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Why I keep hammering the Carol Kaye pick method

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by JimmyM, Jul 16, 2008.

  1. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    John Wetton, a highly skilled bassist who could play pretty much anything you threw at him, and whose playing and singing with King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep and UK established him as a world-class bassist with tech skills to spare (don't judge him by Asia), has carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand. He's had one surgery that apparently hasn't taken, and now plays with a thumbpick taped to his thumb. When he played with a pick before, he pretty much played like a guitar player (since he plays guitar, too, not surprising). I'd see him do things like anchoring his pinky, palm muting, all downstrokes, etc. The guy can still play, make no mistake, but he's greatly diminished by CTS and has to play in pain.

    People dismiss me sometimes when I talk about Carol Kaye's pick method preventing these injuries, but there's no doubt in my mind that Wetton's CTS was brought on by playing bass with a pick like guitarists. Guitar strings are thin and wussy. Bass strings are thick and manly. You can't play pick bass like a guitar. Sure, a lot of you have been getting away with it. Wetton got away with it for 40 years. I managed to go for 25. I was on the verge of developing it. Within 10-15 seconds, my hand would ache like crazy while I used a pick, so naturally I dropped it and played fingers only for a few years, but I missed the attack of a pick in some songs and wanted to do it again, so I learned Carol Kaye's pick method. Took a little while to get used to it, and it definitely doesn't look as cool as playing pick bass like a guitar, but I have been totally pain-free playing pick bass for the last 3 years. Carol may not be a day at the beach, but she certainly can play, and she would play 16 hours a day in the 60's and remains totally pain free to this day.

    Here's how to do it. You can also see videos of Carol playing on www.carolkaye.com and probably Youtube if you need a visual. And scattered out in Carol's Player's Points and Forum is a lot of info on it, with a much better explanation of it all than I could do.

    1. Never use a light or medium pick. Use at least a heavy. With a heavy, the pick does the work and takes the beating. With lighter picks, you do the work.

    2. Never anchor your hand because it causes you to take your hand out of the position it needs to be in to be pain free. Want to palm mute? Stick a sponge under the strings instead. Palm muting is especially injurous, even though a lot of people do it.

    3. Pick close to the neck where the strings are looser. I use light strings (.040 G) so I can pick from between the neck up to the first pickup without pain. For .045 G and higher, you're better off staying close to the neck. Yes, I know it sounds boomy up there. But it really doesn't sound as boomy as you think in a mix. If it really irritates you, roll off some bass instead.

    4. Hold your hand to where your pinky is slightly raised off the strings, and keep your wrist parallel with the strings. Move your hand from the wrist in a side to side motion, and NEVER MOVE YOUR THUMB!!! Moving your thumb is a killer.

    5. (OOPS...forgot this one...extremely important!) Don't play just downstrokes. Always play down-up. Downstrokes take your wrist out of the side to side movement and cause pain. "But Jimmy," you protest, "Downstrokes sound heavier than upstrokes!" Hmmm, sounds like you need to practice more. If someone can tell the difference between you playing all downstrokes and you playing down-up, just practice it until you get it.

    Takes a little getting used to, but it's so much better than ending the night with your hand in an ice bucket or having surgery once a year. You may be getting away with the stuff you're doing for a while, but it'll catch up with you eventually. Trust me.
    ryco, lowplaces, fleabitten and 30 others like this.
  2. the_fonz


    Nov 27, 2006
    Kane, PA
    Holy crap
    I've been using the Carol Kaye method all these years and never knew it. All those points seemed like common sense to me.
    gebass6, woodyng2 and petrus61 like this.
  3. Dennis098


    May 3, 2008

    i posted a thread on this but nobody is saying anything haha
    i tend to play a lot pickstyle with the bass slung kindof low and it seems to have caused a permanent rightward curve in my right index finger. it aches a little bit sometimes.
    what am i doing wrong?
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You're slinging too low and not doing Carol's pick method.
  5. MEKer

    MEKer Supporting member

    May 30, 2006
    Dennis098, IMO and based off only what you are saying, I'd first look at the position of your bass---"slung low" tells me your "up" stroke on the pick makes your hand/fingers tweak upward in an arc a bit not natural to the way the muscles flow. Especially working onto the E and A string (coming up off the D/G strings)---assuming a 4-string bass. When picking I notice my hand itself does not flex a whole lot, the wrist and raising the elbow does all the work, but all in a flat plane so I never have carpal stress. Playing since '72, never an ache or twinge. Hope that helps. And Kaye's stuff is, to me, almost an instinctive way of picking.
  6. I think one of the biggest causes of this problem is due to the fact that people normally have their picking hand totally tense, even in the fingers they aren´t using! It´s a great practice to pick REAL SLOW and at the same time maintaining the hand as relaxed as possible. It made one hell of a difference for me when it comes to picking. Before I couldn´t play for a straight minute but now, I can last much longer.
  7. dvh

    dvh Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2006
    Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Makes me glad I'm a finger player. But the advice here is right on.

