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Fretting hand/arm issues, Pronation & Supination

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by edt844, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. edt844


    Sep 9, 2010
    Chalfont, PA
    Like some players here, I have recurring problem with my left elbow that started in the mid-1990’s. The problem has caused me to have to give up playing bass or guitar several times over the years. The problem seems to be coming back. It is the typical tennis elbow, golf elbow, tendinitis problem.

    I am cautiously experimenting with playing guitar and bass again and I have been observing my physical responses for the past 6 months trying to identify the cause of this problem. Here's what I think is happening, anecdotally.

    When I play Bass Guitar or Classical Guitar, my left hand is supinated completely so the left elbow is at its maximum travel (like having the steering wheel at one lock point). The palm is held completely parallel to the neck. This causes burning and discomfort in the outside of the left elbow; really the entire elbow.

    Bass demands playing sequential series of notes. Playing Classical Guitar is very similar in that melody lines are played on the bass and treble strings, which are also a sequential series of notes.

    When I play a steel string guitar, my left hand palm is not perpendicular to the neck. My left hand is about midpoint between full supination and pronation, I'm thinking this is because with steel string guitar I play mainly 4-note chords and this places my left hand and elbow is completely different positions away from the extremes.

    At this time I haven't found a solution other than to attempt to modify how I play and fret the bass. A solution to play similar to steel string guitar may not be workable.

    Here is an interesting YouTube video explaining pronation and supination.
    pronation and supination of the forearm - YouTube

    Does this sound accurate or familiar to anyone? I even went to the Rothman Institute but thry couldn't find a cause, or a solution. They mostly do sports medicine, maybe some arts medicine for dancers, but nothing for players of guitar-type instruments.

    Ed T.
  2. Can you try repositioning the bass on your body so that it rests more along your right side as opposed to directly across your abdomen? If I understand what you are describing, this should rotate your left arm into a more comfortable position.

    If not, then at any rate, that is what you must do if you believe left arm supination is the problem. Fret a note, then move the bass with your left arm until that arm (and the right one as well) is in a better position, and start playing with it there. In other words, find the "right" position with the bass on your body, and then adjust the strap to keep it there.

    Won't necessarily be easy to break old habits, but it may be necessary. I have found that with adjustment of bass position on my body and strap length, I can find a location where both wrists are mostly straight and there is no discomfort caused.

    Hope that helps.
  3. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    I have had a look at the link and read through your post....and have read some conflicting info as far a bass playing goes.

    Yes supination and pronation indeed do have a very real function in playing the electic bass because the forearm has to supinate to place the hand under the neck and facing up to play, and the other will have to pronate to face the palm down to pluck over the top of the bass body.

    In the link it shows the human body in the Standard Anatomical Position (SAP) rather than Neutral Posture.

    For any ideas of playing postures they have to come from a Neutral Posture rather than SAP. SAP is not considered neutal for the hands as the palms face out, so the are in fact both in full supination and abducted rather than neutral.

    Neutral positions are indeed what lessens wear and tear on the body as neutral position places soft tissue in the least amount of tension in all planes, and are equal or minimal.

    So when looking at playing positions a persons suppleness and the ease in which positions the limbs and and hands can achieve will vary due to personal circumstance.
    In myself for example, when at rest and in a neutral position for me, my left palm faces my left thigh, rather than facing slightly behind, and my right palm faces directly back, rather than slightly back. This is because of over time my arms and hands have adjusted to my long years of playing in the pronated and supinated positions of playing bass. The reason the right hand is more pronounced is because the right hand does more of the work than the left, and we once had our hands in that pronated position when we were lesser primates ( along with a different shoulder arrangement, to support the backward facing palm) to ease movement through tree branches and tree climbing.

