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lack of fretting strength

Discussion in 'Ask Mike Watt [Archived]' started by darcy, Jun 11, 2003.

  1. darcy


    Jun 10, 2003
    Dear Watt,

    After playing for about a year with varying but increasing discipline, my left hand still seems weak. I'm not able to push the strings to the wood on certain frets, particularly with my ring and pinky fingers. Lighter guage strings haven't really helped...

    Is pushing them to the wood the idea? / Is pushing them against the fret still OK for my stage of playing? Do you suggest 'Gripmasters' for strength, or just playing, playing, playing? I'd greatly value your input...

    P.S. --I thoroughly enjoyed the Secondmen show at the Casbah (San Diego) two weeks ago and added my email to the notepad you passed around...d
  2. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    what I think is important is how is the note sounding when you fret it? is it muted or buzzing? all you have to do is hold the string so it's held up the fret good to make the note. I think those gripmasters might hurt your fingers, they kind of hurt me a little but then maybe I was doing it too much. you don't want to ever play to the point where you're hurting cuz you might be causing damage. always back off when pain gets near when you're practicing. I would say to practice practice parctic, yes - but not to the pain point. building up strength will come slow - like the right kind of calluses (not pads but an overall thick moccasin kind of thing. a lot of the muscle to get built up is in your forearm. move your fingers w/one hand while the other feels the foremarm (what I call the "popeye muscle") below the elbow on the side.

    a year playing is still pretty new - bass strings are big! like bridge cable! you need to get stronger, gradually and w/out hurt.

    on bass, watt

  3. darcy,

    don't feel bad about not using all of your left hand fingers when you're fretting notes - I've been playing bass for over 20 years and sometimes my pinky finger doesn't come into play at all unless I play in position!

    there's a good book out for bass players of all levels called "bass fitness". it has all kinds of fretboard exercises for bass cats. I don't recall the author offhand but hal leonard publishes it. a music store in your area should be able to order a copy for you, or you could always go through musicdispatch.com or amazon to get it!

  4. takeout

    takeout Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    Kansas City area
    "Just Say No" to GripMasters. They do more harm than good.

    You don't need to press the string all the way to the wood; in fact, you may be pressing the note a bit sharp if you're pressing that hard. You only need to press hard enough to get rid of buzzing. If it buzzes no matter how hard you press, your truss rod or bridge height may need to be adjusted.

    It doesn't actually take that much strength to fret a bass.
  5. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    I found a link for that book ("bass fitness") here:


    hope that helps.

    on bass, watt

  6. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
    One simple suggestion - try to remember to keep your fretting hand relaxed. It's easy to overfocus and push harder than necessary. Just try to keep that whole hand and wrist as relaxed as you can.

    Beyond that,
    - Do one finger per fret exercises up and down the neck every day
    - Consider *softer* alternatives like Labella tapewounds
    - Have someone check out your bass. The string height or nut cut might not be right.

    You'll get there. When I first started playing, and for a full coupla years, I didn't feel like I had proper strength in my fretting hand. But it came, and now fretting always feels like butter.

    I agree with the other posts about staying away from exercise gizmos. I don't use one, but I bet it's a fast ticket to some arm/tendonitus problem.
  7. fyi, peeps:

    the technical term for the "popeye muscle" is a bicep.

  8. darcy


    Jun 10, 2003
    Thanks Watt and others--it sounds like I need to be patient and enjoy the process. The advice is appreciated. Are Labella tapewounds strings?...d
  9. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    the upper arm ones are the biceps, the forearm ones are called the flexors (the "popeye" muscles).

    from my doctor friend, doug rockett:

    "the forearm is mostly composed of flexor muscles---- on the thumb side is the brachioradialis but the rest of the forearm is flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor digitorum superficialis (fingers) -- these comprise the superficial flexor muscles. then there is a deeper layer with flexor digitorum profundis (fingers) and flexor pollicis (thumb).in general they are usually called flexors."

    on bass. watt

  10. Subculture13

    Subculture13 Jamming Econo

    Apr 9, 2003
    Toronto, Ont. Canada
    Sometimes you may find that the height of your action or the bow on the neck is a factor too. When I was first starting out and knew little about the instrument mine (bought second hand) had the action WAY too high than it needed be. This made it much harder to play and was very hard on my hands in the early stages. Lowering the action and removing any excess neck bow can help to relieve strain on your fingers.
  11. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    good point, have a pro set your bass up for your kind of playing. for me, too low of action brings on a lot of buzzing and the notes dying out too quick. everyone's different - I have had cats think the action on my bass is insane! I've read that james jamerson had high action on his bass. higher action allows you to thump the strings harder.

    on bass, watt

  12. Uncle Fat

    Uncle Fat Guest

    Mar 14, 2003
    Portland, OR
    Hi Darcy,
    Tapewound strings require more neck tension than roundwound. This may be part of your problem. Tapewound have more of an upright tone, but if you're looking to make things easier on your hand, then go with roundwound.

    Just my $.02

  13. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
    Tapewounds come in different tensions.
    For some, the soft feel of the string outweighs the tension increase.
  14. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    I think the best way to know for you is to try them out, try the different tensions too. might cost some $$$ though. it's hard to know your particular wants and needs.

    on bass, watt

  15. As far as I know, the LaBella tapewounds only come in one guage. Here's the link: http://www.carvin.com/cgi-bin/Isearch.exe?CFG=2&P2=4012&P1=ACC. That's the cheapest I have seem them on the web.

    I like them, but it's difficult for me to compare them to roundwounds because it's been a while since I had them.;) But they are definitely easier on the fingers, and I can play superfast with ease! No blisters for me.

    They have a darker tone, but IMO, I think this is better (for finger-style at least).
    Not too shabby with a pick either!


    P.S. Did I mention they last a really long time? I had them for a year and they still sound good!
    Oh, and I almost forgot, just in case you didn't know, they really are black strings!
  16. Sorry to resurrect such an old thread, but I still have the tapewounds for 2 years now and they still sound good. Though, I may change them soon. Just thought I'd give an update...
    Thank you and good night [end resurrection...]
  17. You know pushing strings to the wood is the wrong way to do it it makes the notes go sharp on fretted instrument you just need to push the string for it to make a good contact with the fret pusing the string to the wood is definatly the wrong technique.
  18. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    try heavier strings.
    It may sound stupid but your left hand muscle will increase much faster if you have some heavy strings on your bass.
    My first bass wasn't too good. Action way to high, Stings to tight, But my left hand strength grew extremely rapidly because of the tighter strings.. It's probably safer than the stupid grip master anyways.
  19. stanger503


    Jun 13, 2003
    Leadville, Co
    well just my 2....i'd work on flexability more than strength. if your hands become too bulky with muscle that could limit your playing. but than again everyone is different. josh

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