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Fretting hand gets tired

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Huge94, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    Hi there

    My fretting hand sometimes gets tired in the middle of a song. Is this usually a problem with position, maybe that I hold the neck too tight, or maybe it has to do with getting used to playing a lot (I've just entered a band)?

    Here are some photos of my positioning:

  2. RedMoses

    RedMoses Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2012
    Only your rhythm(right) hand should ever get tired, you are most likely pressing to hard. You should be able to hold everything on your fretting hand without even using your thumb anchored on the neck, try loosening your grip til you can hold it down at regular volume without your thumb.
  3. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Maybe you need a better setup or lighter gauge strings.
  4. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    How long have you played? You could just be developing muscle if this is your first band.
  5. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Aug 11, 2012
    Upstate NY, USA
    Get that setup checked by someone who knows what they're doing. If the bass is set up well, then I agree with Diabolus.
  6. To me in comparison to how I play, you hold the neck up quite abit higher than I do. I just double checked to compare & when I raised the neck higher than was comfortable to me I had that uncomfortable hand cramp position of my wrist in your top pic. My wrist isnt perfectly in line with the rest of my arm but close. I have had a similiar problem when I try & play too cool for school with my strap extended with my bass hanging closer to my knees.
  7. As to holding the neck up higher comment, I don't know that your bass is too high on the strap thats not evident from the 2 pics you posted, maybe try sliding the angle of the bass on your shoulder. I use a wide suede strap & play bass's that balance fairly well, goes a long way towards playing comfortable. Also you might want to push your fretting arm forward a scooch.
  8. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    Thank you for your answers. The setup should be alright as I've had it done by my luthier only a couple weeks ago. I've been playing seriously for a couple of months and on and off before that for another couple of months. It is my first band and have never played this much before, so it might be the specific muscles developing.
  9. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Even with a good setup you might be playing too hard. Here's something Gary Willis got to say about it: before playing, fret a note. Lighten up on the pressure until it starts to buzz. Add a bit of pressure until the note is clean again and try to get a feel for how little pressure it takes to fret a note. Any more than that is wasted energy in the most literal meaning of the phrase.

    Try to do that and be aware of how much pressure you need. Maybe that will already help, I know it does for me.
  10. One more thing I'll mention is I have also experienced fatigue when playing a thin neck bass. My hands are fairly large & my fretting hand gets cramped easier on a thin neck, something about the mechanics of being more open when fretting a fatter neck doesn't lead to the same fatigue for me. The Gary Willis finger pressure mentioned above is another thing to look into.
  11. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Lots of good info advice so far, obvious one is make sure you are well hydrated and having eaten good energy foods to sustain the muscle use...your body needs fuel to maintain the hand use.

    One other thing, you pictures do not show you in motion, but your wrist is overly bent.
    When the wrist is away from being in-line with the forearm it is in a weakened position, the more it bends the weaker it becomes.
    When you see a movie and some one has to be made to say drop a knife or gun, you see their wrist being bent and held till the drop it. The act of bending the wrist makes it weaker, over bending it makes it impossible to hold on to anything.
    So on a bass an over bent wrist is a weak position, so it will tire and injure easy, it can lead to future problems that may not be apparent now, but come in later life when the accumulated use presents problems that could be minimised with a better wrist angle.:)
  12. Huge94


    Nov 22, 2009
    Thank you very muuch everyon, really helpful.

    Fergie, what would you do to angle my wrist better? A friend of mine and awesome bass player mentioned I should probably place my elbow further away from my body, which would reduce stress on my wrist and hand. Would you agree?
  13. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    No, it is not as clear cut as that.

    The mechanics of the human body and the position of the hand on the neck are the two components in this.
    Because no two people are really the same and the height and angle of the fretboard between players varies, for one player it might be move it away, but I can equally be for another to bring it closer.

    The problem with a bass guitar is the neck is not on a vertical plane, so all up-right bass techniques that were developed do not apply to a bass guitar.
    The bass guitar neck can be horizontal (parallel to the ground) to anywhere up to about 80/90 degrees to the vertical, where as an up-right bass is more consistent to the vertical.

