For reference I'm an electric bass player who played three or so years at age 20. I took four years of hiatus and restarted a couple of months ago. My problem has been lately my plucking hand cramping up probably from playing too hard and too much right away. I'm wanting to start up properly and not destroy my hands.

I was thinking of 15-20 minutes of physical practice a day at first, working on sight reading after a five minute warm up every few days, adding a two minute extention after a three to five day period.

That, however, leaves ear training. I'm using an app for now but want to move back to transcription of songs. My problem with that being I tend to lack discipline and keep going and going till I figure things out. That may have led to my hand cramping and being sore.

Anyway, sorry about the rambling nature of this post. I'm looking for input to see if my ideas are sound or how you might approach it.


  • Take 5- 10 min breaks from playing. You can do different exercises or something else during the break. Sep 26, 2015 at 21:14

4 Answers 4

  1. Always be relaxed and comfortable as possible. if that means getting lighter strings then do it. If that means practicing not 15 minutes per day, but for several 15 minute sessions daily, then do it.
  2. Make a routine

  3. Stick to the routine

  4. Find someone within 100 miles whom you admire and contact them about lessons

Mine - warmup - scales up one down the next, focus a different mode each week, also include melodic minor modes, and arpeggios (min maj aug dim)

After warmup - Classical Study, I'm on Eduard Nanny Methode por la Contrabasse, and John Patittuci Melodic Etudes book

Standards - typically 3 standards or jazz songs per week, learn the walking line, melody, solo, trade 4s with yourself, different endings, chord subs, ect. try to memorize if i can, not the most important though.

Physical Exercises - 16th notes octaves at 120, slap, tap, or whatever crazy feat i'm trying to accomplish, this can be replaced with transcription (shudder).

I spent like 2 weeks on just bebop transcription and I also had a funk gig at the same time coming up so learning those songs. I lost my schedule actually I think that kind of hurt me because I burned out hard. I was able to do it and had stamina, but crashed HARD after, like a week no practice hard, so yeah stick to your schedule.

  • Nice structured answer!
    – Nachmen
    Jan 17, 2016 at 11:00

Don't underestimate the ability to mentally relax your arms, forearms, and hands.

If your hand is feeling cramps, you definitely need to investigate your arms more with a relaxed mind, and also maybe get a few massages. A lot of emotional energy can be pent up in your body, so don't slack on the sweaty exercise...

You want to get back into transcription... that part is really fun, but if it hurts your hands after a while on bass you can always get some Suzuki Sound Blocks (like a xylophone but each note is a separate block). Then you can train your ears and harmonize even without your bass.

Music to me has a few levels: left-brain / right-brain gotta crosstalk so things you can do to expand your mind shall help your playing, and vice versa.

Learn some good stretches for your fingers that are very gentle. Those tendons are precious.

Make sure you are eating enough Potassium. Cramps typically result from a lack of K+

  • I'm all ears on this can a stressed mind have an effect on the hands, that it can become strained pain and spasms? I have these same reactions when I'm at the piano.
    – Nachmen
    Jan 17, 2016 at 10:57

If you can find someone knowledgeable to look at you play, please do. If not, videorecord yourself playing. This will be easier to do if you place the camera such that the top of the image aligns with your neck or chin.

You need to look at your set-up to see where you are introducing unnecessary tension.

The ideal would be to take a couple of lessons, so an expert can find where the tension is, and give you some ways of preventing it.

Even if you are happy working alone for the most part, this is the sort of situation where you can benefit enormously from one to three lessons with a really good teacher. But it needs to be the sort of teacher who has a lot of awareness of how using the body incorrectly can really screw you up. Perhaps a nicer way of saying that is -- see if you can find someone whose biographical blurb includes something like "Alexander Technique".

  • @GodofAtheism - Your proposed edits are actually quite compatible with what I was trying to say about the ergonomics. The reviewers said your edit added too much material. I'm not sure -- in different circumstances, we would just be co-authors. I wouldn't like to see your additional thoughts get lost. Could you please put them into comments or into another Answer? I do think your ideas added to my answer. Oct 1, 2015 at 2:43

The best thing you can do is to find a teacher, even if it's for just a few lessons. Please keep in mind that if you can't find a bass teacher, any musical instrument teacher knows you should not tense your hands when playing, even if they can't tell you if your technique is correct, they can check if your tensing up. Other musicians should also know that and be able to check it. Alternatively (if there are just no other musicians in your area), you could ask an ortopedist, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist to look at your playing (they might save your back while doing so as well).

If you want to do it on your own, first of all play slowly (even if you were able to go much faster before your hiatus). And check your hands (yes also your fretting hand even if it's not yet giving you trouble) for tension while doing simple exercises, where simple really means suitable for absolute beginners. Your hands and whole body need to get reacquainted to playing the instrument, also check on your back, neck, shoulders, etc. Check that there are no unneeded bends in your arms, and that your plucking arm is at least at first not resting on the instrument.

What can help when getting cramps is shaking your hands loose every so often.

Part of you can still play exactly the same stuff as you played before your hiatus, at exactly the same speed, and you can even now occasionally play that way for a few minutes, but most of your practice should at first be slow, focusing on relaxing, gradually speeding up. You can also add in more and more complex exercises, but again start by playing them really slow and totally relaxed, and only speed up once you have your hands not tensing up. This may all sound like your beginning from scratch, but you're not. You will be up to your old level of playing much faster than an absolute beginner.

Also keep in mind that all of this is just as much valid for any other musical instrument, not just electric bass guitar.

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