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Left Hand position - aching etc

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by PaulF, Aug 3, 2005.

  1. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    Hi all

    I've been reading through a few posts on here about left hand issues - and I think I may have some !

    I don't get any 'tingling' sensations (which someone has related to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) - so that's good news.

    But I do get severe aching in my left hand, especially when playing 'busy' bass lines.

    I think my problem comes from bending my left wrist - one of the other posts on here mentioned this was a big 'no'.

    My issues are this -

    I need to keep my hand at 90 degrees to the neck to allow me to span 4 frets with 4 fingers (which I beleive is the correct technique)
    I plant my left thumb firmly on the back of the neck (approximately 'opposite' my middle finger) to allow my fingers to reach across the fretboard (I play a 5 string)
    I've recently changed to a Steinberger XT25 (cricket bat style) and I've found that this hangs on the strap with the fretboard vertical (whereas my old bass hung with the top of the fretboard nearer my body) - I've found the Steiberger improves the problem slightly.
    I've experimented with various neck angles (from bass in a horizontal position to neck up at 45 degrees) - keeping it up seems to help a little.

    But the bottom line is I still have a good 45 degree (or more) bend in my left wrist, and when I play fast bass riffs I find that it soon starts aching. I find removing my watch helps a little (so I assume this means the watch makes it worse, so I'm thinking it could be related to blood flow?), but the problem is still there.

    I can relive the ache in 'easier' congs by reverting to my old 'poor' technique of putting the thumb flat along the back/top of the neck - this removes the pain (but also severly limits my finger reach.

    Does anyone have any suggestions they can offer??


  2. leanne


    May 29, 2002
    Rochester, NY
    You didn't say how high (or low) you wear the bass, maybe it is too low to get your left hand comfortable?
  3. MichaelScott


    Jul 27, 2004
    Moorpark CA
    I play with the exact same technique as you described. I do occassionaly get hand ache in the palm of my hand where the "beefy" part of the thumb joint is.

    I've found that the more I pracitce the lass ache I have- when I used to experiance pain from 5 minutes of playing a constant intricate part- I now don't really experiance any pain till I pay the same line for 15+ minutes... I figure it is pretty acceptable since I hardly play the same line for more then 5 minutes.

    There is a difference between "proper techique" that lets you use your pinky freely and "relaxed techique" that doesn't cause any muscle strain on your hand. When I am playing something easy I might take a breather and slip into a more relaxed grip that will ignore the pinky and allow my hand a chance to catch a breather.

    You also might want to take a look at the lines you are writing. If you are staying in the same position for an enitre song and having had strain you might want to try to move around the neck a bit more- not only will it make your part sound cooler but it will give you hand a break.
  4. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    I read somewhere that your bass should be in the same position if you're standing or sitting, so that's sort of what I do, although I think mine's a little higher than 'sitting' position now.

    I find the higher I wear it, the less grief I get from my left hand, but I do start to get trouble from my right arm if it's too high, so I have to find a comfortable spot in between.

    Michael - you're right - moving to 'comfortable' position when possibl does ease the pain a bit - and yes I guess it does get worse if I stay int he same place.

    I find it more confortable to play higher up the neck, so I do try and play stuff up the neck on the lower strings rather than down the neck on the higher strings.

    Thanks for all your thoughts - much appreciated.

  5. bannedwit


    May 9, 2005
    Buffalo, NY
    Looks and sounds to me that what you need to do is one or all of the following:

    raise your bass a tad bit higher... It is not like pants and you will not look like a geek wearing "floods" if it is higher up. The way you sit down and play should be the way the bass lies when you are standing. Start off by sitting in your favorite stool (if not then start practicing on one)... Sit on that and play. Get your strap so that the bass barely rests on your knee / lap. When you stand up the position of the bass on your body shouldn't change.

    NEXT, lighten up how you grab the neck. I used to get this problem when my Thumb was pressed SOOO hard on the back of the neck. Loosen that up and just fret the neck until it makes the correct noise. Any more is overkill.

    Do the same with your right hand... When resting your thumb on your neck, pickup etc... make sure that too is light. I used to tighten up my left hand thumb and my right one would do the same causing me to cease up...
  6. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    Thanks Bannedwit

    I think the key thing is to 'relax' - the songs I know give me pain are the ones I get stressed about (mainly because they hurt by about half way through the second verse) - I'm getting pain because I'm tense, and I'm tense becasue it hurts !!