    Our joints are designed to work better in a verticals plane than a horizontal one.
    So it is a blend of what each player is capable of in relation to the fretboard.
    Because a fretboard has length and width, our hands relationship has to change consistently...why?

    Because the bass guitar as a rule hangs on the player.

    If I move my body (central core) towards the nut, the bass moves with it..so I am no closer to the nut, so I cannot reduce the amount I have to stretch (so elbow extending and moving away from the body, while turning the forearm and wrist to suit the plane of the neck) to play in that area....unless I bring the nut closer to me, which I can do by angling the neck more to the vertical, I can in fact bring the nut to the side of my head if need be be.
    If my strap has the freedom, i can slid the guitar towards the plucking side and pluck on the edge of the fretboard, this will being the nut closer to me. (central core)

    So the plane is more vertical, the wrist can be held straighter in-line with the forearm, because the elbow can be used to take excess bend and motion out of the wrist (it can also add that excess bend and motion if a player is not aware of it) to help keep the forearm and wrist in line and on plane.

    Compare that to an up-right bass, because it sits on the ground and is not fixed to the player it's height and plane are fixed, what ever movement the players has does not affect the instrument. No matter what I do...the instrument remains in plane and at its set height.
    When I play it my body and joints are designed to work better and more efficient in an vertical plane.

    This is highlighted in a simple test.
    Open a door, put the back of your and on the edge of the door keeping the fingers parallel with the ground ( facing left or right as if playing an up-right), and as low as you can retaining those angles. (for most this will be about lower stomach/groin area).

    Now run the back of the hand up the door edge and see how high it can go on that plane keeping the back of the hand on the door and the finger parallel.(way above head height for most)

    Now move to a table/work surface edge, using the same idea but the back of the hand on it, keep the fingers pointing down so they are on a vertical plane (as when playing bass guitar) and move it along the edge and see how far it can go keeping the back of the hand on the edge and the fingers vertical.
    You will soon notice that hand has to move away from the edge, as well as changing the height relationship of the hands and fingers to the fretboard. Compare that to the door test, even thought the hand is changing height it is doing so on a very even plane in the vertical, not so in the horizontal.
    If you were to hold the hand on the table edge and walk along it, then the hand stays on-line the whole length, the body is moving the hand along a fixed point.
    An upright bass is a fixed point I can move around, but because a bass guitar hangs on me, when I move.... the bass guitar moves with to keep the parameters the same.
    If I fix my position, I can being the guitar to me, the strap allows me to alter the bass guitars relationship to me, rather than me struggle to meet set positions, heights, or angles I can choose to alter them by changing the bass guitars relationship to me.

    On the door edge all the joints work to keep the hand on line for longer, so the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder all work together to keep fingers in line for longer.

    On the table edge, the fact the hand is moving away from the body, the shoulder now acts as a pivot, and so a radius gets created and that pulls the hand away from the edge.
    Add to this that the elbow cannot help, because the wrist is turning to try and hold the hand on line and keep the fingers in the vertical....if the elbow come away from the body it turns that wrist action against itself.
    You cannot move your elbow away from the body without the hand down.
    The hand has the motion to rotate, but only in one direction and return. You cannot rotate your hands outwards, which is the very motion you need to keep the fingers on a horizontal plane on the table edge and you cannot use the elbow....but you can on the vertical plane.

    Now look again at the demand of playing a bass, it is similar, as the hand mover down the neck away from the body it becomes harder to keep it relaxed and on line...as is the joints being use.
    So bass height and angle is the parameter to maximise with the bodies physical capabilities.
    That varies due to injury, age, disease, genetics, limb sizes, dexterity etc, so what we see one player doing is not the same for all, because we cannot see the ease they are doing it at or any stresses strains or loads being applied to the body.

