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Wrist/hand pain concern, questions...

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by chrisb7601, Sep 27, 2005.

  1. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    I'm very new (2 months) to bass, love playing, feel a real affinity for the instrument... I just love it. I practice every day and even play in our church's praise band already (I know it sounds crazy but my daughter plays guitar, it's a small church and there is another guitar and a drummer and 3-4 singers, it's "just us" you know? It's working)

    Anyway about a week ago I noticed some mild discomfort in the back of my left fretting hand and wrist around the middle finger area, and down in the base of my thumb, that has been pretty constant even now after taking a couple days off. I have very large hands, long fingers, and felt good to be able to use all four fingers very early in learning to play. I used DVDs and websites to learn "proper" technique of thumb centered on the neck behind the middle finger, and moved quickly to playing four-finger melodic transitions. After the pain started, I noticed I was jamming my thumb into the neck hard to achieve intonation on long pinky stretches, till it folded back into my palm sometimes, and also noticed I had my wrist bent sharply sometimes, trying to achieve transitions. I have searched and read every post on bass-playing wrist pain and have concluded that I have technique problems of poor wrist angle and thumb usage, squeezing the neck too hard, overuse during this strain, and lack of warming up properly.

    I thought it was just the right thing to do-- articulate the hand as needed to get the sound. I'm guessing I have some carpal tunnel inflammation now that hopefully will go away with rest and avoiding strain. I'm going away on vacation this weekend so can't play and decided to take this week off from practicing to let the wrist rest. My concern is that I will not be able to play bass this way! i.e., heavy use of four fingers, one-finger-per-fret, melodic transtions, etc. I know I need to keep my wrist and thumb straighter, and use a lighter touch. Various posts I've read have said to play 3-fingered (1-2-4)-- or move the hand around more-- quit trying to cover four frets-- play less notes (I don't want to just thump root notes!) Some have said to switch to lighter gauge strings...?

    I've tried revising my hand position and it seems like I have to do it this way to reach points on the fretboard like I am. I can ease off the thumb pressure, but otherwise it's about the only way to do it.

    I'm really trying to be a good bass player with technique that will last and yield good results. I just wanted to ask if given the above description, you think I can correct a couple of problem areas and still play four fingered? Have you experienced a similar situation? How did it work out for you? I've read a lot of "get lessons" and "see a doctor" but I would think I can learn technique pros and cons here (surely the total TB knowledge-base is greater than a random local instructor), and I don't think the problem is too progressed that it needs medical attention...

    I would have to stop playing if it causes any kind of damage-- and I can't only go "thumpthumpthump"!

    What do you think?

    Thanks for reading this, and for any input you can give,
  2. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003

    With correct technique, there's no real reason why playing electric bass should hurt. Sounds like you're doing some things right, but using all 4 fingers may work for some, but never worked for me. If you're stretching your pinky, maybe learning some pivoting will help to. There are a lot of bass DVDs out, but not all work for everyone. The wrist angle sounds like a problem too. I would suggest you check out www.CarolKaye.com for some free playing tips.

    I started playing bass later in life, sometimes play hours and hours a day, never, have any problems with pain using the methods on her website.

    Also, if it is hurting, best to stop playing for awhile, maybe get it checked out by a doctor. Could be a muscle, a sprain, a tendon. Would help to get a diagnosis of what exactly it is too.
  3. Spikeh

    Spikeh Sex Strings

    You seem to have developed a decent technique early on, and you certainly know what you're talking about already - much more than I did after 2 months of playing!

    Things look promising for you tbh... I still get some left hand pain when I play repetative basslines with all 4 fingers such as 12 bar blues and Rock n' Roll by Led Zeppelin etc... and I'm sure it's just my technique. I would never point it to carpal tunnel syndrome though, I thought that was much more serious than just a little bit of hand pain when I play bass!

    Anyway - I'm afraid I can't give you much advice, as I have the same problem!
  4. just a few notes:

    1.) both right and left hand wrists should be as straight as possible
    2.) there is never need to apply force when fretting, such as jamming your thumb hard, or pressing down strings hard.

    you should be able to play most of the stuff without left thumb touching the neck at all, try that as an excercise.
  5. Monomer


    Jul 22, 2005
    I have huge wrist problems myself, also.

    Turns out I'm "Loose" jointed on nearly every joint in my body. This includes my wrist and thumb on both hands.

    Everytime I turn my wrist, it pops in and out of place. It wouldnt be so bad if the poping didnt hurt, but it does.

    Go see the proper doctor, and get a cast made specially for your arm. It will be a perfect fit, and it will make you keep your wrist straight whaile playing.
  6. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    Thanks everyone for your input.

