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Playing the bass with small hands (and finger pads)

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by jbdoublebass12, Dec 4, 2012.

  1. Hey everyone,
    I have a legitimate question and concern and value any input I can get. I've been playing the bass for a long time and can say I have a pretty good handle on the technical aspects of the instrument. However, my recent concern has been that having very small fingers is limiting my technical ability. Just getting good contact with the "bridge cables" that we call strings is very difficult due to lack of fleshy paddage on the tips of my index and middle fingers. In addition to this, even with a shorter string length it is nearly impossible for me to to a whole-step trill in thumb position. In a nutshell, I have to focus so much attention on these little things that it is distracting from broader musical concepts and technique in the right arm.

    I look at all these great players and see that almost all of them have huge fingers and playing difficult technical passages looks almost effortless for them. Seriously though, sometimes I can't help thinking that no matter how hard I work, I will always have physical limitations. Should I switch to cello?? Someone please give me some inspiration! Thanks, JB
  2. Adam Attard

    Adam Attard

    Feb 9, 2009
    I remember one of the summers I went to Interlochen, Larry Hurst (one of the teachers there, also was the professor at IU for a really long time and just retired) talked to me in one of our lessons about one of his ex students, Ju-Fang Liu, whose now the principal of the Indianapolis Symphony. I had been asking about how to make a certain shift work, and he started talking about how if Ju-Fang, whose hands (like yours) were quite on the smaller side, and who was a lot shorter than me could make it work, than so could I. That, and he mentioned she plate the same size 3/4 bass with the orchestra.
    It make take some extra work, but just because your a little petite or have small hands doesn't negate you from being a great bassist.
  3. Everyone has physical limitations, that's just what makes the bass a challenge. What you do with them is this: work out what they are, how to approach each one, and practice till the solution is automatic. That process is a skill in itself, and by getting better at figuring out those physical approaches, you can learn technique and repertoire quicker.

    Getting to the point where playing looks effortless takes a long time for anyone, large or small. It's just that once all the issues are solved, then it does look effortless... you don't see the effort because it has been and gone by the time you get to a performance.
  4. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    Ju-Fang is petite and does indeed have very small hands. I remember her playing a recital where she had to stand on her toes to hit the top notes in a passage... Niels Henning had small hands as well. There is nothing small about the music of either of these people.
  5. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Also, neither Gary Karr or Joel Quarrington have particularly large hands. They're not petite, but nor are they Andre the Giant hands either.
  6. Hevy T

    Hevy T Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2011
    Lethbridge, AB Canada
    I have small hands with arthritis and lost a finger several years ago. I agree you can overcome anything with a positive attitude and practice. I had to reteach my self how to slap and how to hit the higher strings without my ring finger. I used to use it all the time. But I have modified my style and carried on. Have the attitude that you have to do whatever it takes to get from point a to point b
  7. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Anybody remember Vinne Burke?
  8. MarcMurder

    MarcMurder #IIAmerica

    Mar 9, 2010
    El Paso, Texas
    i actually have pretty small hands and fingers. i never really though too much about it until i joined a band and the parts called hammer ons from the 1st and 4th fret. eventually i just started getting really good at tapping and that was that. so i guess having small hands helped me get better in a way
  9. A Spotless Mind

    A Spotless Mind

    Aug 18, 2009
    To anyone worried they can't play the bass because of physical limitations, I have two words for you: Harold Robinson.
  10. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    and Vinnie Burke.
  11. No left pinky? What was the story? I can't find any pictures of his left hand.
  12. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    I don't know how he lost it-- or the use of it, during the war, the big one, but he switched to bass from guitar and taught himself, Django-like, to play. And he sure could play! With Tal Farlow and Eddie Costa in a trio and with his own bands.
  13. This is the only picture I could find of Vinnie Burke. Eddie Costa, Tal and Vinnie Burke had a real great feel. I have an album with Tal, Jack Six and pianist John Scully that's really nice too. Jack has that time feel that reminds me of Vinnie Burke. Scully used to play alot with Lyn Christie too with Tal. I think they ALL lived in Jersey. Sorry for the OT.

    Attached Files:

  14. atomicdog


    Jun 18, 2011
    I know you're a DB player, but . . . . This is why God invented the Jazz Bass (OK, Leo Fender). Narrow, sleek neck perfect for small hands (like mine). Also, short-scale basses like the Fender Mustang or Hofner Icon (or any Hofner bass, really) or Danelectro Longhorn are easy on the hands.
  15. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Unfortunately, in the double bass realm we do not have Fender basses.
  16. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Small world-- once again. I knew John Scully well. He lived here in PA. He was a fantastic player. I played with him occasionally until he hooked up with a young whipper-snapper, Tony Marino, on bass. He soon became the house band at Tamiment Resort. Later, after Tamiment, he and my wife, Judy Lincoln, who had been the vocalist on the gig, formed a club date quintet with Tony, Bob D'Versa on drums and Nelson Hill on alto. They made a neat demo and were starting to get a lot of really good work when John became ill and passed away much too soon from cancer. John could play anything and even composed an extended classical piece, a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Sadly, I've never heard it.
    Oops! This is OT, too. Sorry.
  17. Adam Attard

    Adam Attard

    Feb 9, 2009
    That seems like it would be quite a sight to see... But obviously she makes it work, just like the OP or anyone can.

    Sidenote: I'm looking forward to hearing her play at ISB, as well. The lineup for both the jazz and classical looks fantastic this year.
  18. Indybass091


    Mar 1, 2009
    While Ju-Fang has small hands, if you see her play, you'll notice that her tendon flexibility is quite impressive. She makes up for size with stretching ability, and she's also a great pianist.

    Bottom line with small hands is to not let it become a crutch to blame any lack of progress on. Continue doing stretching exercises and find ways to make things work one hurdle at a time. Some passages may need a new fingering while other places you may just need to figure out a different way to perform the shift.
  19. Leo fender apparently did not intend anyone to bow his basses. ;)
  20. Don't worry about trying to play with that perfect "academic" hand curvature and at the tips of your fingers all the time- everybody's hands work differently and you could be limiting yourself by trying to play in a way that isn't natural for you. I sometimes play with flat/collapsed fingers just for the purpose of getting more paddage onto the string (I also have pretty small fingers). You can always substitute for size with speed, flexibility, and accuracy. Also keep in mind that while the left hand gives you intonation and vibrato, 90% of your sound quality comes from how you use the bow so never stop working on the right arm! Best of luck to you.