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Pain - Am I doing it wrong or is this part of learning?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Skyl3r, Sep 18, 2019.

  1. Skyl3r


    Aug 29, 2019
    Ohio, USA

    The problem I'm experiencing is a pain in my fretting hand when I extend my fingers and then close my hand into a fist or curl my fingers again. The pain is at the base of my fingers and between the base of my fingers and my knuckle. I did not play yesterday to give my hand a break and the pain still exists about the same today.

    I'm a fairly new player to bass - I've been playing roughly 2 months and I've been playing around an hour or two per day. I've been practicing keeping my thumb on the back of the neck and parallel to my middle finger. I believe the pain may have started after doing this and practicing scales. My fingers never had to stretch this much to reach scales on guitar :)

    So I guess what I want to know is, for a new player to bass, I'm assuming there's muscles in your hand that you should expect will be sore after extended practice sessions and of course your finger tips must develop callouses - but what pains should I expect and is there any golden rule to know if a pain is in the wrong spot or lasting too long to where I should be very cautious so as not to cause myself any serious injury?


    MCF likes this.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Pain is not normal. Soreness is not normal. Something is wrong with your technique. If you post a video or some "hand selfies" I'm sure you'll get lots of good suggestions from the community. :)

    The two "red flags" in your post were:

    1) "Keeping my thumb on the back of the neck and parallel to my middle finger." The danger of this technique is that it compresses your palm so your "life line" looks like a butt crack. This can be very harmful! Try repositioning your thumb so that your palm is open, wide, and smooth. Many players find it is more comfortable to angle their thumb toward the headstock (like a hitchhiker) or to wrap it around the neck. Personally, I like to imagine that I am wearing a catcher's mitt and someone is throwing me a baseball. I want my palm to be as wide as possible to make a big target for the pitcher to throw the ball.

    2) You mention "stretching." Don't do that. Seriously. If you can't reach a note without stretching your fingers apart like crazy spider legs, shift your entire hand.

    My suggestion is to go on YouTube and study the technique of successful players who have had decades-long careers. I'm not talking about virtuoso players like Manring or Wooten, but rather "meat and potatoes" type players who hold it down in the rhythm section: Pino Paladino, Daryl Jones, John McVie, Paul Jackson, Adam Clayton, Bobby Vega, Carol Kaye, and so forth. I think you will find the actual techniques used by pro players are very different from the techniques that you are currently practicing and are causing pain. Ouch!!

    Also, 2 hours is a long time for a beginner to practice. Try breaking it into 20-30 minute sessions with breaks in between.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  3. seilerbird


    Apr 12, 2012
    I find that a lot of beginners hold their guitar wrong. They hold the neck very close to their body so they can see the frets. Totally wrong. Hold it like a machine gun with your neck hand at about a foot away from your body, not tucked in up close. That puts your shoulder, your elbow and your wrist in a bad position. When I look down on my guitar it is at about a 45 degree angle from my body.
  4. RichardW


    Feb 25, 2016
    near Philly
    You will benefit from sitting down with an actual bass teacher who can watch what you're doing, correct any poor technique, and offer guidance on proper technique.

    Also, playing up to 2 hours a day is a lot, especially for a beginning. You might be experiencing discomfort from overuse without properly building up your hand strength. As an experiment, I would take a break for a couple of days and see if the pain resolves.
  5. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    @Mushroo mentioned red flags.

    This ^^ is the red flag for me. Your hand should be relaxed and free to glide parallel with the strings using the pad of the thumb as a pivot point. In doing so the thumb will naturally move away from it's notional vertical position as your fingertips move up and down. The pictures below, which I've already posted elsewhere, show the thumb at the same place on the neck as the rest of the hand moves up and down the neck. They are extreme but illustrate the point....
    Thumb_01. Thumb_02.
  6. eJake


    May 22, 2011
    New Orleans
    +1 to @Mushroo post.

    IMO there is no "too much practicing" but one must practice smart. Pain is an immediate flag to rest. Also make sure you're hydrated, this helps keep your muscles loose.

    Fix that technique and keep on shedding!!
    bass-icly me likes this.
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Thank you @SteveCS for posting your photo of "extreme butt crack palm." I can see how the area near the base of your ring and pinky fingers is turning white from lack of circulation. I think this is the same area where the OP is experiencing pain. It is a helpful visualization of the concept. :)
    bass-icly me likes this.
  8. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Not a bit. If my hand was any more relaxed it would be falling off! Whatever you see must be photographic artefacts - reflections, shadows and the like. It's certainly not lack of blood and I never feel any pain, even after 4 hours or more.
    Mike Whitfield likes this.
  9. Skyl3r


    Aug 29, 2019
    Ohio, USA
    Wow, thanks for the quick and detailed responses.
    I'll probably take another day off of playing today to see if the pain is gone tomorrow.

    @Mushroo I'll see if I can get a video running through a scale or something to show what I'm doing. I did notice that when I first started playing and I was not paying attention to posture, I was just holding my hand how I felt comfortable and I did not get pain apart from just developing callouses. I just am not sure if this pain I'm experiencing now is from extended use over the last month or from bad posture over the last week or two.
    I'll take your advice and study how some of those bassists do posture.

    @seilerbird I did play guitar for a decent amount of time with a teacher, and I'm holding the bass essentially the same way as I'd hold a guitar. I don't really have to look for fretting or anything, so I think where I have the bass itself positioned is likely not the issue. I probably should have mentioned that in my first post :) Thanks though.

    @RichardW I'm sure you're right :p I've just been hoping to avoid spending the money, but perhaps it'd be worth it to set me off on the right track.

    @SteveCS Thanks for the images. I'm unsure if I was doing that, as I wasn't really thinking about it while playing. I'll focus more on what my hand is doing to try to see.