    As long and in-depth as all this may seem, fact is it is a 5-10 minute playing lesson to demonstrate and find out what a player can and cannot do.
    Another fact is it can be improved on, if the player (and of course the teacher) understand what;
    A/ the player has got
    B/ what the player can achieve.
    C/ can justify the advice.

    I see a lot of players that like the idea of playing better, but the reality of what they need to do puts them off, they cannot justify the changes. What they want is improvement with no change...they seem to miss the point that they are standing in front of me because of that very attitude, they are looking for a 'magic solution', tip or trick that means they do not have to change, work any harder or different that they have always done.

    In the links are two videos to highlight the fretting and plucking hand uses, both videos cover the range of topics associated with playing because certain ergonomics relate to fretting and plucking.

    As usual if any questions arise from this, post them or PM me, and if I can help or answer them I will.


  14. Yeah, that was my first thought too, especially in the first photo. Your wrist position seems quite extreme.
  15. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota

    How can we determine what a good and bad position is on our own?
    Because the pictures only show a frozen position, not one in motion, i will use those to make a few points.

    The hand position.

    if you look at the back of your hands, at the base of the fingers are four large knuckles.
    These as a rule set the fingers, so they should not be further forward than the face of the fretboard, they should be for the most part in line or under the neck.
    So the area for these knuckles is some where from the back line of the neck to the front line of the fretboard.
    Certainly no further forward than the string line.

    As i explained it is for the fingers to curl back to access the fretboard, not the wrist to allow straighter fingers to acccess the fretboard.

    In your picture if you pull the wrist back towards the body, the wrist will straighten up and become more in line with the fore arm. This means those four knuckles will drop slightly and be pulled in lie with or under the neck.

    I use that as one of the criteria when looking at such issues, how do those four knuckles and the elbow position affect the wrist.
    If i had to give "one position fixes all" advice it would be this simple thought if my thum is over the top of the neck, my knuckles must be under it, so my wrist is straighter.
    Notice the word is straighter, we do not force the wrist to be straight, we allow it to be straighter.
    So in some that will be straight in others it will not, but it will get better, as the fingers learn to curl a bit more, the elbow will pull back a bit more, so the wrist will straighten a bit more..and so on.

    It is not one position fixes all, it is a default position of neutrality, one of least amount of strain.
    Like i said in the video, you can move your hands positions, but always return to the default one as soon as the opportunity presents it.
    Now the old thinking was about the hand retaining shape, the the fingers and thumb do not change shape, the thumb stays in its bolt up-right position regardless of use.
    Well in an up-right part of that use was the support of the instrument, (not a literal support of pressure but of balance, if the bass lent to far back it actully cause the thumb problems because the thumb to the weight, if it lend to far forward then the fingers took the weight and it inhibited playing) so that shape is a desirable shape to maintain because;
    A/ it serves more than one function
    B/ it is on a better plane to retain it

    But as i said the bass guitar is none of these things, it is an instrument that really has only been in regular use since 1960 (just to round out a popular use date) so became available to all.
    Add to this fact as the decades moved on its price fell and it became widely available due to cost for all.
    So more basses, more styles, different degrees of set-up etc, meant more players...so more injuries.

    From the last fifty years we are starting to form a clear picture of what those problems and injuries are.
    From they type of injury we can relate it to the physical use of the body and find better ways to:
    A/ reduce the affects (we can never eliminate them)
    B/ make and design better instrument using modern technologies and advances)

    CTS for example is not from playing bass, it is because the Carpal Tunnel wall has weaked and collapsed in on the median nerve so in cause it friction when you move your finger hand or wrist. This is caused by the position of the hand to the use if the fingers.....not playing bass.
    It can occur it a typist, a down hill skier, a mountain biker, a carpenter etc.. so we know better and safer ways to either work or protect the hands.

