Help me to relax, please

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Sean Baumann, Jul 9, 2005.

  1. Sean Baumann

    Sean Baumann Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2000
    Livin' in the USA

    I tend to be wound tight, and am not naturally coordinated (like an athelete). I think I have decent technique, and I have had in-person lessons in the past.

    My problem is that my left shoulder, arm, wrist, and eventually fingers become quite stiff while playing for extended periods. When playing live, depending on the song, I may even become fatigued before we are through! I know it is because I am becoming quite tense, and my muscles are locking one at a time. Cycling like this for five or so songs, and I am quite spent, and my left hand starts feeling weak.

    Any advice on learning to relax??
  2. bonscottvocals


    Feb 10, 2005
    Upstate NY
    This comes with being unfamiliar with the material and should ease in time. No one on this board can tell you how to relax. Some people need lighting, candles, incense, or something like that. I just need good music, which is what I'm trying to play. :bassist:

    Just try not to be uptight and let mistakes happen and keep on practicing. Don't have such high expectations of yourself that you push yourself into a frenzy. You learn through repetition, so play slowly first and take the time to learn technique over speed. It's a game of patience.
  3. Fliptrique


    Jul 22, 2002
    Szczecin, Poland
    Endorsing Artist: Mayones Guitars&Basses, Taurus Amplification
    breath control helps a lot.

    revisiting your bass height, wrist angle, and LH/RH technique is also a good starting point - since i`ve started to lisen what my own body is telling me, and modified my technique accordingly - tension pretty much dissapeared. it did took some painfull re-learning to eliminate bad habits and a whole lot of playing in front of a mirror, but it is worth it.

    practicing songs at a painfully slow tempo helps to "teach" your body being relaxed durning the songs (it really works!).

    also, good sex helps a lot:D
  4. Since you said yourself you're not an athelete, I hope Im not being presumptious by guessing that you might not be in the best shape? If you want to do wonders for your body, mind, and life in general hit the weights a bit. It may not be the answer you were looking for but working out will make your current muscles stronger and able to withstand long sets, as well as teaching you about your body in general.

    Combine that with the previous posters recomendations for breathing (SOOOO important, for working out and for maintaining a calm in your body during stressful situations, where a lot of people tend to stop breathing normally, usually causing further rigidity) and adjusting strap height to a comfortable level for both left and right hands will do wonders. One thing to note is where you are most uncomfortable on the bass, in the first few frets or playing high up on the body? Give us some feed back and we can probably help a little more.

    Take it easy, Steve
  5. Sean Baumann

    Sean Baumann Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2000
    Livin' in the USA
    LOL, i'm 5"10 and 150 pounds, so I'm in good enough shape :) But, yeah, I see what you are saying.

    When I say that I am tense or can't relax, I mean that I am generally a stiff person. I'm not fluid in my movements as an athelete would be (hence slightly uncoordinated, perhaps). Anyway, the question being, are there any exercises or techniques I should use to keep my shoulder, arm, hand, etc relaxed while I am playing.

    The above posters have some good advice I will try, namely becoming more comfortable with the material. That is kind of tough in my position, since my gig is really P&W with different band members every time I play :) I really need a regular drummer!

    I'll revisit right/left hand technique to see if that helps. I guess if I get tense during practice, it makes sense to stop and relex :)
  6. HeavyDuty

    HeavyDuty Supporting Curmudgeon Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Suburban Chicago, IL
    I sometimes have the same problem, to the point I get pains in my jaw from clenching. Drinking first helps. ;)
  7. Sean Baumann

    Sean Baumann Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2000
    Livin' in the USA
    Hahaha! I don't think it would be a good idea to drink before church :)

    But yeah, I used to get the clenched jaw too. But my old drummer made fun of me enough so I don't do that one anymore (that I am aware of!).
  8. Chili


    Mar 8, 2005
    I tend to be tense alot anyway, and i think thats what the problem with my wrist was, to much strain while playing, but i am relaxing up now and i can play alot smoother and faster than when i'm not tensed up, but sometimes i go tense and have to remember to relax lol, it should come naturally after a while tho hopefully
  9. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH

    I have found that when I can't hear myself clearly (like when standing near the drummer when playing live), I tend to pluck harder and consequently tense up.

    Could this (not being able to clearly hear what you're playing) be part of your problem?