    The week off helped a lot. I've read all up on the Carol Kaye technique and have ditched the one-finger-per-fret, lobster-claw death grip-- as a rule. However I still use it a little, still the only way to achieve certain effects (even CK says to use it sometimes).

    Problem got better but is coming back. :( I am still squeezing the neck way too hard but I can't help it because it's the only way to intone-- my strings must be really hard so I'm going to try softer strings. I'm looking at D'Addario Chromes flat-wound, they have a light and super light that I'm sure will be easier to press than my strings.

    Just have to ease up for awhile, and hope the new technique and lighter strings will be enough to cure the problem....

  7. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    Couple of questions:

    -How high do you wear your bass? A bass worn low combinated with the correct thumb-neck technique could give trouble because your wrist would be angled in a strange way.

    -How high is your action? If you have such trouble propperly intonating, you should check the action out, a lower action could help a lot!

    One advise, do NOT play as long as you feel pain! Do NOT start playing feeling pain with the idea that it will go away. It will go away for the time you're playing, but after that it'll come back double. This goes up for all injuries, not only bass related.
  8. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    Vorago, thanks for the input.

    I wear the bass about waist high on an angle so both wrists are as straight as possible (playing fingerstyle). The Carol Kaye left hand technique pretty much eliminates wrist angle and finger stretch problems. I really think right now it's the fretting pressure that's the problem, I already lowered the action down to just above fret buzz level.

    I don't really have pain, more like discomfort due to inflammation. This went away totally while I was on vacation, and I think less playing with lighter strings will help cure it, then I can get back to playing daily...
  9. A good stretching routine before and after playing will help. Do a google for carpal tunnel stretches or talk to a doctor, PT or massage therapist.
    Also, try icing your hands and forearm after long bouts of practice. Just hold them under icy water in your sink for about 10-15 min.
    The culprit could be your forearm muscles. If they're getting overworked, they tend to cause inflammation in the carpal tunnel and will pinch off blood supply and nerves.
    You could be looking at a bit of tendonitis, as well.
  10. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    Scourge, thanks, I have started stretching, running hot water over my wrists before playing, and I just started icing down afterwards.

    I recently lowered my action, started the stretching/warm up/ice down, started playing with 1-2-4 and bunched-fingers technique, keeping my wrists straight, angling my bass, trying to press softer on the strings...

    I think this last point is where my problem lies. I'm new so I get pretty nervous playing with others and during service, and I seem to squeeze very tightly on the neck. It probably doesn't help that I have humongous hands and a really strong grip-- I think I put more force through my carpal tunnel than most people. (I'm not trying to brag about the grip thing but I have won grip contests :eek: ) It makes sense to me that if I'm strangling my bass it will put more stress on the carpal tunnel...

    Does anybody think softer strings will help? I asked in Strings about selecting soft strings but haven't gotten any ideas, in fact it sounds like I might have the wrong idea about strings. I talked to Guitar Center and they made it sound as if when a manufacturer labels a string "lighter" it does not mean "easier to press" just "thinner".......

    :confused: :confused: :confused:
  11. RhythmBassist01


    Aug 31, 2005
    One thought I have is that you could be Cramming. this is where soneone crams a huge amount of learning into a very short amount of time. Learning bass is a very long process.

    That could explain the discomfort.
  12. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    I think the action is the key here, together with being relaxed when you're playing. Don't be afraid to f-up, you've only been playing for 2 months, and you're technique is probably already better than most punk/indierock/britpop bassists' technique. Chill out dude. About the grip thing, I suggest you to experiment with how much grip you actually need to fret a note. Coming from the fact that you already have strong hands, this shouldn't be much pressure. Find out the minimal amount of pressure needed and focus on that for a while.
  13. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    Glad you checked out Carol Kaye's website and are starting to get some good results. Lots of good, practical, workable info there. I think what you are referring to is not necessarily string heaviness or lightness (lighter strings IMHO can be harder on the hands), but I think you need to look at string tension. Some strings have a lower tension than others. I play TI Jazz Flatwounds when I play electric bass and I think of them as lower tension and also easier on the hands because of that. Some strings seem to have a harsher feel to them that is also rougher on the hands. I remember when I played round wounds, some were also coated with something to make them feel smoother, and some had a higher tension than others. Someone knowledgeable in strings should be able to tell you something about the relative tension of the strings. I've been playing more double bass these days, and I definitely notice that string tension really affects the handling of the bass.

    If you're a newbie, I think you may be right about tensing up about playing. If you keep performing I would guess that would be less of a problem over time. Sounds stupid, but make sure you are breathing when playing.
  14. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    Jgbass, thanks so much for the tip on Carol Kaye, I really think that my wrist/hand/finger positioning was the biggest culprit.