    Thanks everyone!
  10. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    San Diego, CA
    Too much. Stop for a week and then start with a more sane schedule, like 15 minutes per day. Look at SteveCS's post above for hand position. If anything starts hurting, you stop and take the next day off.
    lfmn16 and SteveCS like this.
  11. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    As mentioned in bass there is no pain, so if there is pain something is wrong.

    Practice session more than 40 minutes could be one of the reasons. Forty minutes then a fifteen minute rest and you are good for another forty minute session should you want.

    We all have different size hands and fingers, if you need to slide a little I'm not going to tell.

    Major scale box showing scale degree numbers
    and the root note on the 4th string.
    G|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    Place the R over your root note then play
    the spelling for what you want. Cmaj7 chord's
    spelling is R-3-5-7. C major scale spelling is
    R-2-3-4-5-6-7. If the little finger needs to slide
    a little, better to slide than damage your hand.
    Here are the spellings on most of what you will be needing: Guitar chord reference table - how to build guitar chords - summary of chord types, chord symbols and spellings

    Using the box and running your scales and chord tones should get your fingers doing what they should be doing. How many times? A zillion should do it.

    Happy trails.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
    MCF and Outshined91 like this.
  12. 707GK


    Jun 13, 2013
    Northern California
    The only pain that’s acceptable is the pain from lactic acid after working muscles in your hand/forearm that you’re not used to using.

    Others have posted great solutions, good luck and don’t hurt yourself!
  13. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    +1 on there should be no pain - you're doing something wrong (soreness is part of muscle development, but pain is not part of the equation)
    +1 on shortening your practice times. You can still get your 2 hours in but do it in 30 minute increments with goodly breaks in between
    +1 on hooking up with a teacher even if it's just to evaluate your position. Learn "right" now so you don't have to come back later and fix something - it's much harder to unlearn bad habits than to learn it right the first time.

    Make sure you're in a position where your wrist is not severely bent - that cuts off circulation and restricts your ability to fan your fingers.

    This is not guitar, it's bass. We're not all blessed with the ability to span 4 frets. I have fairly large hands and cannot comfortably span four frets at the nut end of the neck. If you're focused on working out 1 finger per fret (1FPF) technique, remember that it's OK to shift your hand a little if you need to - it's easy to assume that the 1FPF eliminates the need to shift, but it's simply not the case. Yes some players can span frets 1 through 5 with little trouble, but I think most of us have to shift to work 1FPF in first position.

    I'm not sure, but I don't think that's necessary. My thumb moves where it needs to support what I'm dog with the other 4 fingers. It is generally behind my fingers but may slide up over the top of the neck or slide down towards the underside (when reaching for a top string). It may be pointed up, it may be pointing towards the headstock; the point is my thumb does not restrict my finger movement. Again, this may be considered poor technique as a rule, but it works for me.

    Keep in mind that "proper technique" tends to be more of a starting point than an end game. We all have different physiologies, so what works for me, may not work for you. Starting with "proper technique" simply gives you somewhere to explore from. this is where an instructor would be beneficial - they should be able to offer suggestions on what YOU should try to get pain free.
    bass-icly me, whero and Yonni like this.
  14. I leave my thumb wherever its comfortable. I don't use it much at all anyway. It's more of a muting finger when I'm playing different ways, than a squeezing point. Almost all of my finger pressure is coming from my forearm. It could simply be that you're squeezing too hard, and straining yourself. You shouldn't have to.
    bass-icly me and Yonni like this.
  15. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    You'll of course have to bend your wrist to some extent depending on what you are playing. But the default should be as-straight-as-possible-as-much-as-possible.
    bass-icly me and Malcolm35 like this.
  16. I benefited a lot from this video:

    If you are coming from guitar, you might be taught that there is one right position of the left hand. No; the bass neck is too long. Hand position likes to be different down on the neck, in the middle, up the neck. Comfortability and flexibility is what you want to achieve.
    bass-icly me and Yonni like this.
  17. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    My mistake. I thought you were very clearly posting an example of what NOT to do. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. ;)
  18. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Ha! I expunged what not to do about 35 years ago, and since I've never practiced what not to do I probably couldn't demonstrate it even if I wanted to. The point of those pictures is to show how a loosly-located thumb can pivot on the back of the neck, driven from upper arm movrment, to move the hand up and down without affecting hand posture. Every joint is relaxed, nothing is locked and the curvature required to get fingertip to string is spread evenly from wrist to fingertip. If I had the cramped gnarly death grip you allude to none of this would be possible.
    Here's the view from the front...
  19. bfields


    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    If you want to channel that enthusiasm into some more practice time but without overusing your hands--I'm a big fan of mental practice. If you look around you can important tasks that you can work on away from the bass--ear training, fretboard memorization, rhythm reading, etc.

    Also, when I'm practicing I like to work on a lot of little things. I never stick to any one exercise for more than a few minutes. I like to think that also makes me a little less likely to hurt anything.

    And these days, if anything hurts or feels tense or uncomfortable I try to stop what I'm doing right there and figure out what's going on. Your body and habits is different from any of ours, so don't take our advice here as gospel, take it as a source of ideas to experiment with.
  20. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Here's a great example of the fundamental "meat and potatoes" left-hand technique used by most rock bassists. A beginner such as yourself would do well to study this popular technique. Notice how 1) Adam's wrist is straight, 2) his thumb is not awkwardly contorted (we can't see his palm, but it probably doesn't look like a butt), 3) his fingers are close together, and 4) he shifts comfortably, using the whole neck. I also like the way he takes his left hand off the neck when he is playing open strings; this is a great way to keep the blood flowing and avoid cramps.

    Doesn't he look so relaxed and confident?

    bass-icly me and NaH like this.

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