting my wrists.

    I have always read on here that you thumb should be along the neck, horizontally, straight along the middle. When I play like this, it hurts my wrist because I have to bend at an odd angle. I have also watched video's of Geddy Lee, Cliff Burton, Les Calypool, and many other bass "Gods", and have been paying attention to their left hand techniques. They are nothing like this so called "text book method". When they play, they shift their thumb to go along with their fingers, to hit the frets, their thumb is actually curled over the top of the neck a lot, which I have always been told is a bass no-no.

    I have been paying a lot of attention to this lately, and tried adjust my technique so it wouldn't hurt my wrist. I have found out that the mehtods I have read about here actually hurt my wrists.

    Just figured I would point this out. Maybe I misunderstood you guys?
  2. [​IMG]

    check out his left hand

    Though its not really wrong for your thumb to not sit on the back of theneck, it will make playing much easier, and will give you more strength and more reach. I try to keep my thumb at the back of the neck most of the time, but for strong bends, I bring my thumb up and use my thumb to force the bending finger upwards.
  3. mVC


    Jan 28, 2006
    Try holding your neck a bit higher so that the angle of your wrist decreases. It may help. Raise your bass (or neck) so that your wrist and arm are almost straight, without bending your wrist.
  4. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Inactive

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    There is "good technique" and then there is "rock technique".

    If you're playing in a rock concert, holding your bass up to your chest won't make you cool. But in practice that's what you should basically do.

    If you wrap your thumb around the fretboard, you basically have no reach. You can't spread your fingers at all. Moreover, you CAN'T do that on a 5 or 6 string because they are just too wide.
  5. PrimusNut


    Mar 23, 2006
    Nova Scotia
    I do hold my thumb on the back for stretches, using all 4 fingers, but if I am playing an easy lick, I think it is a lot easier to have my thumb hanging over ther top a bit.

    Watch some of Geddy's playing on Exit... Stage Left DVD. His thumb is over the top on most of the songs.

    I am not saying it is good to always play like that, but when I don't need to reach really far, I find it a hell of a lot more comfortable to play with my thumb NOT text-book method.

    I wear my bass reasonably high, I figure it is better to sound good and not mess up, then to wear it low and sound terrible (I can't play good with my bass low).

    It really hurts my wrist to play by the text book method, unless it is for long stretches, I find it easier and more comfortable to just pivot my thumb for shorter stretches.

    Anyway, I think I have a good technique now. I have been watching a lot of vids of bass Gods (as stated earlier), and tried to copy their techniques, and it really feels a lot more comfortable to me.

    Thanks for the suggestions tho. I just wanted to make a thread of this in case anyone was gonna take some advice about where to place their thumb. I think it is best to expirament around a bit to see what feels comfortable.
  6. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Inactive

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    You can always use a bad technique when you already know a good one. It's a lot harder to start using a good technique when you're in the habit of using a bad one.

    You're probably just too tense. And, it is ok to move the thumb over the neck a bit instead of keeping it dead center behind the neck. I have to do that on my 5 string to prevent said wrist pain, also.
  7. PrimusNut


    Mar 23, 2006
    Nova Scotia
    Yeah. I know the good technique, and it does have its advantages, but as I stated, it hurts my wrist, no matter how high or low my bass is. The bas technique is not that bad, if you use it at the right times, and make sure it is comfortable.
  8. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Inactive

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    Put your thumb a slight bit "wrapped" around the neck. As in, not dead center of the neck, but a bit more wrapped than that. But not much. See how that feels. That really helped me when I had wrist pain from the "proper" technique.
  9. Playing with your thumb against the back of the neck is the best way to develop good, fast, CLEAN, technique.

    However, as with ANY technique, if it is practiced or performed incorrectly, it can produce unwanted tension.

    Think of it this way:

    Take your bass, and, WITHOUT using your thumb at all, NOWHERE, do not let it touch the neck at ALL. Now, go up a scale or two with your fingers, keep your thumb OFF the neck. This should be harder to do without your thumb, but its just for sake of demonstration.

    So, Seems a lil hard, right? Now, let your thumb REST, not push or squeeze, on the back of the neck. Use it as a PIVOT point, not an instrument of force. Let your fingers deal with most of the pressure on the neck. Do not worry about keeping your thumb "dead center" on the back of the neck. Instead, focus on keeping it braced behind the frets, and not sneaking up the side of the neck.

    This way, you can obtain a nice clean sound, while maximizing your reach.

    The thing that is KEY to fretting, in any manner, is not to overdo it. Putting too much pressure or playing incorrectly in any part of your playing, especially fretting, can cause such things as carpal tunnel, or RSI.

    Another thing, that may or may not be the case with you, is for pete's sake, have your bass sit higher. Playing with a low slung bass is a SURE way to both impair your playing, and injure yourself. I guaranteeyou that you cannot play with your thumb against the back of the neck without over bending your wrist, which will cause you great pain and discomfort.
  10. Make sure you're keeping your left elbow nice and low. I used to lift it up when i was struggling to play something, but still keep my thumb on the back, my wrist would get destroyed.
  11. Suckbird

    Suckbird Inactive

    May 4, 2004
    well practice without a thumb then, the way i hold my thumb i've got absoultely no pressure on it and i can do pretty much anything with or without my thumb, i just keep it on the neck because it looks better not because it's practical..
  12. NickyBass

