1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Left hand - too much pressure on my thumb

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by kragen, Aug 1, 2005.

  1. kragen


    Jul 4, 2005
    I havnt been playing bass long, but having read a fair few articles and books the stress the importance of the left hand being relaxed and comfortable... and the thumb being a support and not putting pressure on it...

    But I physicaly cant play without putting a lot of pressure on my thumb - If I play for a while I actualy get an ache in my thumb joint.

    My question really is - what is this down to and how do I stop it!

    Is it down to tecnique and the way I position my thumb - or is it down to strength in my fingers (or a combination of the both). I try to keep my thumb in a natural curved and comfortable shape, but as soon as I start playing I end up bending my thumb and putting pressure on it.

    One of my books tells me to make sure that when I fret a note to make sure all the fingers behind the fretting finger is pressed against the string - I have a feeling this is a big contributor to the extra pressure im putting on my thumb, but at the same time it feels natural to do (otherwise my fingers are miles away from the fretboard and not ready to fret subsequent notes).

    It a geus I need to work on strengthening my left hand so I can fret notes accurately without needing to put some much pressure on my thumb - but I cant see what muscles do this in the first place - is the idea to press the fretboard into my left hand by supporting it with my right hand / strap?
  2. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    It should not require that much strength to fret the notes. Instead of working on increasing strength, focus on avoiding/releasing tension.

    An exercise that worked for me was to practice without allowing my left hand thumb to touch the neck. You may end up using your right elbow a little to keep the neck from pulling back, but it should not take much.

    As you play, pay attention to pplaces in your body where you are tensing up. You may notice first that your thumb is tense. See if you have any excess tension in your elbow, your shoulder, your back, your neck...etc. None of this tension is necessary to play the bass.
  3. Your problem is that you're thinking of fretting as squeezing the strings between your fingers and thumb. That's not the way to do it at all. Your thumb is only touching the neck to reassure you that it's still there.

    Use the weight of your arm to fret notes. It's like your arm is hanging by your finger from the string.

    Ben's suggestion to play without using your thumb is a good one. If you can't play without it, then you know you've got a technique problem. The only time you really need your thumb is when you lift all your fingers for a position shift. Then you can touch the neck with your thumb first to stabilize it as your fingers come down.
  4. intonation


    Jun 21, 2005
    I have been playing alot of funk fusion mostly for the exercise it provides for my fingers and as a result I have been suffering great pain :bawl: in the part of my hand right below my thumb on my fretting hand. after applying ice packs and taking advil...it subsided....but after awhile the pain returned, although not as bad this time around. I must say I like Ben Rose's suggestion to play with out the thumb...and I am going to practice with this technique!!...I'll let you know how it's working out. :bassist:
  5. bonscottvocals


    Feb 10, 2005
    Upstate NY
    Another point is that, unlike the acoustic guitar, you want to try to fret close to the fretwire. I don't know if you play acoustic, but it's a typical mistake. Also, has anyone looked at the action on your bass? You might be too high or tight.
  6. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    What kind of bass are you playing? Does it neckdive? Maybe you are applying too much pressure because you (without really being aware of it) hold up the neck of your bass.
  7. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    Is the pain at the base of your thumb (in you hand), or in your wrist?
  8. Suckbird

    Suckbird Banned

    May 4, 2004
    sometimes when i do fast single string tapping i play without my thumb touching th neck.
  9. kragen


    Jul 4, 2005
    I have a jazz bass, and the pain comes from the base of the thumb usualy.

    I do definitely see fretting as squeezing the strings between my fingers and thumb - playing completely without my thumb seems like a good idea - I just had a quick go then and it was very chalenging - I will let you know how it goes.

    I dont play acoustic - if I fret anywhere except for right close to the fretwire then I get huge fretbuzz, so I've been trying to fret as close to the frets themselves as possible, I've also been working on playing without looking at the fretboard, but thats something else completely.

    Thanks for the help guys - I will pracitce playing without my thumb, and make sure im not tensing up while playing :)
  10. kragen


    Jul 4, 2005
    I had a go at playing a couple of songs I can play fairly solidly (so I could concentrate on my fretting), without my thumb touching the back of the fretboard, and found that I ended up feeling a lot of tension in my left shoulder. As soon as I put the thumb back on the fretboard it went away again - the more pressure on my thumb, the more it went.

    Any suggestions?
  11. Groover


    Jun 28, 2005
    Ohio, USA
    Make sure your strap is set not too low. Set the bass up a little higher and see if that helps.

    If not, maybe go lefty? :eyebrow:
  12. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    It sounds like you may be pulling the neck of the bass back with your left hand. There are alot of things that could be happening, but I can't tell without actually seeing you play.
    Do you have a bass teacher?

    Try these:
    Ex 1)
    Drape a small towel (hand towel) over the headstock of your bass (to prevent it from being scratched).
    Stand in a doorway, or at the edge of a hallway.
    While wearing your bass, gently put the back of the headstock against the wall. The idea is to use the wall to prevent your neck from swinging backwards as you fret the notes without the use of your thumb.
    See if you still notice the tension in your shoulder.

    Ex 2)
    Do not use your right (plucking) hand in this exercise.

    With your thumb on the back of the neck, attempt to fret a note with the least amount of pressure possible in your left hand, and then release. Do not attempt to play a song. Just start with 1 note.

    Then press the string halfway between fully open and fretted. Release.

    Press the string all the way down again. This time, do not look at the neck. Just press the string until you feel that contact has been made with the fret.

    Repeat this exercise with each finger. Don't over do it.

    These 2 exercises may help, but I strongly recommend finding a bass teacher. Your teacher should be able to see if your posture is out of alignment, or if you are using too much pressure.
  13. This is what I learned from a bassist friend of mine: rather than "pinching" the fretboard between your thumb and fingers, use your arm. I think that involves letting your arm pull back using gravity.

    EDIT: Whoops, looks like that's just a restatement of what others said.
  14. By the way, I noticed Steve Bailey will sometimes bring his thumb over the fretboard and fret notes.
  15. intonation


    Jun 21, 2005
    The pain I experienced was at the base of my thumb...but it radiated up my arm...like a pain I never felt before. Since playing the BASS (two yrs now)..I never used my left hand so much...I also play piano but never felt such a strain in my left hand as with the BASS...however, I feel a lot less pain because I rested for a day and went back to the Funk fusion and I suppose I exercised the muscles in my left hand enough to "work it out". Practice makes perfect, even if you have to "practice your muscles".....Intonation. :bassist: :smug:
  16. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    Well, I'm glad you're not feeling pain anymore. Sometimes your muscles and tendons just need a little break to allow time adapt to new uses.