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Help! I'm in pain when I play.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by joelb79, Feb 23, 2008.

  1. joelb79


    Mar 22, 2006
    Lansing, Michigan
    So I've been playing flat fingered my whole life. Recently In talking with a jazz bassist in town I was told that playing should be with the tip of my fingers, thump planed on the back of the neck and not using much pressure when fretting.

    I've spent a great deal of time focusing on this and working on the efficiency of my playing by not moving my hand as much (i.e. trying to fret in one area when running blues scales instead of moving down the neck).

    However, I'm finding that when I use the tip of my ring finger and pinky, pain shoots through them near the first knuckle. I even use one of those finger strength trainers thinking that I've spent so much time playing wrong that my fingers are just not used to it. But the pain is getting in the way of my playing.

    Will this pain go away after I get used to playing this way?
    Is there anything I can do to minimize this pain?
  2. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    Last I checked, Proper technique=No Pain.
    On one side, what works the jazzer guy might not work for you.
    On the other side, unlearning bad technique can be a painful learning experience.

    If you were 50, I would say stick to what you know and don't risk injuring yourself, but you are only 28 and it's not to late to learn more efficient technique. Those strength trainers are overrated. If you are wearing yourself out on gigs, I think you are doing something wrong. It's easier to turn up and play lighter, than kill yourself everynight.
    Since you are learning something new (all over again), start slow and light, it will come in time.
  3. Stromrider


    Feb 16, 2008
    CT, USA
    Hmm... I always thought it was better if you flat fingered instead of using your tips. I couldn't get used to flat fingering even from the start so i just use my tips and it works for me. Takes awhile for a good callus to build up. If you are getting pain that bad, i say just stick to what you know unless you feel its really hurting your playing.
  4. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    Seriously, don't take it as a given that someone is an authority just because they play "jazz". There are as many technical approaches are there are players. The only time one technique is better than another is when it improves efficiency. The only time a technique is wrong is when it is injurious to the player.

    Playing on the tips of your fingers might work for some people. On the other hand there are a lot of things that it limits as well. Barring for example is a lot harder if not impossible, which in turn makes playing chords and certain arpeggio patterns harder if not impossible.

    It's really up to you how you decide to play but make sure you are developing technique because it will make you a better player and not putting yourself through pain just because some "jazz" guy told you to.
  5. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
    Shooting pain is never good. While playing with a good arch in your fingers and using the tips is "proper" technique, if it is causing you the pain you describe then stop doing it. Figure out after you've stopped if there is an obvious reason (something you can change) for the pain. But if it is causing you shooting pain stop!
  6. I've always been confused as to exactly what IS good technique... some guides say use the tips of the fingers, others say use the pads... I've watched several DVDs in slo-mo and freeze-frame from very respected bassists and they all conflict as to exactly how you should be fretting...
  7. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    it sounds like when u play on your tips, you are pinching a nerve. no way to get that.

    but i couldn't say for sure. it could be that flexing your fingers while in an arc is making something pull or slip inside the hand. sort of like when you get in the pool and your leg cramps up.

    or maybe your pinky and ring finger have a strong connection and thus a low flexibility when used individually.

    and its not unheard of (but im no doctor) for things in the hand to fuse or stick together.

    but aside from all that, i think that if you naturally gravitated towards flat fingers when u learned to play, then you and your body were aware of your physical limitations. if it works for you, keep on. nothing wrong with flat fingers.
  8. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
    It's a good question. Since the instrumet we play is relatively new, i often think it's up for grabs. I've been through so many different techniques over the years that mine is a weird personal amalgam. I tend to think if it doesn't hurt, won't cripple you in the long term and let's you play what you want then that's good technique. of course someone will read that and say I'm full of **it, but it's worked for me so far.
  9. tkozal


    Feb 16, 2006
    New York City
    that sounds to me like a DB biased view...where tips and pads are used more than flat fingers..but then you need to build a different strength
  10. joelb79


    Mar 22, 2006
    Lansing, Michigan
    Yeah its my ring finger that has the shooting pain. Really I have not used it much in my life and I have no problem using tips and pads. The pinky has been pretty much a flat finger for my whole life, but the ring is where the problem pain comes from. If its just a matter of building strength then by all means I'll put forth the effort to do it. But if there is another method that I should take into consideration then I'll do that.

