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I'm learning Bass for some months now, and what I noticed is that after practising, I'm having sporadic little events of pain on the sides of my fingers, mostly above and below the proximal interphalangeal joints of the fingers. It's nothing really serious, appears randomly and doesn't last very long. I however don't know what that means, as pain (as little as it may be) is usually a sign that something is bad.

So I'd like to know:

  • Is this a usual thing to experience (maybe especially in the beginning)?
  • Is it connected to the stretching process, as my fingers do have to stretch away from each other quite a distance on the lower frets?
  • Is there any finger injury associated with playing bass, that one should be aware of, and that this could be a sign of?
  • Might this be a sign that I fret with too much force, or that I don't keep the non-fretting fingers relaxed?

I'm asking very specific questions here, and the reason for that is that other technique / health related issues, like the straight wrist and its connection to carpal-tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, have been covered extensively in the community - Maybe something similar also applies here?

I've been asked to add some pictures of my posture:

Because the multiple angles that one can talk about are not that visible, the exact same posture is shown 3 times, from the front, the side, and perpendicular to the fretboard. enter image description here

Some notes regarding the pictures:

  • As one can see, I try to maintain a straight wrist in all the positions (at least if it comes to flexion and extension), and to do that, my thumb shows to the side. This has been a suggestion from this stack-exchange answer.
  • I don't stretch the hand like this all the time, but instead only if two consecutive notes make it neccessary to do so.
  • The 3rd row shows an alternative for fretting at the 5th fret, the hand is slightly less supinated (which feels better), but at the same time, the "crab" doesn't look symmetric anymore now
  • In general, pinky and index finger do apply their force into a different direction than the direction they would flex in, they basically act to the side now - I don't know if that is benefitial.
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  • This is a hard topic to answer in general, as it may span a lot. Could you possibly give us a picture of how you fret notes?
    – Lazy
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 5:51
  • @Lazy I added some pictures Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 15:08

2 Answers 2

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From your pictures you seem to play with the guitar neck in the palm of your hand. This will decrease the mobility of your hand drastically, as you can see here:

Instead you should place your thumb at the back of the neck (make sure to not bend your thumb back). This will give you much more freedom of movement both up and down the fretboard as well as toward the higher and the lower strings, as I demonstrate in the video.

This means that instead of forcing your hand to spread 4 frets you can use a more relaxed position and adapt the angle of your fretting hand depending on your position, somewhat like this:

enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

This is done without shifting (note that the thumb remains in its position all the time).

Note that in your pictures you basically need to use your index finger at an angle, which means you are going to stress the finger joint in a direction it was not build to handle. Making proper use of your thumb will also allow you to press much more straightly, decreasing strain on your finger joints.

Keep in mind: There are two types of pain coming from playing an instrument. One is muscular pain due to lack of strength. This is something you can train. The other one is pain due to strain of joints, tendons, stuff. This is not something that you can train, and it is something you should avoid as much as possible. This requires you to use good technique, a properly setup instrument and the mindset not to say "I have to endure it to get better".

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  • To have the thumb at the back, and the clearance between neck and hand, I will need to curl my hand around the neck, and thus I will necessarily need to have a bent wrist. We both made the same observation about the index finger not applying force in the direction of its flexion - the question now just is - is there a way to have the flexibility of the hand without bending the wrist? Or is it in the end a tradeof one has to make, and one simply can't have both? Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 19:38
  • @Quantumwhisp There is no need to have an absolutely straight wrist. If you look at technically great bass players you will see a sightly bent wrist in certain positions. What matters if that you avoid strong bends in your wrist. Also one thing: You seem to keep your elbow quite close to your body, which leads to your hand reaching the fretboard at an angle. This makes it harder to fret with your ring finger and your pinky. Try to move your elbow outward in such a way that your hand is perpendicular to the neck.
    – Lazy
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 20:21
  • ah yes - That I do because the more I bring my elbow outward, the more my fretting hand is forced to rotate inward, so I have to supinate it more to have the fingers align with a string. And basically, while I'm playing, I'm already at the limit of my hand, concerning supination. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 20:41
  • shortening your strap can also help to keep a more relaxed straighter wrist. Mark King of Level 42 can often be seen with his bass worn in his armpit. I play up near my nipples! Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 8:42
  • @Quantumwhisp If you use your thumb as pivot you will find that there is no reason to have the fingers aligned with the strings. If you play with the index you can move your elbow a bit out, if you play with the pinky you can move it a bit in. Also using your thumb will allow you to avoid supination in many cases, as you can change the hand rotation using your elbow to fit the finger you are currently using (which is necessary if you play certain chords, e.g. when you need to fret the same position with multiple fingers).
    – Lazy
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 17:06
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The one finger per fret idea works quite well for guitar, but not so for bass. You may well be stretching to achieve this idea. Don't bother. if needed, move your hand up/down the fingerboard, using your index and pinky at each side of your fretting hand more.

Most players - beginners especially - will use excess pressure when fretting notes. Try to use the minimum needed. And don't curl your thumb over the neck, as some guitarists are wont to do, there's no need! Consider also the angle you hold the neck of the bass at. Pointing upwards often helps fretting, as does not slinging the bass too low on its strap. Ask yourself if the same problem occurs when seated as opposed to standing for that one.

EDIT: thanks for the pics, great help. Couple of things - thumb behind neck will help, but not used as a clamp. Elbow tight to body not a good idea, movement from shoulder will give the whole arm/wrist/hand more flexibility when needed.

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  • I added some pictures. The bass is quite high already (headstock at the height of my head) , and I can't have it in a better angle, it just drops back to this one. I assume it's quite steep. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 12:21
  • In addition to excess pressure when fretting, I had a habit of excessive force when hammering-on. This can lead to joint pain.
    – Theodore
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 19:47
  • About the elbow: The more I bring the elbow out, the more I rotate my forearm inwards. It seems that if I have it brought out, the more uncomfortable it is to have the hand parallel to the fretboard. Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 9:15

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