A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Ergonomics and what to do with your hands

Over the years, I’ve collected a small library of bass method books. Most of them teach the same things, so there are definitely baseline skills that bass players need to have in order to play. Most books go over the parts of the bass and tuning the bass first, and then delve into exercises to acquaint your hands with the instrument. 

There’s generally a small section on holding the bass right before exercises begin. I think that this perfunctory note needs to be examined more closely though. For people who have been playing for years, how to hold the instrument is second-nature. Its like wiping front-to-back. For me, it was confusing. It seems obvious that you strap it on, get your fretting and attacking hands into position and just begin, but where exactly to strap on the bass and how to position the hands was really a point of confusion to me. 

My instructor didn’t really give me much to work with. He saw what I was doing when I met with him that first day, and for the most part, all I took from it was that the fingers I was fretting with weren’t pressing down on the strings properly. I think I was using too much force and also pressing with the wrong part of my fingers. So, for the benefit of anyone else who is just starting out and happens across this blog, here’s what I learned in the week after I had my first lesson, from the mother of all encyclopedias – the internet: 

I dug around on Google and on Youtube, and came across videos from a Masters student who is studying bass named Adam Neely. Adam seems pretty smart, and has a really nice blog devoted to bass. He’s analytical and thorough in his explanations when discussing his views on various topics, which aren’t just theoretical. Many are fundamental ergonomics. Here are the two videos that really informed how I hold the bass when I practice: 

Developing Safe Left Hand Technique for Bass Guitar

Developing Safe Right Hand Technique for Bass Guitar

Additionally, here’s one on the old One-Finger-Per-Fret rule that all my books endorse: 

Critique of One-finger-per-fret technique

I actually watched these a few times and stood in front of the mirror to see exactly what Adam was talking about when I was initially practicing. Years ago, when it was just me and my book, I made all of the mistakes that he spoke about. My wrists were horribly bent and although I don’t remember them hurting, I’m old now and between being on the computer all day for work, and then practicing bass, I don’t want to make it so I have to rely on my wife to smack herself on the ass and send herself to the kitchen, so I do my best to try and keep my wrists straight when playing.

Adam’s videos make a lot of sense to me. Much of what he says is also not touched upon in all of the books that I have. Many of them have pictures of people playing the bass in all of the ways that he says not to. Youtube is also full of bassists who hold their instruments using what I now look at as improper form. Granted, many of them can really play, but they’re probably doing a lot of damage to their wrists without knowing it. 

So, anyway, watch those videos, read through the comments if you’ve got time to kill and bear his insights in mind when you’re practicing.

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9 responses

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