    Slinging your bass low is just asking for trouble down the road.
    Bill Whitehurst and gebass6 like this.
  8. ^ I have to agree. Wear your instrument so it's comfortable - but a good clue is to have it in the same position whether you're standing or sitting. If your axe is higher when you're sitting, it's just too low when you're standing...period. I know I'm generalizing there, but that's a pretty solid assumption.

    One of the keys to prevent wrist or carpal tunnel problems is to ensure against a deep bend of the wrist. Ironically, this is somewhat easier to control if you wear your instrument low on your body. Nonetheless, wearing it higher allows for efficiency of motion, and enables you to leverage just about any technique you'd like to pronounce the notes.

    Anyway, sorry for the tangent. I've never done the pick thing, but I agree that the advice offered in this thread is excellent.
  9. rustinstrings


    Jun 17, 2007
    Can one play any metal/fast punk stuff while picking near the neck as recommended?
    I currently use my thumb muscle (actually combination of wrist and thumb) for movement and hold the pick like I learned from guitar shredders youtube videos - thumb joint firmly on top of index finger thus the tip of the pick is between the crossing of those fingers. I even started anchoring the other RH fingers (not pinky) on adjacent strings in order to allow steady single string picking.
  10. manbass


    May 20, 2004
    Tampa Bay
    Nice post Jimmy. Just sayin'.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Good luck to you, my friend. You're pretty much begging for CTS.
  12. Joe Gress

    Joe Gress

    Dec 22, 2005
    Pueblo, CO
    Reminds me a bit of bowing techniques for an upright. Pain in the ass to learn the proper way, and you hand want's to commit suicide at first, but in the end it's well worth it.
  13. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    I would say all of the Carol Kaye methods for playing EB can do a lot to save much unnecessary pain. They were intentionally designed with that purpose in mind from someone who had her share of physical challenges. Pain is just not necessary when playing bass. And, there are many other well thought out techniques available.

    As a midlife female who not only took up EB but then DB and has been playing for hours every day for years, and certainly no big athlete either, attention to proper technique is essential to be playing bass for the long haul. I may have my AARP card, but I also am free of pain when I play either electric or upright. No, its no fun learning proper technique. It was really difficult for a long time, especially on DB, but well worth it. But, after awhile, it becomes effortless.
  14. Dennis098


    May 3, 2008
    so for more aggressive styles this method would still have the bass at stomach level using the wrist?
    I dunno, but see most pickstyle players wearing their basses at the waist or lower, and for me, that's been the most comfortable too because i can use my arm to help pick.
    i just feel that something in the way i'm holding the pick is not right (between the thumb and side of the index?) and makes my finger more and more bent to the right.
  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You don't have to wear your bass on your chest to use Carol's method. You might have to raise it a little higher than normal, but you don't have to get all Wooten about it.
  16. peterbright


    Jan 23, 2007
    On The Bayou
    Thicker picks also sound better to me.
    gebass6 likes this.
  17. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    what do you guys think about using coins for picks? i have a few of those stretched out pennies from disney world that i used to experiment with a long long time ago (Back when i would experiment with picks). if pick-rigidity is essential, they might be cool, although they are a bit bright.
  18. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    I'll have to check it out. Thanks. I play some pickstyle, but never have played a whole gig with it. I think the most I ever did was working through my Yes CD collection.
  19. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I never dug the edgy attack of coins or metal picks, but they definitely fall under the "rigid enough" category. Billy Gibbons uses a quarter and Brian May uses a sixpence, so it's been done before. Should work just fine.
  20. Nyarlathotep

    Nyarlathotep Banned

    Feb 5, 2006
    West Coast of Canada
    Ok, so I sling low, and pick at the bridge with a med. pick.

    I used to use a really heavy one, but it just didn't have the EQ balance of the med I use now, even picking at the neck.

    EDIT: I do play rather "loose" tho, fretting and plucking.