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Small hands, intonation issues, please help?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Kaleidescapist, May 10, 2011.


  1. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    I've got very small hands, and I'm having a rather hard time playing in tune on my fretless. I just can't reach far enough without shifting every couple of notes, and I'm told that playing short-scale instruments would really help me. The thing is - I really want to avoid that, if I can. I'd hate to limit my selection of instruments to the rather small pool of decent short-scale basses out there (excepting, of course, the beautiful custom jobs I can't afford). I'd also hate to trade in my gorgeous 80s Foundation S fretless for an Epiphone or SX.

    So - perhaps this is a stupid question, but - can technique help me? I've only been playing for a couple of months, and I've not yet been able to find a teacher to ask this sort of thing. My cello teachers were always telling me to deal with the pain of trying to reach farther, and just do it - and that led to years of tendinitis and assorted other hand problems. Possibly I had poor teachers though, and it wouldn't have been such an issue if they'd shown me how to just do it without damaging myself.

    Advice, tips, suggestions? Sorry I've not articulated my problem so well, but I'm a little hindered by not knowing exactly what to ask. I'd love to hear from other people with small hands, about how you've conquered that roadblock. Thanks!
     
  2. RileyHagan

    RileyHagan

    Feb 16, 2010
    I teach online bass lessons with skype. If you'd like, I offer a free 30-minute introductory lesson. I could show you a few exercises that help with intonation no matter what size your hands are :)

    Online Bass Lessons
     
  3. 49sfine

    49sfine

    Apr 20, 2008
    Austin, Texas
    I think I have a similar problem although I do not yet have a teacher to explore the remedies. I currently have several basses, both fretted and fretless, some 34", one @ 32" (fretted), one @31" (fanned frets) and 2 that are 30" (fretless). I have to admit the 30" and 32" basses are much easier to play due to my lack of finger spread between first and pinkie fingers. Since I am a beginner, I am not sure what to do about it, but hurting myself is not an option. If I have too, I'll make my own bass! I already refinish and refine Wishbasses as a hobby so the next logical step is building my own. I hear Birdsong makes a killer short scale, but you're looking at 2K to get started. All my other basses were under $500 and some much less than that.
     
  4. 49sfine

    49sfine

    Apr 20, 2008
    Austin, Texas
    Great! You might be exactly who I am looking for. What does it take to get set up with Sykpe? I know nothing about it really.
     
  5. so- between your index and pinky finger, how many half steps can you cover? is it painful to stretch, or just a lack of indurance and/or muscle memory? ive played with a guitar player that had an extra bone in his pinky that made it curl in more (not saying this is the case for you), and he just learned to play around it.

    it would help for yourself, and others giving advice to know if you are just at a physical limitation, or if this is something that can be realistically taught. there are certain anatomical barriers that cannot ever be overcome. anything else though? work at it... maybe the new teacher thing isnt a bad idea, but i would make sure that thats your problem.

    oh- and what does your current instructor say about this? i should hope you wouldve asked by now.
     
  6. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Nashville,TN
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    You can try Simandl fingering 1-2-4 rather than guitar fingering 1-2-3-4. If you keep your thumb in the center of the neck and use a pivot technique a la Carol Kaye that's a workaround for small hands.
     
  7. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    +1

    I was taught the Simandl method for double bass when I started playing in '68, and because my hands were small, I applied the technique to electric bass until I became comfortable and proficient enough to remain in tune using the 1-2-3-4 method.

    I taught the Simandl method when I began teaching middle-school students several years ago, and it worked well for them, too.

    In addition to improving one's ability to play a fretless bass in tune, the Simandl method provides a great foundation for sight-reading.
     
  8. RileyHagan

    RileyHagan

    Feb 16, 2010
    Skype is pretty easy to set up, shoot me an Email to riley@basslessonsunlimited.com and we'll go over the details.
     
  9. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    Between index and pinky, I can cover not-quite 3 half steps. That's if I really overextend. It's not really a lack of endurance issue; I'm a classically trained cellist, so my hands are used to being tormented. It just hurts, and that can't possibly be good. This might be because, on bass, I'm self-taught and have cruddy technique, or it might be because my hand is 6.5" long, from the tip of my longest finger to where the palm joins the wrist. I don't have a good frame of reference to help me figure out what exactly the problem is.

    Re: instructor - as said above, I don't currrently have one. I'm looking, but there aren't many where I live, and I'm holding out for one who plays better than I do... I really want to find a good teacher though.

    Thanks for the helpful response - it's good to have a better idea of what I want to be asking here.
     