    Only now are we seeing the consequences of young players that started playing back in the 60s. Those that have little or no problems v those that did and do. So the information from both needs to be looked at and find the similar points that are present in each side, compare them, find any other factors to include or discard and come to a conclussion.
    Time has now given us this option to collect and collate testements, ideas, injuries etc and see if we can make playing bass safer and better.
  16. I'm not exactly sure what your point is from that post. All I'm saying is that your wrist should be as close to straight as possible ( or bent slightly forward). Every sports scientist in the world will say the same thing, and those are the same doctors that musicians consult as well, as the sort of injuries are so similar (I've had to consult such specialists myself in relation to wrist problems caused by playing guitar).

    Sure, it's hard to judge from a couple of static photos, but he asked for opinions based on the photos he posted, and in my opinion that wrist position is awful, and is likely to cause him problems down the track, and is probably causing him the fatigue he's asking about.

    I'm sure there are other professional bass players here who can weigh in with their opinions, and I hope they do, because I'm not a doctor, and claim no expertise on the subject.
  17. Rockin Mike

    Rockin Mike

    May 27, 2011
    Elbow in, lower or raise the bass strap, hold the neck at whatever angle, wrap the thumb over the neck, whatever you need to do to straighten the wrist.

    Don't clamp with your thumb. You can play without it. Tape a little rock or something to your thumb to train you to avoid putting pressure on it.

    Between songs shake the hand and arm out and stretch.

    Massage the forearm muscles.

    Play with the lightest touch you can get away with. Power comes from the plucking hand.

    Some of it is muscle tone. It should get easier over time. It's fun to watch your arm and hand get more muscular.
  18. Razman


    Feb 10, 2005
    Orange Park, FL
    I don't really understand some of the comments stating that one should be able to play without using their thumb behind the neck. If you can do that - and it meets your needs - that's wonderful. But when you're playing a set that the majority of your songs are Five Finger Death Punch covers with a few other hard-hitters thrown in for good measure (Avenged Sevenfold's Afterlife for example) this is not the ideal technique.

    Before every practice I perform the following finger exercise:
    1. Starting with my index and middle fingers, I fret a C then C#, F then F#, Bb then B, Eb then E, Ab then A, in a walking pattern - and then walk it back down. Basically, walking up from the B string to the G, alternating each finger, plucking each note to ensure they ring clear w/o buzzing, on the first and second frets of my bass.
    2. I then perform the same pattern 1/2 step up (2nd and 3rd frets), walking up from the B to the G and then back down. Each note is played individually, not running into another: bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump... (imagine the notes ascending and descending in your head - sorry, this is the only way I can think of describing this :smug: )
    3. This is continued up the fretboard until I reach the 12th fret - the last set is performed on the 12th and 13th frets, and then I start all over again, but with my middle finger and ring finger.
    4. Once I do this entire exercise with that pair, I do it again - with my ring finger and pinky finger - all five strings, every fret, all the way up to the 12th & 13th frets.
    5. By this time I'm getting a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling in my left forearm - but I'm not done. I then start all over but with my index and ring finger, and start on the 1st and 3rd frets. Same deal, fret each note, each string, up to the 12th and 14th frets.
    6. Repeat - but with the middle finger and pinky.
    7. Lastly, same exercise, but with index finger and pinky finger, on the first and fourth frets - all they way up to the 12th & 15th frets.

    By this time I've got a good burning feeling in my left forearm and I'm ready for a practice. Keep in mind I'm playing a heavier balanced set of Circle-K strings: .150 B; .112 E, etc. I need the thicker gauge to get the low action and tight response for the music and venues we play. The heavier tension started to aggravate my CTS but I'm taking steps to deal with it.

    Having done this exercise for so long I'm starting to get to where I can almost perform sweeps going up from the low strings to the higher ones. It has definitely built up my finger strength, dexterity and endurance, especially my ring and pinky fingers.

    Hope this helps, let me know how your arm feels after the first time you try it. :D


  19. Nobody's saying you should be able to play "without using your thumb behind the neck" (that's ridiculous). They're saying you shouldn't be applying a lot of pressure with your thumb, and I agree.
  20. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    The point was rhetorical Mark, nothing to with what you posted, just supporting and expanding the view. :)