Low volumes bad for technique?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Ezmar, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Being a college student, I play with a 15 watt practice amp, so as not to disturb everyone else in my building. I've found that I end up with much more fatigue than I remember, and a general feeling at times that I'm not as good as I was the summer before college, with the same amp, but cranked all the way up, despite putting in no less time playing.

    I made a thread earlier about the Les Claypool style strumming suddenly seeming to put too much strain on my middle finger, with which I tend to do my strumming, but I've been wondering if perhaps it's the low volume causing me to dig in far too much. A part of me wants to say that if I don't dig in, I won't be able to get the aggressive sound, but another part of me says that if I turned the amp up, I'd be able to put less strain on the finger. and playing with no volume makes me think this is the case: I don't try to get more volume or grit out of it with my hand, and it's nice and easy, but when I turn the volume on, it sounds too quiet, and I end up straining my hand to flick the strings harder, due to how I strum. I don't think it's a problem with how I strum, so much as it is a psychological thing making me overdo it at low volumes.

    Is this a commonly observed thing? Low volumes being detrimental when playing harder stuff? It's not a problem when playing easy (not difficulty-wise, but mood) stuff, because then it's nice and laid-back, and aggression is not an issue, but when you want to play something loud and hard, you feel like you're fighting the low volume of the amp and overcompensate. Most people like to say to turn up and use a light touch, but for some kinds of playing, a light touch won't do it. Even so, if the volume is too low, it seems to me that it's easy to work too hard. Anyone have any opinions on this matter?
  2. ReiPsaeg


    Dec 1, 2012
    Rochester, NY
    If you think you're playing too hard to overcompensate for the low volume of the amp, but you have to play low for your neighbors, then just play lighter.
  3. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Well yeah, that's the solution. My question is more: Am I right in thinking that it seems harder because I'm working too hard? I also have some action issues, It's a bit high, but if I lower it, I get more fret buzz than I think I want, and I don't really feel like putting in the time in my tiny room to really get in to the different aspects of setup, so it stays on the high side, etc. So that's another part of it.

    I'm not really looking for things that I should do, more an asking for confirmation on my diagnosis/PSA for others who might be harming their playing in the same way.
  4. jefkritz


    Oct 20, 2007
    iowa city, IA
    short answer: yes.

    try stretching. it helps. a lot.

    stick your arm out in front of you, with your palm down. use your other hand to gently pull your hand up, bending at the wrist. then, do the same thing, but down. switch hands. you might even try using your other hand to gently move your thumb in circles. gently is the key word here, in case you missed that. don't break yourself. ease into it.

    also, i was going to suggest getting a headphone amp, or better yet, a mixer. because then, in addition to a way to listen to bass on headphones, you have a mixer. but, as you aren't looking for this sort of thing...
  5. Schmorgy


    Jul 2, 2012
    I had the same problem, having to downsize amps when moving into an apartment and the resulting finger fatigue from subconsciously playing harder to overcome a small amp(someone really needs to make cheap soundproof rental properties around here). So I went out and bought a USB DI for my computer. Not that I'm going to endorse any one brand but the one I use simply due to low cost was the Line 6 POD GX, but M-Audio as well as several other manufacturers make comparable products. The mainline is that you can use headphones and have them as loud or soft as you want. I find that when I have them louder, my playing gets inherently softer and vice versa, so having the option to go either way without upsetting neighbours is definitely a better option than constant hand fatigue.
  6. I have definitely experienced that. In my opinion, practicing
    at low volumes also masks imperfections in your playing style.
    You need some volume to hear it properly and play it properly.
  7. AuntieBeeb


    Dec 12, 2010
    Turn the amp up a little.

    I've found the same problem at gigs and rehearsals: if my amp's being drowned out by guitars or drums, I will play harder just to be able to hear myself. Whereas if I turn the amp up a little, I can hear myself properly, and I don't need to play as hard. As a result my right-hand doesn't get anything like as tired.
  8. hampulator


    Feb 10, 2012
    I use head phones. Cordless Rocket Fish brand off E-Bay for like $25. Nice sound and good low end...and no freaking cords in the way. And I can play loud all night here at my ****** apt.
    And stretch like dude says above.
  9. This is my approach to "keeping it down" as well. Instead of having to change the way you play in order to compensate for the volume level, a pair of decent headphones would let you play the way you should without the noise factor.
  10. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Seriously folks, playing at low volumes.......is bad for your technique?.......never heard of such rubbish.
    The ability to control your volume is a skill...not a amp issue.
    I practiced without amps (as other have done) for years and it never done us any harm, in fact maybe the opposite, maybe I developed control and tone of my instrument through my instrument, not whatever amp happened to be there.:)
  11. ^^ Playing at a volume so low you can't hear inconsistencies could steer you in the wrong direction.

