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Need some help with the left hand

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Microsoft1122, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. Microsoft1122


    Jan 6, 2014
    My name is Joe and I just recently got a bass and after watching a few tutorials decided to try some beginner warm ups. It is at the point I realized that at most I can only press maybe three frets at a time, and very uncomfortably at that, My wrist cannot turn and my pinkie has issues even reaching the E string. This may be due to injuries sustained during combat skills training when I was in tech school (active duty Air Force cop here). Just as some background I was the heavy weapons gunner and the constant stress of operating a M249 (without sling) gave me carpal tunnel in my left wrist, It was about a month before I could properly do more than 5 push ups and I would say I lost roughly 20% movement, I can still do normal day to day functions and duty functions with ease, but the lateral stretching and fine movements required to play the bass I find are difficult.
    Any Advice?
  2. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    We hear this right after Christmas a lot. New bassists getting started and asking their fingers to do things they have not done before, yes, it's going to take some time.

    As to your medical situation I'm not qualified to go there.

    The following pattern takes place over four frets, and you have four fingers. I'll not tell if you have to slide over some - right at first.
    Major Scale Box showing the scale degrees of the scale as numbers. 
    G|---9---|-------|--10---|--11---| 1st string
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    This pattern will give you one octave + four notes of the next octave. Be satisfied right now with just one octave.
    If you place the R (root of the scale, aka the first note of the scale) on the C note found on the 4th string 8th fret and then play the R-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 scale degrees within the box you just played the C major scale. Place the R on the forth string 10th fret and you will have the D major scale notes under your fingers. Notice I've got you up the neck, the frets are smaller here. See what you can do with the following scale patterns. Still having problems? The fretboard repeats itself at the 12th fret and those fret spaces are even smaller.

    • Major Scale = R-2-3-4-5-6-7 Home base
    • Major Pentatonic = R-2-3-5-6 Leave out the 4 & 7
    • Natural Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 Major scale with the 3, 6 & 7 flatted.
    • Minor Pentatonic = R-b3-4-5-b7 Leave out the 2 & 6.
    • Blues = R-b3-4-b5-5-b7 Minor pentatonic with the blue note b5 added.
    • Harmonic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-7 Natural minor with a natural 7.
    • Melodic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-6-7 Major scale with a b3.

    Few words on flatted notes, i.e. the b3, b6 and b7. To flat a note move back toward the nut one fret. To sharp (#) a note move one fret toward the sound hole. I catch my b3 right after the 2, the b6 will be on the next string up right over the b2 and the b7 will be right over the 4.

    Let the major scale be your home base then change a few notes and you have something different. No need to memorize a zillion patterns. Let the major scale pattern be your go to pattern - then adapt/adjust from there.

    Have fun running your scales - I know of no instrument that does not start you out running your scales. Gets your fingers moving over the fretboard and gets your ears used to the sound of the good and bad notes.

    Don't hurt yourself, but, see if you can operate up the neck in the smaller fret space. I think once your fingers get used to the pattern they will limber up.

    This may help:

    Good luck.
  3. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    Sounds like you should find yourself a good teacher. Very hard to be self-taught and learn all the proper mechanics involved with holding and playing the bass. Left hand position is critical to being a good player and a teacher will probably start there (if they are good). Good luck and welcome to the world of bass playing.
  4. philvanv

    philvanv Gerbil Turds, Kitsap County Turd Core

    Jul 2, 2012
    and at the bottom it says thank you, and now you can shag off
    Both very good adivce
  5. KeddyLee


    Nov 12, 2013
    Agreed. ^

    Best words of encouragement I received when I started? What you are struggling with today, you will be warming up with in a year.

    Very true words. At the beginning we all felt like, "My hand won't do that" or "I'll never be able to play this as fast as the record".

    If you stick with it, you will. Guaranteed!

    Good luck.
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    All good advice so far, especially for getting a teacher. In the meantime check out the clips below regarding L/H technique. Build up your playing time gradually until your hands have time to adjust.

    Also, before you pick up the bass, warm up with gentle stretches (search You Tube for "hand stretches for guitar").

