Thumb Fatigue

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Schmorgy, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. Schmorgy


    Jul 2, 2012
    So after playing for a solid year now, I've noticed that I get extreme fatigue (read: discomfort bordering pain, like a muscle or joint being overused) in the bottom joint of my fretting hand's thumb. It's not really dependent on how long I play for (sometimes it's there within 5 minutes, others, half an hour) but when it comes, it's usually there until I give bass a break. Sometimes I can alleviate it by fretting a little lighter, but obviously at the cost of notes going dead, or buzzing, or any other unpleasant sound associated with not committing to a fret.

    My question is: Is this something that will go away with time, as in, I'll get used to it, or is it indicative of a problem with my overall fretting technique? Back when I started bass, I was instructed to generally keep my thumb congruent to my middle finger, but is this advice good or bad?
  2. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    It is probably a technique issue, which wont go away unless/until you do something about it, and could actually get worse if you dont do so.

    One possible cause is that you are pressing down too hard when you fret. Try fretting without the thumb on the back of the neck. This will show you just how little is the pressure required.

    The other possible issue is where you place the thumb, i.e. behind the middle finger. This is often how we are taught. Playing this way narrows the carpel tunnel, through which the tendons go. This can result in problems over time. Below are some clips that might be helpful.

  3. Schmorgy


    Jul 2, 2012
    That first video helped a ton, thanks.

    I'm wondering why they instruct the middle finger position when it's the worst possible thing for you?


    Started playing following that first video's advice, angling my thumb parallel to the neck and pointing towards the headstock. Already noticed a significant difference in my fretting hand's efficiency as well as the thumb pain having been absent after almost 2 hours of playing.
  4. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    This position is clearly the best to free the hand not be limited by wrapping the thumb around the neck making the hand a closed fist which severly limit the range.

    So this position is best when you play with your bass at an almost upright position. If you play with an horizontal position you will favor a wrapping thumb ( like so many slap bass player ).

    Also if you feel pain in your thumb, you obviously put to much pressure on it. Relax.
  5. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Fretting hand on a bass guitar is to do with plane. The more upright the plane the easier the fretting hand will cope, the more horizontal the plane the more the fretting hands angles to the neck will need to change as the hand moves away from the body.

    Much of old bass guitar teaching on posture and hand positions comes from up-right bass, almost in many cases a straight transfer, but that info is flawed. The instruments, as far as playing positions are concerned, have nothing in common...they are two totally different instruments with their own physical techniques.
    There is more and more understanding of this today and this is reflected in the modern idea of let the thumb stay neutral. Modern teaching ides takes the players physicality into consideration as well as the instrument.
    In days of old it was always the instrument that mattered not so much the player. When you look at up-right bass design, they are nearly all the same in construction and material, as they were in the physical approach to height and access to play. Look at the bass guitar.....different sizes, weights, lengths, etc, also different heights, sounds, set ups, angles of neck, number of strings etc..
    Nothing is that standard in a bass guitar as compared to an up-right, so the techniques also must reflect this, so it is flawed to adapt the info from one to the other.

    As many find out by pointing the thumb to the head stock, the base of the thumb is immediately in a more relaxed and less strenuous position, hence the idea not to restrict it to being always up-right.:)
  6. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    I alternate between wrapping my thumb around the neck and placing it behind the neck depending on the song and sometimes within the same song. This seems to work for me.
  7. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I get that same pain when using my Squire VM jazz, it has the thinnest neck of all of my basses. I found out that my hands are just not built for a thin necked instrument. The muscle at the base of my thumb is larger than most, and it makes it more difficult to close my hand around a thin neck, so it becomes fatigued rather quickly.

    I can play this bass for hours on end with no hand pain at all
  8. Do you play your bass slung really low? Billy Sheehan recommends having your strap adjusted to the same sitting down as standing up so your wrists get used to the angle. Having a low slung bass can really cause a lot of problems in your left hand if you are trying to do anything more than 4 on the floor root notes.
  9. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Glad you got something from it. :)
  10. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    I think they talked about that position because of the classical guitar ... they play with that position ( the neck at an almost upright position ) and they don't seem to have any problem.
  11. Schmorgy


    Jul 2, 2012
    I follow the same rule, setting my bass' position while sitting down with it and then standing up. I don't want it so ridiculously high that I get the T-rex arm thing happening, but not so low that it becomes a hazard to aspirations for children.