    To the OP: everyone beat me to it, get some sort of device that lets yuo play at loud volumes without disturbing everyone. Other than headphone amps, there are also these little "amp plugs" or whatever they call them that are are basically mini amps with a headphone output. It's not like the real thing, but as a practice tool, it's invaluable. If you put your strap on, you could put it in your pocket and roam around while playing. Bonus points for looking ridonculous, I always say.

    - Arvind
  12. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Get a headphone amp.
  13. I do agree, except when you're in a situation where you need to hold back so much for the sake of not causing disturbance to others that you end up having to use different techniques while practicing vs. when you're performing.

    When I try to practice without an amp, it creates another problem - playing harder than necessary for the sake of being able to hear what I'm doing, which tends to have the exact opposite affect of having to hold back too much to keep the volume level down.
  14. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Try feeling what you play and seeing what you play, playing is not about hearing..... it is about playing.
    What i am are talking about has nothing to do with amps or volume because that means tone....tone is personal projection of what a person believes is sound and when amps get involved it is all personal baggage and one I do not subscribe to as I give no amp credit for how I sound.

    So that means anyone that plugs in to an amp or is miked up, so from guitarists to drummers...I have never ever heard of any orchestra player complain that not using an amp has harmed their technique, nor have I ever heard it from any acoustic player of an instrument make the same claim.
    If there is a problem then it is the sound engineers, if no engineers are being used then if everyone turns down the problem is solved.
    Point of fact, no-one should be louder than the most acoustic thing on a stage when using an amp, if you are..then what is the point of an acoustic instrument being on stage?

    If you play at low volume or use no amp you not only should be able to hear the notes, you should be able to feel them resonate through the instrument, if not then maybe your playing technique is not good enough.....think on this, if you cannot hear yourself clear at low volume, then why would you think a higher volume is any clearer.....un-less you are defining clear as loud.

    A clear sound is a clear sound at any volume, an audible sound sound takes practice because we all have the ability to hear different things, and we have the ability to learn to hear if we take the time.
    If we learn to hear and feel out bass through practice then all an amp does is amplify what is being created....so if it is a clear sound....it amplifies a clear sound, and of course visa versa depending on how much it has been developed.:)
  15. rupture

    rupture Supporting Member

    Jan 27, 2012
    I agree, I play with no amp alot and I hear and feel evrything. I do play a Ric though and they sound great unplugged
  16. Fergie Fulton, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective.

    Coming from an acoustic guitar background and being still relatively new to the bass (or any "electric" instrument for that matter), my mind still has a hard time distinguishing between an unamplified acoustic instrument and an unplugged electric instrument. Call it immaturity (as a bassist) on my part.

    To the OP, as for the question of whether playing at a low volume level is bad for your technique or not, it all depends on how you approach it. If you need to hold back too much, or even modify your overall technique, when practicing simply because you're worried about causing disturbance for others, it could possibly hinder your progress. I think the point of the matter is for you to be able to find a way that works for you to be able to practice without the psychological handicap of being overly concerned about your volume level.

    Hope this is making sense. ;)
  17. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    This is basically the story of my entire bass playing career - being audible at the lowest possible volumes. To me, a "good" tone is one that can be heard in a mix at as low a volume as I can get.

    So yes I think this is probably a tone issue. If you can't get the sound you want at the volume you want, without having to break your arm, I consider it a tone problem. I did the majority of my gigging with the worst offender in this regard (Rick 4001/3) without really realizing that there were alternatives that didn't require me to hammer so hard on the instrument.

    This can vary with musical style also, eg. if it's blues or basic C&W, a woolier P-bass type of tone or even a Rick with the neck PU on will still work at low volumes with a light touch. But speed it up a bit and you may find yourself really having to tear it up and still be heard.

    When I finally discovered the fretless and then later Carvin, all those problems seemed to go away for me. I now have a 5W roland cube that I do all my practicing on and a good clear tone with light touch is easy.

    So yes I BTDT for many years and for me it turned out to be the bass. Some improvements in my technique helped a bit also, but the lion's share of the problem was a muddy tone.

    YMMV, of course....

  18. I bought a cheap 30 buck amp when I first got to Japan for the same reason. I bet if you learn how to play with a softer technique and low volume, you'll find the sweet spot on your amp. I mean a 15watt amp isn't much so learn how to use it at low volumes where it sounds good with a soft touch. Your technique will get better and you wont bother your neighbors.
  19. I started out playing bass without an amp and did so until I joined a band. I'd say that my fingerstyle really suffered from it, as I unconsciously compensated for the lack of amplification with more force - just to hear better what I'm playing. Suddenly with amplification my low volume playing was loud as heck and I've only recently managed to get my dynamics to a decent level with a lot of practice (still digging a bit too deep sometimes). If I was to start again, I'd get a nice combo with a headphone out.

    OP, you might already have thought about this, but if you're going to go the headphone route, I recommend that you get a decent pair of studio headphones, as the average hifi-headphones usually mangle the actual input in favour of the "perfect hi-fi audio experience". I use AKG K271 MKII's as they seem flat/neutral enough for my ear, but there are loads of good alternatives as well.