    Cant offer any advice regarding your injury problems. Only thing I'd say is if at any time you experience pain while playing...stop immediatly, try to find the cause and correct accordingly. Never play through any pain.

    Hope this helps and best of luck. :)
  7. Welcome to the bass!

    My advice is, watch out for teachers who will try to force you to use "one finger per fret" fingering where your left hand stretches 4 frets. (This method seems to be very popular these days.)

    Find a teacher who understands and can teach "1-2-4" or "Simandl" fingering. This method uses a smaller left-hand "stretch" of 3 frets instead of 4 frets. It is how most upright bassists play because of the larger size of the instrument. I think it will be easier for you because of your carpal tunnel. There are a few players who substitute the 3rd (ring) finger instead of the 4th (pinkie) due to injury.

    Also you want to keep your shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist, hand, fingers, thumb totally relaxed and comfortable when you play. This will take a long time and lots of practice. A good teacher will help; also if you see a physical therapist or chiropractor, it might be a good idea to bring your bass to the next session to get some tips on posture.

    Finally make sure your bass has been properly set up with a low "action" so that you are not exerting too much force fighting the instrument. I find that if I play with a very light touch, and turn up my amp to compensate, I have more physical stamina/comfort.
  8. HardPuncher


    Jul 14, 2013
    Hey Joe,

    20 years of playing an instrument that put a lot of strain on my left wrist left me with tendonitis so bad that I had to give up that instrument entirely, but by being careful, and taking a few precautions, I've been able to pick up the bass, despite my RSI.

    To add to what everyone else has advised, I'd recommend that before you do your warmup (ALWAYS warmup before you play), run your wrist under some hot, but not scalding, water for 3-5 minutes, or apply a hot compress to it before you play. It aids circulation, can help free up the muscles/tendons in your hand, and reduces your chance of injury.

    Also, I always keep a neoprene constrictive band (Pro Orthotics sleeve type, w/o a strap or plastic insert-kept below the actual joint) on my wrists when I play, to increase blood flow, and prevent the vibrations from fretting/slapping etc. from running down my arm and aggravating my tendonitis.

    I'd say that proper placement of your left thumb and elbow, and right wrist are essential to healthy playing. No matter how many people you see wrapping their thumb over the top of the bass, DON'T DO IT. It's murder on your wrist.

    Do another warm-compress, followed by a cold one after you finish playing, and always stop playing -BEFORE- it hurts.

    Oh, and because I'm a dork, I had a friend make me some wool gloves that stop below the first knuckle on both hands. Not sure if I'd play a gig with them, but they keep my hands warm when I'm rehearsing or practicing at home.

    Be safe, be sane, and you'll get there!
  9. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Try not to see what other do on Youtube and the likes.
    First off you have to develop, so you need a stating point, remember when you started combat training what was the object of it, did you gain the skills at once, did the skills have many levels, and of course how much time did you pit in?

    Learning to play bass is the same, we start of with the basics and develop them for the need. If the song you are playing requires minimal finger use then minimal finger use it is.
    If the genre you play requires minimal finger use then developing any more than that is pointless if you are not going to use it.

    Stretches and warm ups are always good preparation, as are using wrist supports, wrist and forearm supports are great.
    Because you have a "day job" that use may always overcome what ever you try and develop in your playing.
    Many semi-pro and amateur players find that their own daily hand use makes it harder to develop the control they need for bass.
    They also find that if they give up their day job and concentrate on bass, their day job skills suffer as a result.
    All this shows is that daily use of any skill is practice and daily practice reinforces a use.

    We can practice to reinforce good skills, but only if the practice is relevant, this also implies practice can be irrelevant, we can practice bad to reinforce bad skills and never seem to move on, we can practice at being bad as easy as practicing at being good.
    This accounts for many players who put the hours in but never seem to improve...they are not practicing to improve...they are reinforcing what they do bad and making it easier to do it.

    So look at your favourite songs, pick an easy one, learn that, then pick another one and learn that. Then pick slightly harder ones, and then harder ones again and develop....so build into being a player.
    As said a teacher is the best way to do it...after all when you done combat training they never sent you to Youtube to work it out for yourself..........did they???? :)