    The elbow is indeed the key, that is why it will give us problems in certain sports or activities that see an over development of tendons and muscles to the Lateral epicondylitis. This over use injury can happen in all walks of life. In days gone by it was and Archers common injury. But to isolate pronation and supination from the elbow simply tuck the elbow to the side and hold it there while you turn the palm face up to face down. In this the elbow is "turned of" form joining in, so move it away and relax it, then repeat the palm turning and the elbow will help support the movement with slight abduction and adduction movements.

    Again for the wrist the elbow can be seen to affect the angle the wrist can use and obtain. Any angle the wrist takes coming over the top of the bass body, the elbow can take it out (straighten it) but at the expence of the shoulder rotor cuff and the Glenoid cavity of the Scapula taking the excess strain, with associated attachments.
    So in all we can lessen injury but pretty much impossible to prevent or stop it. This is because we are not designed to play the bass (being in extended periods of pronation and supination with all the physical movements and positions associated with playing), we can do them and cope with them, but there is a cost, and that can be more in some than others.

    To cope with playing, or to find relief we must understand that the injuries are more often or not over-use rather than mis-use, though some of the positions players get themselves into and some of the techniques used are actually mis-use as well.
    Gentle stretches and working the body back to its neutral positions after use will show the best results for lessening injury chances. From Yoga, to Tai Chi, Alexanders Technique to Pilates will all in someway often help or relieve symptoms.
    Diet also is important and the energy the body uses comes from food, so playing it is not considered aerobic as we do not get out of breath, so deepen the breathing to take in more oxygen and increase the heart rate to pump it to the muscles using it via the bood when we play as in say other physical tasks that will heighten the heart rate and deepen the breathing, but the muscle function is the same and still needs energy to sustain it and so help preveny injuies and problems such as cramp.

    For me i will place players in the best neutral position from the top of the back though level shoulders through to the fingertips, ensuring the lower back is supported by abdominals (muscles to the front of the torso) and balanced with level hips on even legs. That sounds like a lot, but in fact is easy to do when understood and applied to a persons playing because it is posture and bad posture catches up with players in the end if not adressed. Add to this correct breathing techniques, which will remove tension, so in effect loosen muscles, and a players life becomes easier because stress and tension is less to being with.
  4. A picture is worth a 1,000 words. 2,000 if the words include 'supination' and 'pronation'!

    I am not sure if I am correctly understanding your elbow, arm, hand and finger positions when you describe them - even though I am sure you are probably describing them really well.

    That said, IF I understand your description of how your arm, elbow, wrist, palm, etc. are when you play bass it sounds very much like you need to re-think your technique. What I see in my mind is almost a palsied arm with the elbow maxed out, the wrist and palm in an almost unworkable position - and it makes perfect sense that you are developing tendinitis because it it.

    The first thing I'd do if you want any useful info from here is to post pictures of you in playing position so we can all see exactly what's going on. Otherwise, I'd say you need to visit a good instructor and have them evaluate your situation and show you what to do to correct it.

    Cool that I learned some new words today, though! Thanks for that!
  5. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    I'm 5' 6" tall, so a bass is fairly large to me. To keep my left hand from getting too twisted up, I usually put the head of the bass almost in front of me, with the body at an angle.

    If I were wider with longer arms, it probably wouldn't be an issue.

    Also, your hands should never have to clutch the bass to play it. If you are, try this exercise: fret notes with your left hand, and then gently let the thumb off until it is not even touching the neck. If you can't do that, your left hand technique needs to be examined.

    If you post a pic of you playing it would really help.

    Edited to add: I'm turning to see my drummer in the profile pic, so that is not how I usually stand while playing.
  6. edt844


    Sep 9, 2010
    Chalfont, PA
    Dear all,

    I need to reread all the replies and also set up a camera for pictures of playing bass both standing and sitting. I will include pictures of playing my guitar for comparison.

    I am seriously digesting all the reply posts. I very much appreciate the advice and ideas.

    Ed T.

    P.S. I'm installing a set of TI Jazz Flats tonight then doing a setup after a few days, allowing the neck to adjust to the new strings.

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