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Relaxation...My Achiiles Heel

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by JimmyM, Jan 10, 2017.

  1. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I'm a good bassist and have made a living at it for years now, but one thing that has always bothered me is my lack of speed. I am OK with speed, but not for very long, and I've had people tell me it's because I tense up my right arm when the tempos get fast. Well how the heck do you not? And yet, I watch all manner of bassists not tense up their arm when the going gets fast, and I just don't get how they do it.

    What am I missing?
  2. White Beard

    White Beard

    Feb 12, 2013
    Well, without having watched you play or know what types of strings you generally use or what kind of bass, my first question is: why are you using your whole arm to pluck the strings? Just focus on moving your hand from the wrist down.
    After reading your post, I walked through a few choruses of "Mr. PC," which is generally a fast song. I'm mostly just moving my fingers. Lighter gauge strings can help, as you don't have to pull as hard. Also, I highly recommend a healthy dose of cheating. If you hit that string with your left hand fingers hard enough, you don't even have to pluck with the right.
    Andre678 and JimmyM like this.
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I'm not using my whole arm to pluck the strings. It just happens that I tighten up once I play something fast for a few seconds. And I do use quite light strings and very low action. I try to keep it confined to just the fingers, but then the wrist is the first to go, and then the whole forearm. I don't get it.

    But I DO cheat a lot!
    btmpancake likes this.
  4. White Beard

    White Beard

    Feb 12, 2013
    Then I don't know how I, or anyone else, can help you.

    I suggest some sort of vision quest involving peyote.

    In all seriousness, I think if you keep thinking about and working at it, it's just going to click one random day.
  5. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    New Jersey
    You're not confident enough in your own ability yet to not have to think about it. I'd say your chops just aren't up to par but you've been playing for years and years, so it's not a lack of chops.

    You're thinking too much about it in the moment, Jimbo.
  6. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Well my chops are enough to where I've maintained pretty steady employment and I can play most things that get thrown at me. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the guy you're going to call for a serious jazz gig. Used to not bother me so much, but lately it has because of my new band where I could use some Jaco chops. Maybe I just need to play 18 hours a day like Jaco did :D
    Roxbororob, Susqmike and Jloch86 like this.
  7. 1) I'm sure you've got chops. Honestly I find unnecessarily busy playing to be a turn off, and groove is the fun part anyway. I kinda feel like I'm saying "no honey, I wasn't looking at that woman", but hey, it's your choice whether or not you believe that.

    2) don't believe in yourself, believe in me who believes in you.

    3) perhaps pyramid technique might help. It takes forever, but I normally take my metronome, set it at its slowest setting, and practice a passage or exercise. Once the exercise is complete, go up maybe five or ten BPM and repeat. Keep doing this until you reach your limit. This can give you ample time to observe and correct technique to increase speed and precision. I've picked this up from boxing, where I'd start to practice a combo so slowly that I could observe and isolate every element of every movement, and would do it ten times at that speed, and slowly speed up until I would catch myself messing up again, then I'd slow back down. I tried this in China last year, and it worked great on bass (for developing technique and speed), too, but seem to have fallen back into an old rut now that I'm back in Windsor. I haven't picked up a bass outside of a gig or band practice on quite a while.
  8. btmpancake

    btmpancake Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2015
    Apollo beach, Florida
    For me; its called AGE. I feel no practice, technique or snake oils can give me back what I 'may' have had in the past. But is your music different or are you playing at a tempo you're not use to? MAN- I feel ya on the speed thing that's why I play less notes at faster tempos but ALSO know too that in my (cheating) heart I'm missing some beautiful fills and passing licks I just cant do anymore and it kinda sucks too because I can feel it and there's nothing I can do about it. Sorry I'm not helping any- your post sorta touched my soul somewhat.
    Roxbororob, Not yet and JimmyM like this.
  9. Runlikegregg


    Dec 31, 2011
    I wonder if it's just about working on not tensing up your arm.
    NealBass, bolophonic and HolmeBass like this.
  10. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    I use to do the same thing. The only thing that worked for me is practicing NOT tensing up. It sounds silly, but it actually worked.
  11. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Trinity, FL
    faster doesn't mean harder .. ?! it's not sex

    breathe ...
  12. Sixgunn


    Jun 6, 2012
    Colorado Springs
    I don't wait 30 minutes after eating, to go swimming.
    Oh it's not the speed really so much....