  10. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    Oh, thanks a lot! I'll definitely give this a try. I think my Dad actually has the Simandl book somewhere in his upright bass stash. I'd certainly love to play better in tune. Sight-reading's not really an issue for me (classical training for the win!), but it's always good to have the extra practise anyhow.
     
  11. Pookastudio

    Pookastudio

    May 10, 2011
    I too have a really small hand. Smaller string length helps as does the doublebass mindset. Simandl fingerings are best and learning to shift. Great for melodic line playing a little harder to chord. Using the second finger as a pivot can work sometimes. I play Doublebass and cello and of the two the cello hurts my hand inspite of it's smaller size. There are too many hand extensions. My bass playing looks like a hand moving as a unit and not like four outstretched fingers. Small hand, not easy to work with all the time. Can be done though and ... What a great instrument!
     
  12. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    Smaller string length - so, does that mean you play a short scale instrument, as well as using Simandl fingering? My bass friends keep telling me I should get a Mustang or something like that, and, though I'm a bit reluctant to limit my instrument choice, I DO want to be more comfortable playing.

    It's great to hear from someone who has the same issue with small hands - yeah, the extensions on cello are a problem, at least for me! So on double bass, you just avoid extending, and shift a lot more? I've never played one, so I'm not familiar with the way it's done.
     
  13. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Nashville,TN
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    These guys might be an option. They specialize in Medium/Short Scale Basses and could probably whip up a nice fretless for you.
    Birdsong - Professional hand built short scale basses
     
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    Colorado
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    I have noticed that bass players with big hands tend to use fingers 123 on their left hand a lot and not use the little finger very much. But guys with small hands tend to use fingers 124 and not use the ring finger very much.
     
  15. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    Mm, yes, only in my dreams though. Those are gorgeous - I've gotten to play one, and it was a delight. I'm at more of a $350-from-the-pawn-shop stage of bass buying though, else I'd just get a nice Ex Factor from Mr. Kubicki...
     
  16. Gaius46

    Gaius46

    Dec 15, 2010
    My hands are probably about average sized but I have a hard time covering more than 2 semitones in the lower registers on my 35" scale fretless. So below A on the E string
    I use 124. I also seem to have an easier time with intonation using that fingering.

    Above that and on my 34" scale fretless I tend to use 123.
     
  17. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Believe it or not, your hands aren't that small. My hand is 7 3/8" long, from the tip of my longest finger to where the palm joins the wrist.

    You may be gripping the neck and strings too tightly, or anchoring your thumb too rigidly on the back of the neck. Your left hand should be as relaxed as possible.

    Is the tension on your strings too high? You may want to try strings that have less tension? If you're experiencing inordinate fret buzz, you may want to have your frets leveled and re-crowned, and/or switch to flat-wounds. Have you had your bass set up professionally? Are the strings too high? Does your fingerboard have enough relief? Are the slots in your nut deep enough? What do proficient bassists have to say about your instrument and your technique?
     
  18. crustychef

    crustychef

    Apr 4, 2009
    Seattle WA
    I have small hands and can just make the stretch to 1234 at 1st position on a fretted 34" scale bass. I can't play a 35". On my fretless I play 1 2 4 and pivot on my thumb more. On fretted I use combination of 124 and 1234. stretching your hands a lot helps too. Just 5 minutes a day.
     
  19. oh- i missed the part about the instructor (read it as you just not being happy with your current instructor... who i now know doesnt exist). you cant teach through a physical limitation.

    if you cant fret 1234, then you are just going to have to do a lot of position shifts. i know its not the most efficient way to play those notes, but it seems like thats your best bet. i mean, if it really does hurt, and isnt just soreness, then i dont think you want to push it too much. if you do get an instructor, just make sure you are very vocal when you are in pain.

    i can hold my index on the first fret and hit the 5th with my pinky without problems. however, i also wear my bass really high. if i wear it lower, the wrist angle and all makes that stretch impossible. strap adjustment experimentation could be beneficial as well. still, even though i can span fairly large gaps, i will still play the first three frets that 1-2-4 way, and ignore the ring finger. its more comfortable.

    i do hope you pay attention to nerve and tendon pain and dont always assume no pain no gain. you can just end up hurting yourself, and being forced to take weeks off to heal.
     
  20. Kaleidescapist

    Kaleidescapist

    Mar 4, 2011
    Hmm, I'll try wearing my bass a little higher and see if that might help. I've experimented with that kind of positioning a little bit, but I haven't really tried wearing it like a classical guitarist or a Beatle might.

    Definitely thanks for the admonition about paying attention to pain! I'm pretty aware of that, thanks to having learned the hard way when I was going to music school with my cello and ignoring tendon pain because I had to practise more. It's really good to be reminded though - it's so easy to tell myself to just work through the pain >.<
     

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