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Technique for Small Hands

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Euphony, May 13, 2010.

  1. Euphony


    May 13, 2010
    I'd be interested in advice on this. I have very small hands (about a 6 in ring size for finger width), and my wrist sometimes gets sore when I'm playing. Keep in mind that I'm a beginner. Notes on the E string, especially higher up the fret board, are harder for me to hit. My pinkie finger is also pretty weak, and stretching from first to fourth finger often makes the notes buzz. I've been doing arm, finger, and wrist stretches before I play which seem to help with the stiffness. I warm up with a lot of scales to help with flexibility and speed. Also, do you have any suggestions for fingerstyle exercises, especially to help with strength/speed/rhythm?

    The bass guitar I'm using used to be my teenage brother's, so it's not like I can buy a smaller one. I'm looking for advice on how to improve my technique using the Ibanez Soundgear that I already have (sorry, don't know the exact model). Any advice for me? Do you think it will get easier with practice? I'm mostly looking for tips on technique and exercises or stretches that can help my fingers become stronger/more flexible.

    I'm going to keep playing bass no matter what, I'd just rather not develop problems in my hands. I practice for 1-2 hours every day, so right now I'm just trying not to overdo it.
  2. Shmone


    Feb 16, 2009
    You should get a teacher, only a teacher can see if you're doing something wrong and correct it and its better to do it now and even stop after a couple of lessons but just make sure you start with right technique, otherwise it'll be harder to fix it later.
    Also, why can't you buy a smaller bass? the Ibanez is 34" and you can buy a shortscale bass or something(unless money is the issue).
  3. Euphony


    May 13, 2010
    I want to stick with it for a month, and then my dad is fairly involved in musician circles and he said he had a good teacher in mind.

    Money is definitely the issue. I'm a poor college student :) It's not that it's excessively big, really.
  4. hello, i think i might be able to help. I actually started off with an Ibanez soundgear GSR200 bass. I also have small Japanese hands (but long skinny fingers).

    So, let me put this basically. practice practice practice. I can't stress that enough. I read that you practice your scale a lot, Good for you! That is a great warmup and practice method to better your skills.

    this seemed to stretch my finger's reach and flexibility a bit more. Ignore the last 10 seconds.

    Finally, If you have the same model bass as me, the neck is pretty wide. not as wide as other necks but it isnt the skinniest. I would suggest getting a Jazz bass style neck where it thins out. My second bass, Epiphone T-bird IV pro, has the Jazz type neck, so it is perfect (except for the fact that the neck itself is long; stupid short asian arms!)

    hope i helped
  5. deckard


    Apr 4, 2003
    I have fairly small hands, too, and play a 34" scale (fretless), fairly wide neck. (No short-scale basses por moi, thank you.)

    What helped me the most (this was many years ago) was learning/teaching myself to play with what basically amounts to classical guitar left-hand technique - keeping my thumb below the 1/2 way mark on the back of the neck, sometimes all the way under to the bottom edge of the neck.

    This frees up my fingers considerably to reach across the fingerboard as far as necessary.

    I've also learned to occasionally/when necessary eschew the use of my left thumb completely, and use the freed-up thumb to "fret" one note so I can then reach higher with my pinky... hope this makes sense.

    Also, consider wearing your bass a *little* higher at least & point the neck up at approx. 45 degree angle to take some strain off your keft wrist & make it easier to get your hand under the neck.

    Just some suggestions that have worked for me...



    p.s. - I should've mentioned:

    wearing the bass at least a little higher & pointing the neck up can also take stress off the right plucking hand wrist, too, allowing it to stay straighter.

    About 3 years ago I began developing carpal tunnel issues in my right/plucking hand wrist; long-story-made-short is that I started using the "floating thumb" right-hand plucking technique, rather than using a fixed anchor with my right thumb (on a pickup) as I had since God was a boy - the idea is to keep the wrist as straight as possible to keep stress at a minimum. Voila!: no more right wrist pain issues.

    A side benefit of "floating thumb" is that it also opened a whole new world of using the right thumb for muting, too. Now, I would never go back to my old way of playing.

    Blah, blah, blah... sorry to go on so long - just trying to help out...

  6. Yurtra


    Apr 26, 2010
    Montreal, Canada
    These are all great suggestions.

    I too have small hands (and a very short stature as well, about 5' 4") and the most important thing you can do is simply practice a lot. First of all, recognize that on a 34" scale bass there are certain things you won't be able to do without either hurting yourself or practicing a bit more than the average Joe might have to. In my experience most of these things are extended techniques that you may not even be interested in learning anyway!

    With that in mind, deckard's suggestions are some that I have come to employ as a result of only owning 34" scale basses. Definitely hold your bass a bit higher. While this may make it a bit harder to reach the lower notes, you'll find that your wrist won't be getting wrecked every time you try to run up the neck. If you plan on playing music where you'll only be playing in a couple of really low positions you might want to consider ignoring this advice but, if you're like me, wearing the bass really low may become a bit of a tripping hazard!

    Holding the instrument's neck at an angle will help you if you have short arms and don't want to hurt your fretting hand's wrist.