    My biggest technical issue is I cant play fast enough and really need to work on efficiency. It seems working tips/pads into that formula makes more sense than sliding around flat fingered. Plus my playing is much cleaner since I've started this. Just the pain is killing me.
  11. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    You're probably using muscles in different ways than you've become accustomed to. Just rest for a while and the pain will subside.

    Fingertips are your best bet for playing faster and more efficiently, but that doesn't mean that there is no place for barring.
  12. joelb79


    Mar 22, 2006
    Lansing, Michigan
    I might have a bigger problem. When I press my ring finger down, it pulls towards my middle finger. The pain i'm feeling is my trying to reach the next fret which is causing my finger to move in an unnatural way.

    Something tells me this is not normal and I might have to develop my own method of playing.
  13. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Q: How much tension do you have in your left hand while fretting? I've found that when playing electric bass "correctly" I have virtually no tension in my left hand. OTOH, when I notice tension, whether it's in my thumb, across the back of my hand, or in my fingers, that's a clear message that I need to find a way to change my technique to induce less pressure and tension, and more relaxation. Sometimes it's a simple as finding an alternate fingering that uses muscles differently.

    If it helps, I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to adjust one's technique to accommodate hand injuries. Sometimes, accommodating injuries means there are things to which you just have to say "no," which is why I do not play in thumb position on upright (tablesaw injury to left thumb 20-odd years ago).

    Good luck!
  14. joelb79


    Mar 22, 2006
    Lansing, Michigan
    OK to answer your question:

    Index finder = 1
    Middle = 2
    Index = 3
    Pinky = 4

    When I finger 1,2,4 ; there is almost no tension in my hand
    When I finger 1,2,3,4 ; as soon as i get to 3, my whole hand tenses up.

    Pain doesn't start until I'm playing something fast and repetitive. None the less, when the pain starts its sharp.
  15. That sounds like your hand doesn't have enough spread to use 'open hand' (1,2,3,4) fingering low down on the bass. So, take a line from DB technique: use closed hand (1,2,4) low down on the fingerboard, until your hand is not strained by open hand. For me that happens around 5th fret on BG and up around the neck on DB.
  16. I've also had similar problems when trying to incorporate "good technique" into my playing... but for me it's my pinky that gives me most problems... Anyhow, someone mentioned earlier in the thread that this seems to be a technique that is derived from upright playing, which I believe to be true. Given that some of the best electric bass players today play flat fingered, with their thumb often wrapped around the neck, I think it's unwise to call this bad technique... I've heard from some people that making sure your fingers are perfectly arched and your thumb planted in the middle of the neck will give you better tone... I don't really believe this is true either. While this technique may give you the ability to move around the neck faster, I don't believe it has any effect on your tone. With so many different styles of music and techniques for playing bass, calling one thing "proper" technique and another "bad" technique seems kind of silly to me. For me, playing with my thumb planted and the tips of my fingers fretting seems to be useful for when you need to move around the neck quickly while playing quick fingerstyle riffs (think jazzy...). Playing like this all night definitely hurts my hand though, no matter how much I practice. I tend to use a more flat fingered technique when I am playing bass lines where I stay in one position on the neck, when playing more slap style, or when I play reggae (think deep, sustained notes...)

    Sorry for the rant- I just get frustrated when people are not open minded about technique... We play an amazingly versatile instrument, and to express this versatility different players use different techniques... just watch Billy Sheehan play riffs all day with his thumb wrapped around the neck!
  17. spindizzy


    Apr 12, 2004
    Joel - Which Jazz guy did you listen too? I'm in Lansing as well and I wouldn't be able to make an assessment without seeing how you are approaching your fingering. I have been a part tips part flat player all my life and my usual recommendation here is to learn as many ways, be proficient in as many ways and pracitise as many ways to approach playing your instrument as you can.

    Flat fingering works very well in certain circumstances yet you cannot rule out playing on your tips as the physics of the instrument make using your tips more effecient in too many ways to list here. Not saying however you should emphasize one over the other yet simply to be proficient and allow the music to decide for you on what is the best approach to playing it.

    I experience similar pain early on (think dark ages) but after building my endurance and toughening my skin the only pain I have to deal with is from aching joints.

    The advice about playing slow and giving you body time to adjust is good advice. incorporating this into your regular skill set can be put off until you feel more comfortable but I wouldn't stop trying it until you determine that it is a skill that isn't helping you.

    Not saying I any expert either just that my experience is that done properly tip play is the best in many playing situations and it is a skill that you should consider learning well.


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