    When practicing alone, I often play along to CDs. To learn to relax and play with a light touch, I sometimes turn up my amp noticeably, forcing myself to pluck really lightly to keep the volume appropriate (and thus keep my tension minimized).

    Also, be aware of the level of tension in your body when doing everyday activities.

    When writing with a pen, do you hold it with a modest amount of pressure? Or do you squeeze it more than necessary?

    Are your hands tight when holding the steering wheel of your car?

    Because I have had bass-playing overexertion problems in the past, I try to be aware of the level of tension in my hands, arms and shoulders in lots of things that I do (not just when playing the bass).

    Hope this helps.
  10. Take a deeeep breath, and exhale with a noisily. A lot of times when we're playing we hold our breath and tense up. Breathing normally helps us to relax. :)
  11. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Here's a relaxation technique that I find very useful.

    1. Focus on a really small point. This could be anywhere. Maybe a black dot on a white piece of paper.

    2. Breath in really really deeply, and as you exhale, scream (in your mind) RELAX! This is to make sure the mind hears the command.

    3. Then count from 1 to 100 and after each number, and say the word
    Relax in your mind. Do this calmly.

    e.g. 1 - Relax, 2 - Relax, 3 - Relax... 100 - Relax.

    Do this to about 60 beats per minute or less. And if you brake concenration, just pickup where you left off.

    Remember to focus very carefully on the small point (smaller the better).

    Repeat if needed.
  12. Jamey Andreas writes about playing with excess tension in her essays Discover Your Discomfort and The Secret of Speed. Good to read. Tension will mess up your playing horribly, then proceed to damage your body. Many people play tensely without even knowing it.
  13. doesn't screaming 'RELAX' seem a bit counter-productive. A trick from Qi Gong is before you play, pretend you are covered in dust and brush the dust off. It really does wonders in releasing the tension. Try it.
  14. Sean Baumann

    Sean Baumann Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2000
    Livin' in the USA
    Oh man, good point. I squeeze the mess out of pens. Actually, I can't write much more than a few sentences before I have to stop because of cramps. Hrm... gunna have to work on that.
  15. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Did you say, it's a bit counter-productive?

    See Ya.
  16. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Meditation is nice although I don't recommend it on stage. But Kiwi's breathing techniques are a great tension reliever and you may find it gives you a little boost of calm energy and focus as well.
  17. Rythym-Bassist


    Jul 10, 2005
    I see how screaming helps, in this day of modern society.

    You really gotta try hard to get through.
  18. Joe Beets

    Joe Beets Guest

    Nov 21, 2004
    I've heard of these symptoms before. I used to occasionally have this problem myself before I learned how to drink whiskey. It took a long time to figure out the real problem. Let me ask you this. Does the stress level increase about the same time you turn on your amp to get ready to play? Does the tension relieve as soon as you turn off your amp at the end of the gig? Does your gear have red or orange lights on the front? What you need to do is switch over to blue lights. Don't laugh. This phenomenon has been thoroughly discussed here on the forum in many threads. Just do a search on "blue lights". In my case, not only did switching to gear with blue lights make me more relaxed on stage, but it also improved the tone of my bass. Check it out. ;)
  19. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    While a lot of people jump around to get pumped before a gig, I'm sitting backstage meditating, finding relaxation INSIDE me, and I think it does me wonders.

    My question is, how high is your strap. Seems like all your tension is in your left hand/arm, so you may want to adjust that position.
  20. I think the main problem may be a deathgrip on the neck of the guitar. You're building up lactic acid from working the finger/wrist/arm muscles anaerobically from excess pressure. Eventually the lactic acid builds up to the point the muscles can barely fire anymore, and lock up.

    Try fretting a note with the minimum force needed to press the string against the fret. Compare that to the force you usually use when you play. If there's a big difference, that's why you are cramping. Concentrate on that when you practice until it becomes second nature.

    If the strings are too high, that may require excessive pressure to fret, so if you aren't sure, get someone qualified to check out the action on your bass.

    Try lighter gauges of strings, they require less pressure. Might help you out, or you might not like the feel or sound of the lighter strings.

    Think about playing light with the left hand, helps to have a light tough on the right hand too. See if that helps.

    Don't be afraid of trying the whiskey either, even before church. Brigitte Neilson tried that on "Strange Love", it seemed to work well for her.