  13. scuzzy


    Feb 15, 2006
    Troy, MO
    slow is smooth, smooth is fast

    for me, slow is smooth, smooth is still slow, but ymmv.
    JimmyM likes this.
  14. JRA

    JRA what key? Supporting Member

    i tend to practice with a lighter touch and then get to the gig and sometimes find myself attacking rather than playing: i have to consciously reset = i'm fine. i have nights where i'm 'resetting' multiple times to get it right. for me: i think it often has to do with whether i'm hearing myself well or not.
  15. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    You and I both play upright as well as BG so I might have some insight. I found the same thing in my own playing. When I practice something fast on BG I need to use as little effort as possible and make as little sound as possible. I almost make my hands feel lazy. Sometimes not all the notes sound but I'm in time and fast (for me). From there I can clean it up. This flies in the face of what we need to do by default when I'm playing upright so I have to approach them as two completely different instruments. No surprise really.
    DrummerwStrings and JimmyM like this.
  16. Gaolee

    Gaolee Official leathers tester and crash dummy Supporting Member

    I'm a complete hack, so take this for what it's worth. I'm the last person who ought to give anybody advice on technique, but here goes anyway. It's just a matter of letting something else (the amp) do the work of making it loud enough. Fingers just move quickly and, with any luck, accurately and without a whole lot of exertion. I don't play with a pick worth squat, so if you are using a pick, never mind.

    The funny thing, if you can call it that, is I don't have callouses on my right fingers if I'm only playing BG. The callouses developed quickly when I started playing upright all the time. I guess that's because I don't dig in much on BG and just let the amp do its thing.
    interp and JimmyM like this.
  17. ric4682

    ric4682 Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2008
    I saw a video with Bubby Lewis and he said any time he's watching TV or something he just practices playing simple lines or straight 16th notes very quickly until his arm tenses up then he stops and gives it a few minutes and comes back to it again. I've been doing that and I've found it increased my stamina a decent amount. For playing bass that is ;)

    Also, ditto on playing softly.
    StatesideRambler and JimmyM like this.
  18. DD Gunz

    DD Gunz

    Jun 18, 2015
    This might sound strange but I find that lowering the bass on the strap can greatly reduce wrist fatigue and ultimately has increased my stamina while playing faster.

    This was suggested to me a few years ago and I put off trying it as it seemed hokey. The downside is that I find it more difficult to be busy with my left hand as the bass is lower. Luckily, songs requiring me to be faster with my right hand tend to be forgiving to my left. YRMV.
    Frenchy-Lefty and JimmyM like this.
  19. jtemple


    Sep 5, 2011
    Washington, MO
    I always thought of this as a mental block. I know when I'm anxious about playing a rather fast part my muscles also have a tendency to tighten. I have to consciously relax when I'm playing fast parts and remember to breathe! :)
    DrummerwStrings, HolmeBass and JimmyM like this.
  20. Mantis Tobaggan

    Mantis Tobaggan Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2015
    Tampa, FL
    I play in a metal band and have to play fast a lot. I deal with this same issue. It helps to find a bass height/ arm position that feels good for playing fast. Also, i shake out my lower arm a lot between songs. It still will feel tense but these things help. Also, there is one song in our set that we have to play early in the set because otherwise my arm will be too fatigued to play it. I too am interested in this topic and will maybe pick up some pointers!
    foolforthecity and JimmyM like this.