    Maybe I should relax my long standing rule to never drink and play and have a couple of drinks before a gig and see if that helps me relax?? (The rule came about years ago when I was drumming - I enjoyed a few too many drinks on a final gig with a band, and I actually fell off my drum stool in the second set :p )

    Thanks for the advice - I'll be making a effort to relax for the next few gigs etc.


  7. DrSmaggs


    Oct 15, 2003
    Endorsing Artist:
    make sure your bass is comfy on you... who cares if it isn't hanging below your belt line? I say that even if your strap is only 24" long and the bass is up to your chin, it's good if it SOUNDS good.

    Stretching all of your fingers and both your wrists is a good idea

    I use the Jason Newsted technique.

    hold up your left hand with the inside of your palm facing you. put your index finger and your ring finger into your palm and hold them down with your thumb. Keep your middle and pinky fingers pointing up. It should look like a deformed "metal sign hand"... I do this with both hands and the same time and I put my fingers together and push them together to stretch the tendons. Then switch so your index and ring fingers are up and your middle and pinky fingers are being held down with your thumbs. repeat as necessary, and don't overdo it at once. Stretch gradually, to get everything moving fluidly.

    I really hope this helps, as I know that it has helped me immensely.

    I also use one of those powerball things you can find in catalogs and at The Sharper Image.


    I have one of these and when used in moderation, it helps prevent carpal tunnel...

    Take care and I hope I've helped you at least a little :)
  8. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    Thanks DrSmaggs

    I tend to stretch my arms / shoulders 'pre-gig' - but I think that's habit from when I was drumming - it never occured to me to do the same with my wrists / fingers now I'm playing bass.

    I'll try it out tomorrow night...

  9. DrSmaggs


    Oct 15, 2003
    Endorsing Artist:
    awesome, I'm glad you like my post.

    That's an anytime exercise, too... if my hands/wrists/forearms get sore, I even do the same stretching then.
  10. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    Just done a quick warm up today (pre-gig) - and did my stretches before hand (Cheers DrSmaggs)

    They helped a lot, but I also made another breakthrough (which is bl**dy obvious now I've realised it)

    While concentrating hard on relaxing my left hand, I suddenly found I couldn't hear what I was playing - I turned the bass up and suddenly it was easier to relax the left hand and play more 'gently' - which ends up being much more relaxed.

    I try and keep my bass amp fairly loud and play softer with my right hand (after I did a gig with someone else's rig which was too quiet, and ended up with blisters on the tips of my right fingers :bawl: )

    Now I need to make even more effort to turn the bass up and play softer, and relax more, and maybe this will help my left hand problems as well.

    (The stupid thing is I had almost exactly the same problem about 3 years ago playing electric drums with hard rubber pads - if your amp / monitor isn't loud enough, you spend the entire evening smacking the hard rubber pads at full power, and end up with very sore wrists the next day - it just never occured to me that this same issue could be causing my bass problems).

    Anyway, I'll let you all know how I get on after tonight's gig (unfortunately it's a garden party - and the weather's not looking so good :meh: )

    Cheers again for all your help and ideas

  11. DrSmaggs


    Oct 15, 2003
    Endorsing Artist:
    Hey cool... I never thought about playing to hard to compensate for not being able to hear yourself.

    I have a big outdoor gig tonight... I get to do my stretches!

    Have fun at your gig and let me know how everything goes!
  12. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    Adam Nitti is an amazing bassist and teacher. Check out this website that includes a lesson on Left Hand Technique. There are photos:


    You shouldn't feel stress in your left hand or wrist when you are playing. Stay relaxed, it's not about strength. I hope this lesson helps out.

  13. PaulF


    Nov 17, 2004
    Yep, gig went quite well.

    I managed to stay relaxed for most of the gig - there's still a couple of songs that I struggle with (fast, repetitive bass line) and I end up feeling quite tense by half way through.

    But's definitely an improvement - I only felt uncomfortable in my left hand/wrist once (and we played 2 x 1hour sets) so that's a big improvement on the last couple of gigs.

    Thanks guys for all your help, ideas and suggestions - I've got something I can continue to work on now, which hopefully can only improve my playing!