    I also think being relaxed, chilling out and stepping back (not Cramming) are good advice. I know I have been tensing up and have been trying to watch that...

    I thought this through and realized that -- if I were to tune my A string down to E it would get a lot floppier, which kind of supports the idea that thinner strings will have less tension. I went ahead and bought some lighter gauge strings and they do seem easier to intone. I would like to try flat wounds at some point ...

    Thanks everyone for your help.
  15. Roth135


    Feb 16, 2005
    there's nothing to worry about...I remember the first few months i started playing i felt extreme pain in my index finger where i plucked the strings. If your thumb, fingers, wrists, etc start hurting in the early stages of your bass playing career, that's a good sign--your making a fast adaptation to something that your hands are not used to doing.

    There is no right or wrong way to play bass--your hands will adapt to ANYTHING that feels the best for you. So don't be worried about properly stretching your hand or making sure your fingers are in the right place--it's all how you feel it.
  16. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    Hey, that's great Chris. Good luck with the new strings. When I first started playing and had my first gig I must have been so wound up you probably would have to use a wrench to undo me. Gets better with time. My teacher always reminds me still to breathe.

    Nothing should EVER hurt playing electric or upright bass. I am not strong, I am female, and I took up EB in my 40's and can funk out and slap and pop and play with no pain at all, thanks to good technique. Never had ANY pain on EB, a few adjustments needed on DB though, but none now, and I play hours a day.

    There are so many guys/gals paying the price for wrong playing habits and its sad to see here time and time again players complaining of pain. I heard Brian Bromberg talk at a recent bass conference and he talked freely about his past problems with tendonitis and how it still can bother him at times. In the past he played for too many hours. Betcha he played through pain and he talked about how repetitive motion wears down the tendons. Cannot ignore basic principles of anatomy or they will come back to bite you.
  17. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    I think that you should hike your bass right up. Bring it up so that it stays almost at the same level as when you sit down with the bass. Its really comfy to play the bass at that level. Id also say practice without using your thumb on the fretting hand. This will reduce the pressure your putting on on the neck although its tricky to play like that. If you become contious of hold in the neck too tight whilst playing really focus on your fretting hand to keep it relaxed. I think you should to this to the point of completley shifting focus from what your practicing like playing a song on time or whatever and focus on keeping the minimum tension needed. This may seem strange but I think it's worth it. You will have plenty of time to learn the rest but making sure you dont get pain in your hand should be your priority now. Screwing your hand up now may mean putting your bass down in the future.

    Plus putting too much pressure on the neck is also bad technique. Your limiting the movement of your fingers this way as well as stamina. An example would be when I used to play "new born" by muse.My hands got very tired playing this song and I would have to stop. So i focused on relaxing the hand when I felt them tensing up and Presto soon I could play the song all the way through towards the end of a gig with no problems and be ready and able for the next song.
  18. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    Oh yeah if your pressing heavier strings too hard then your gonna press lighter strings too hard. If u werent pressing hard enough then lighter strings might work but Im not sure tehyll make much difference
  19. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    Just to update/close this thread...

    Most of the threads I found here and other places regarding fretting hand/wrist pain did not have any conclusions from the original poster as to their outcome, so I wanted to include mine for any future readers of this post...

    After about a month since discontinuing using the one-finger-per-fret technique continuously, I am symptom-free. I still use it when needed, and I still get aching in the base of my thumb if I use it a lot, but the problem is gone now that I mostly use looser, less strict fingering.

    I am kinda peeved at the "lessons" I received via DVDs and the internet that stress using this lobster-claw hand position all the time. I have been noticing photos, videos, and live perfomances of other bass players, and I've never seen anyone constantly locked in to this position, as I was advised to, while playing.

    I also think everyone was right about being too tense, squeezing too hard, and "cramming"-- all this is good input and addressing these issues is helping me too.

    Thanks everyone for your help,

  20. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    The "one finger per fret" technique is really more of a guide than "gospel"....ie obviously the fret spacing is greater the lower you play on the neck (ie first 5 frets) so sometimes its just not practical to use one finger per fret / thumb behind the neck on that area of the neck...especially if you have short fingers..general rule of thumb if it hurts STOP!!!!

    Heck I've been playing professionally for nearly 20 years and if I were to use the left hand one finger per fret , arch your fingers technique (which is so prevalent on "instructional" dvds/videos etc..I wouldnt last 10 minutes in a gig.

    Its like marathon running ...adjust your teschnique according to the length of time you have to play.

    And dont FORCE anything..its an electric instrument, the note will sound even if you just graze the string...hell how do you think "tapping" works... ;)

    Relaxation is the key...