    NickyBass Supporting Member

    Nov 28, 2005
    Southern New Jersey
    What do you mean by straight along the neck? Your thumb should be perpendicular to the neck, not running along parralel. Take the bass away. Hold your hand up with all fingers and your thumb pointing upward...with no tension, just a natural shape. Your fingers and thumb should have a natural curve to them. Now take your bass with your right hand and place it in the 'cup' of your left hand. This is how you should start out and then adjust to the feel of the bass. Your thumb should be pointing upward, not to the left. Also, I find it easiest to have the thumb directly across from your second finger. That gives a nice point for adding a touch of pressure with your fingers. Remember to keep an arch. Your fingers shouldn't be flat, and you shouldn't have to push too hard. Just nice and easy...comfortable. Also, your wrist shouldn't have a hard angle to it. There should be a bit of an arc there too.
  13. RockFace


    Jul 14, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    right on. when i played my ESP 5 string a lot, i was militaristic about "good technique", that is, thumb pointed to the sky at all times, never leaving the center of the back of the neck. now that i play my jazz bass primarily, the neck is so small, and i'm mostly playing rock, my thumb creeps on top of the neck most of the time. if i need to play a part with a lot of notes, i bring it back down, because, as stated, you can't use all of your fingers if you don't have your thumb behind the neck.

    my advice for the OP is try MANY different heights and angles for holding your bass. you may find the solution to your discomfort is nothing more than a few inches one way or the other in strap length...also check out the angles that various players use...P-Nut from 311 holds his bass more or less diagonally, but les claypool holds his almost completely straight out...personally i could never play like that, but look what he does with it

  14. LeonD

    LeonD Supporting Member

    This is what I also picked up on. Your thumb should be parallel to the frets. If you took the neck away and just had the frets, your thumb should go in the same direction.

    If your thumb is going along the neck (or, in the same direction as the truss rod), I think it would be very, very hard to play the bass. :eek:


  15. I have a tendency to squeeze the neck too hard between my fingertips and my thumb, which really slows down my left hand and unecessarily ties it in place. Why? I guess trying to make good contact with the frets.

    If you think about it you have to apply pressure somehow, even if you were to drop your thumb entirely from the neck, you have to pull from your left shoulder while clamping the bass to your chest with your right forearm or some similar manuver.

    I have found that if I relax and let the weight of my hand sort of pull down and into the fingerboard I can get good contact without squeezing and without having to clamp the bass to my chest with my forearm. Obviously you can't over-do this either because you are applying pressure against the strap and your shoulder, but I find it easier to use the strap and the weight of my right arm in counterbalance less restrictive than either entirely squeezing/fretting using my left hand strength and or clamping with my right forearm and pulling from my left shoulder.

    I'm sure there are others who could really give a better description of "proper " technique, so let's hear it!!
  16. This may seem like a flame, but it's not intended to really snipe anyone. It's just simple that most people don't understand ergonomics and RSI. This is not really IMO and is really from a body's physiology point of view. Everyone is different and there are circumstances for everything but don't take this as an offensive post but the poster above gives great starter advice and should be followed up with a teacher that knows what he's doing if it doesn't help.

    If you're bending your wrist to a point where it's reducing blood flow and even worse causing pain, well that's just bad period. When playing bass using both sides of hand (pointer and pinky) will cause tension and irritation in both the median and ulnar nerve. There's really nothing funny about the number of injuries musicians receive. I don't really care what they have you practice in lessons or what bass snobbery says is correct, if it hurts, don't do it. Now.... whether you're learning incorrectly is another issue. Poster above is giving good advice to start with....

    Claiming "rock technique" being inferior is lack of understanding of it's purpose or sometimes just a speaker inputting their own distaste for the lack of creativity coming from a typical rock player. Holding down a pedal note or not moving around or just using the first three fingers is just perhaps lending to that style (note that using only three fingers actually isolates just the median nerve). If you feel they're inferior bass players that's fine.... don't let it flow over into affecting what technique is right for a situation. Not a flame against poop-loops. he mentioned that relaxtion is key. A second point is that rock technique isn't terrible when it's just holding down a root note or simple sliding of hands because the body is in a very natural state when both hands are extended with a low bass. The trade off is it may put a light increase on finger tension (forarm) though so be careful since at this point your trading gravity's help in for it being down low and being in a more relaxed arm state.

    Overworking your hand by keeping it bent for hours a night is stupid is you can do so with less force. Staying relaxed in your technique and letting your body work for you is intelligent. There's reasons we have breaks and reasons we let our hands drop when not being used. I also implore different techniques as much as possible to keep myself interested but also give different parts of my body breaks through the night.

    Having said that. I do believe in keeping your thumb at the most part for back of the neck for guiding as a general proper technique. But it's only there as a guide and you should be able to let your arm hold down the note as much as possible with gravity as previous poster mentioned. Never sacrifice using this technique if it bends and puts your body in wierd contortions. If you're clamping with ur thumb, that tends to lead to bending of the wrist and cutting blood flow. In which case if thumb over the neck works, great for you (but I would recommend learning to float your hand more if possible).

    This may seemed aimed at people who have posted here already but it's really not, I see and here these comments all the time and it's really painful when people really do intend to help others through better technique. They just may not know they're doing harm if they aren't familiar with RSI injuries and how the body works. Many have mentioned the best advice here IMO, relaxation is the key.
  17. PrimusNut


    Mar 23, 2006
    Nova Scotia
    unatratnag, I just have to say, that was a good post. It answered a lot of my unanswered questions.. and even questions I have never asked.

    Thank you.
  18. Poop-Loops

    Poop-Loops Inactive

    Mar 3, 2006
    Auburn, Washington
    Rock technique doesn't let you do as many things. Like you said, if you're just holding down a root or something very easy, then yeah, it's no problem. But it limits your finger mobility and spread. But try doing something more challenging and you'll have to keep sliding up and down the neck.
  19. My thumb is more or less at a 45° angle.
  20. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    I always post this picture from Adam Nitti's website.


    Here's the link to his lesson:


    PS. I have posted this info so many times that it should probably be a sticky. I don't know... just throwin' things out there. ;)
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