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I'm playing "Mess Around" by Ray Charles, and the bass is playing the octaves back to back, over and over again. This brings pain in my wrist and makes it hard to play. My hand doesn't usually hurt when I play piano, and I feel like I have good technique in most areas. But this one is giving me issues. Especially when I start playing it even faster, it hurts even worse.

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    Just to clarify, is the pain while you play bass guitar? (You mention piano only to say that you don't have pain then, correct?)
    – Richard
    Jan 21 at 5:13
  • @Richard I believe that was my mistake. I misread this as a bass question rather than a piano question.
    – Aaron
    Jan 21 at 5:45
  • Possible related/duplicate question: music.stackexchange.com/questions/7477/…
    – Aaron
    Jan 21 at 5:50
  • If you are just starting out, then there are lots of similar questions on this SE for you to research... the general consensus is going to be that you need to practice and practice. Sometimes you need to play through the pain, sometimes you need to stop and take break so as not to damage your body... Basically, playing any instrument involves holding/bending/moving/positioning parts of your body in ways that are not natural or comfortable. It's going to hurt sometimes, that's what you signed up for... the more you do it, the easier it is to do. Jan 21 at 9:59
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    @Pyromonk I'd disagree in the sense that it's a fundamental part of playing an instrument - especially with holding/bending/moving/positioning one's hands. For example with stringed instruments or piano, one must stretch and bend the hands and fingers in ways that do not apply in other situations or with other objects... with violin, one must position the neck, chin, and shoulders in a way that is "not natural," or at very least unconventional. With wind and brass, it's the mouth... etc, etc. The body eventually begins to conform to these positions over time, making them easier to achieve. Jan 22 at 9:14
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the bass is playing the octaves back to back, over and over again. This brings pain in my wrist and makes it hard to play.

I think you mean you are playing a left hand part in octaves, something like this...

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...and your left hand/wrist get fatigued and painful over time.

I assume your hand can reach an octave.

Of course you should always follow the rule of don't do something that hurts!

First, just play single notes instead of octaves.

Second, try to assess what's going on. Can you play the octaves for a short time without trouble? That would then seem a fatigue/strength thing to improve with shorter sessions of octave practice. If it hurts immediately, you might want to check with a doctor. If your hand can reach an octave, the reach alone should not cause immediate pain.

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  • If everyone followed the rule 'don't do something if it hurts', we'd probably all still be living in the stone age! Remember the phrase - no pain without gain'..?
    – Tim
    Jan 21 at 20:26
  • Yeah, but that "pain" isn't actually painful. It's a euphemism. Unless you really, really overdo something. Then your recover and figure out a sensible training program to build strength. Jan 22 at 20:51
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    God's way of saying 'is this the best way?'?
    – Tim
    Jan 22 at 21:03
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There are possibly two things you can do to ameliorate your symptoms. The first is to play the notes from your elbow. You have two muscles around the elbow called the pronator and supinator. They allow you to rotate your forearm left and right. You SHOULD use these muscles to turn doorknobs (but most doorknobs are too low so we incorrectly use our wrists).

If I asked you how you were doing you might hold up your hand and slowly rotate it back and forth as if to say, "eh, not good, not bad. So so." That is forearm rotation. When you play the thumb and pinky, try it from those elbow rotation muscles and not your fingers or wrist.

There are other movements which can be incorporated such as in/out, up/down and forward shifting but you should work with a knowledgeable teacher. Each muscle moves one bone in one direction. When you use two muscles at the same time, they both pull on one bone simultaneously and the tendons become strained in this game of tug of war for control of the bone. This is what causes strain, pain, cramps or fatigue. Playing boogie woogie type bass patterns automatically encourage you to use two muscles such as your abductors and flexors. You have to learn to use only one muscle at a time.

Something else you could be doing incorrectly is ulnar and radial deviations. That is, twisting your wrist or hand left or right. Again, you are using muscles to twist the wrist then other muscles to abduct or play down and fatigue ensues from these dual muscular pulls. Alignment of the elbow with the forearm behind the hand will help. The elbow is the most important fulcrum in piano playing and most often overlooked because we focus on the fingers and not the muscles which actually move them. Your fingers have no muscles.

It sounds like it is time to upgrade to a new teacher.

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  • "Your fingers have no muscles.” The was news to me so I looked it up. Very interesting!
    – wabisabied
    Jan 22 at 2:53
  • Of course the fingers have muscles, that's how they move. They just aren't literally inside the fingers on the bones they move. But that's the typical arrangement of bones and muscles in the body. Jan 22 at 22:12
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I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m not a great piano player or an expert on piano technique but I do have a comment specific to this particular left hand line.

It’s basically an 8th note alternating low and high octave walking up and down 1,3,5,6,8ve,6,5,3 in Eb. Check out this video at 3:45:

It has a similar pattern in C except for the b7 in place of the 8ve. What I notice is the low note is not sustained but instead the hand rocks back and forth and the pinky moves in a crab-like fashion to the next note while the high note is being played. I think this opening and closing of the spread of the fingers and the rocking is the key to being able to play this line comfortably because your hand is not locked into the same position for an extended period of time. Boogie Woogie needs a lot of endurance so make sure you’re relaxed and not trying to play too hard.

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