When I play basic major scale from 8th fret, as I go up the tempo my left hand starts ache. The muscle that is tight is the base of the palm, the one that's used by Karate masters to brake bricks :-)

Neither my action is high, nor my left hand is weak. I have been practicing daily for the last 4 months and I did play guitar and bass during my teenage years (so muscles should have been adapted together with body development). I feel the pain mostly because of my pinky movements, when I stretch to fret with my index after pinky and vice-versa. I tried to change position to more classical one (bass on the left leg), but still, 60 bpm playing 16 notes and the palm is on fire. I have no other issues with my pinky when playing regular riffs. My hand is very small, glove size XS, but I don't think that this should be the limitation. Neither I feel that I fret hard. What can I do with my technique to be able to play major scales for at least 5 minutes 16th notes?

  1. Why do you want to play 16th notes at 60 bpm for 5min straight? Is this a self imposed goal?

  2. It would help if you post a pic or vid of your hand position while playing. Even though you state you have played guitar and bass for a while and think you have good hand strength and good action you might have poor hand posture which is causing stress in the palm leading to your problem.

  3. If it "burns" then it may be a pinched nerve and that's serious. You should stop playing and see a doctor. If it really is just muscle ache, and it is caused by the picky stretch you describe, you might have to adopt a new strategy for playing those notes, like shift instead of stretch. I had a friend in high school who dislocated his pinky trying to develop a stretch on the upright. It didn't hurt so he left it like that to get the reach he wanted. I have no idea if he ever corrected it but he still plays professionally.

In short, I would recommend (1) posting a pic of your hand position for review and (2) see a doctor, possible (3) take lessons if you are not already and the instructor might be able to correct something right away.

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Difficult to rectify without some pictorial evidence - position, etc., but a possibility is the bass is too low, which will stretch that part of your fretting hand, and/or you need to raise the head of the bass. This may sound a bit daft, but try the whole bass at 45 degrees, instead of parallel to the floor. It changes all the angles (obviously!), making it more like an upright bass to play.

Another obvious is see a doctor, who is medically trained to diagnose problems and their causes. Yet another is to see a teacher, who should be experienced enough to see where any potential problems lie.

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  • I recall working with a bass player in a big band decades ago who had a fender Precision electric bass and rigged up a stool with plank between his legs that allowed him to position it exactly like an upright. – ggcg Feb 20 at 18:27
  • I had a student who was struggling to play a tricky passage smoothly at a fair pace. I suggested holding his bass guitar pretty well upright, and he just laughed. After a bit of persuasion he re-positioned it - and played the passage perfectly. Every time after that, when he had problems, he'd look at me, shake his head, hold the bass almost upright, and succeed. – Tim Mar 28 at 6:14

You mention playing a major scale on the 8th fret, can I assume you are talking about a C major scale starting on the E string with your 2nd finger and playing one finger per fret playing:

E: 2-4 A: 1-2-4 D: 1-3-4

What about when you play lower on the neck where the notes are further apart, is it worse there? I'm guessing it probably is.

You mentioned having small hands, if your fingers do not lay comfortably over 4 frets this will cause a lot of tension in the muscles especially for repetitive patterns. One solution is to use upright bass fingering, only use the index, middle and the pinky and ring finger simultaneously. This involves having to shift a lot more but it becomes second nature after a while. The fingering for the same major scale would be this:

E: 1-4-(shift 1 fret down) A: 1-(shift 1 fret up)-1-4 (shift 1 fret down) D: 1-(shift 1 fret up)-2-4

If this isn't clear let me know. It seems like a lot of shifting, and it is but upright players are so used to this that it becomes second nature to us. (I play both)

Another option is if you are playing a 34" scale bass you can consider switching to a 30" scale bass so the frets are closer together. Hope this helps.

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All the answers above are good involving technique. Perhaps concentrate on how tightly you are gripping the neck. It's really not about how much strength you have, or the size of your hand. Guitar is more about finesse, and you need to only press ever so lightly to make those notes sound. The muscle memory is created by repetition not by how strongly you are able to repeat the forms. If you feel that is not the issue, I agree with @tim above, you should seek a doctor to ensure you have no medical issue in your hands /tendons etc.

Good luck ~catz

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