    One last thing I'd like to mention is that you should be careful if you plan on using a pick at all. Definitely do not use your thumb as a mute, this is "bad" technique enough as it is and you don't want to run the risk of hurting yourself by contorting your wrist in odd directions. If you have to/want to go the pick route, continue using "classical" style fretting technique and simply improve the coordination between your two hands for muting. For me, this amounts to a couple of pragmatic changes in the way I play (especially in those rare instances that I use a pick):

    1. I only use open notes if I'm bouncing off of them or using them to get from one position to another fluidly. A lot of people play this way regardless of hand size.
    2. I use a combination of very precise fretting technique and "palm" muting do deal with ringing strings when using a pick. When I play fingerstyle, muting is generally a combination of good right hand technique (of course, there's still a lot of room for improvement) and, again, precise fretting.

    When I say precise fretting technique, I mean that I always make sure to lift off of the string/fret in a very deliberate, controlled manner to make sure that the string doesn't continue vibrating even after I'm done playing. This is something you should be doing regardless of the size of your hands, of course.

    Ultimately, the size of your hands shouldn't really be regarded as a handicap. Internalizing "perceived" deficiencies is often the root cause of a deficiency in many observable behaviours. There are many talented female players with small frames and small hands who still have the chops to blow many of us humble weekend warriors out of the water. Just check out Tal Wilkenfeld to see what I mean.

    Anyway, I hope this helps at least somewhat. :)

  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    please follow the advice in this thread for your wrist's sake.

    also, do not be a slave to one-finger-per-fret fingering with your left hand. use 124 fingering in the lower registers.
  8. harley_biker


    Dec 20, 2009
    Something that has helped me as an adult beginner with small hands is learn the correct tabbed positions (from E-1 to maybe to the 12th fret) and slide quickly. An accurate "fast slide" can make up for not stretching 4 frets.
  9. john2718


    Nov 5, 2007
    Philly Burbs
    If you find that even with stretching your hand still hurts,
    one option is to switch to using 1-2-4 fingering instead of
    one finger per fret, as someone already mentioned. So
    on the E string you play the F on the 1st fret with your
    index finger, the F# on the 2nd fret with your middle finger,
    and the G on the 3rd fret using both your ring finger and
    pinky. I actually found it more comfortable to keep my ring
    finger with my middle finger, but either way you're not stretching
    as much. You do have to shift around more but at least
    it doesn't hurt your hands. Carol Kaye recommended using
    a "pivot" to shift up or down 1 fret easier with this technique
    (google carol kaye pivot for more details). I never got the
    hang of that but it obviously works for her.

    Another option is to buy a capo, tune your bass down to
    DGCF, and put the capo on the 2nd fret. Presto, instant short
    scale bass for less than $20! If that works well then you
    can get a real short scale bass when you have more $$.
  10. VinKreepo


    Nov 13, 2009
    I had never developed a safe technique, and so I started paying for it. So, I worked on a natural feel, and the later, I looked up technique vids and such. And I found that everything I started doing was in these vids. So basically I'm suggesting you use a natural technique. When you sit up right it feels natural, even though it takes more muscle and energy than slouching. It's the same with your wrist. Use the muscle in your arm, don't slouch. But don't over tighten your muscles. Just be natural
  11. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    i disagree entirely. i have THE smallest hands of any male i've ever met who wasn't a little person, and i can do 1 finger per fret in the low reaches easily. i can even do a 5-fret span easily and comfortably. keep your thumb behind the neck, keep your fingers curved, touch the strings with the meaty part of the finger pads, and relax.
  12. VinKreepo


    Nov 13, 2009
    Never use the meat of your finger. Always use the tips. Using the meat straightens your fingers and can cause you to bend them backwards if you have a hint of being double jointed. The natural feel is always having your hand like you are gripping a gun sideways.
  13. becker4567


    Jul 26, 2008
    Also, 1-2 hours practice may be too much for a beginner. Like running, you can't do a marathon right off the bat no matter how enthusiastic you are. Without building up your strength, your knees and muscles will eventually give out. Stay at a strict 1 hour (or even 45 mins) a night practice for awhile. Let your wrist and finger muscles build up over time. Try the capo trick to see if you are more comfortable with a short scale bass. Alot of guys on TB are strict short scale players, so there is nothing wrong with it, it's just personal preference. And don't get discouraged. We've all been there!
  14. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    what did i say? the meaty part of the finger pads. where is the finger pad located? on the tip. i guess you could accuse me of not being clear, so it's cool, but i'm certainly not advocating using below the tip.
  15. VinKreepo


    Nov 13, 2009
    Oh ok sorry man. I consider the meaty part my fingerprint area since my tips are callused with dead skin haha. Again, sorry
  16. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    well again, i can see where i wasn't clear so np. but to be honest, i use that part all the time ;) but only on simple songs that don't require much dexterity or if i have to cover two strings at once. i get a little lazy with the technique onstage sometimes.
  17. VinKreepo


    Nov 13, 2009
    True, kinda like bar chords on the guitar

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