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Sore Left Thumb

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by elvinstheman, Jun 21, 2005.

  1. elvinstheman


    Jun 16, 2005
    Seattle, USA
    I'm a jazz drummer/long-time bass guitarist just learning DB. I've been doing major scales and my left thumb gets numb after about a half hour. Am I doing something wrong or does one's thumb just have to get used to it like your posterior has to get used to riding a bike?

  2. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    First of all, welcome to the dark side from whence there is no return. The big beast is physically challenging but with proper technique you shouldn't be sore even if you have to play loudly for two hours straight.

    Odds are you're doing something wrong. Can you get a teacher? It's a very good idea to develop good habits early. It could be that you're not balancing the bass properly so you're having to hold it up with your hand. Could be that you're gripping the neck too hard. Could be that your wrist or elbow isn't angled right.
  3. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Do you have a double-jointed thumb, or "hitchhiker's thumb"?

    I was asking about this a few weeks back in this thread. There's a link in there that takes you to a genetics site where there's a good picture of the thumb.

    It may not be "poor" technique, it may just be technique not suited to your anatomy. But of course, you really should check it out with a teacher or some experienced players...
  4. edvon


    Apr 4, 2004
    Hi, I've been playing BG for a while and DB for not quite one year now, and I had similar problems with my LH thumb.
    My teacher pointed out two things:

    1. I "collapsed" my thumb instead or arching it slightly almost like the bow hold for a french bow. Now I watched closely and saw that many experienced players don't arch their thumbs but I gave it a shot anyway and it helped.

    2. He asked me to work on a LH technique that includes the weight of the whole arm including shoulder to stop the strings rather than a squeezing grip of only the hand. This I found very hard but I am working on it, and it has already shown some success.
    Rufus Reid I believe mentions this on his DVD as well.

    Saying that I believe what was said in this place many times, everyones anatomy is different so approaches to develop technique will be different too. But from someone who suffered "pain in the thumb" before, be patient and observant and look at the small improvements. Hope I could be of some help, keep us updated about your progress.
  5. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    I had this problem, too, early on and my teacher explained that you really shouldn't be squeezing much between your thumb and your fingers to press the strings to the fingerboard. Rather, the thumb should act as a balance and a pivot while the weight to press down the strings should come more from the upper arm and shoulders. Make sure you stand sufficiently behind the bass and have the edge of the lower bout braced against your hip/groin area. This position varies between players, but you don't want to be too far to the side of the bass so that you need to hold it upright with your left hand. In fact, see if you can almost balance the bass so it stands upright without even touching it with your hands.

    I hope this helps. It takes a while to get comfortable with an upright. I don't think the word "ergonomic" existed when the double bass was invented! :)
  6. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    I see that Edvon has given similar advice and almost simultaneously!
  7. edvon


    Apr 4, 2004
    Bobby, we were riding the same wave, across continents, goes to show this is a great forum...
  8. elvinstheman


    Jun 16, 2005
    Seattle, USA
    Thanks everyone! I don't think I'm standing behind it enough, so that is probably most of the problem.

    Great - I can't wait to get back on it tonight and work on my position!
  9. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    I also had this problem very seriously a few years back. Not only my thumb but my whole left hand would be numb, usually for the whole first set. Michael Moore set me straight showing me the principle of the the Streicher Method. I haven't had the problem since. Look into it. I'm sure there's a thread here about it. Good luck.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Despite the fact that we get yelled at for insisting people take our advice about getting a teacher, THIS is exactly why we do it.

    ELVISTHEMAN - all of this stuff that is going to be hit or miss by trying to type about it over the net can all be answered in about five minutes by having an actual human who is good at this stuff in the room with you. YOU WILL GET MORE OUT OF PLAYING if you develop a tension free apporach to playing the instrument and a teacher can help you do that. It's certainly your choice, but ALL of these questions you've been asking can be illustrated much more cogently, concisely and specific to you as a player by a competent teacher.
  11. Nivaca


    Jan 8, 2005
    When I began playing, I had the same problem you refer. Besides what's already being said (to which I wholly agree), I may add the following: my teacher advised me to use a stool instead of remaining standing, and that gave me much comfort and hand relax. I was then conscious of my left hand position and of all the various stress points which may come up. (Afterwards I had the problem that I couldn’t play without a stool, and even without MY stool… but that is another topic which is treated in other threads.)
    Good luck!
  12. elvinstheman


    Jun 16, 2005
    Seattle, USA
    I took the advice I found here and made sure to keep my left hand in a strict "C" position and the numbness in my thumb went away completely. I also focused on not applying any more pressure than was needed to hold the strings down without buzz and I think that helped too.

    Thanks everyone.
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    A good Exercise to do is play scales without touching your thumb to the back of the neck at all. This will help build the necessary stringth in those tiny finger muscles you rarely used b4 playing the Bass.

    Depending on which Bass I use with Various Neck thicknesses/Depths, Neck widths, String Lenghts and String Heights, I occassionally get some left thumb pain myself when playing hard for long periods of time. Rehearsals are worse than concerts as we play things over and over again instead of once straight through in a concert.

    Orchestra playing requires higher string height than Jazz playing so this adds to the mix as well. Not playing for 15 years on DB wasn't much help either.
  14. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Edvon you make a good point, plenty of famous players don't have "good" LH technique. Christian McBride, for instance, grips the fingerboard with his thumb wrapping around it in lower positions; it looks like he is trying to strangle the bass. But, having met the man in person, I can say that he is absolutely humongous (also with an extremely low voice hehe) and I suppose whatever he's doing works for his body!

    Still, despite what you see all around you, it's best to establish good, orthodox technique at the beginning. Later on, once you've gained experience, sure you can make your own modifications depending on what's best for you. But not much is possible without a strong technical foundation.
  15. elvinstheman


    Jun 16, 2005
    Seattle, USA
    I've also been leaning the bass forward a tad beyond the balance point and this seems to really help me avoid having a death grip on the neck.

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