Bad wrist form will make you unable to play bass. Plain and simple.
There’s nothing worse than not being able to play bass and have fun doing it for preventable reasons.
Now, proper playing form is something that’s hotly disputed among guitarists, bassists and even piano players alike. Everyone has their own way of:
- Feeling comfortable as they play and
- Actually being able to play to their full potential
In this post, we’re going to explore optimal wrist form. We’re going to delve into what are some of the common ways bass players position their wrist
Arching Over the Back Or Floating Away From the Bass
Let’s take a look at this picture of Jaco Pastorius for a minute and pay attention to his wrist placement:
What do you see?
Nothing? Take a cloooosseerr look.
See how his wrist is resting on the back of the bass?
Do you also see how high up his bass is strung?
When bassists talk about positioning your wrist so it arches over the back of the bass, this is what they’re referring to: your wrist is resting on the curved back of the bass while you play.
In contrast, let’s take a look of this picture of Flea playing:
In Flea’s case, he’s got the bass slung low and his wrist handing down into the bass with his elbow out.
His wrist seldom touches the bass when it’s this low.
A Correlation Between Bass Height and Wrist Position
Based on these two pictures, it would be fair to say that there is a clear correlation between the height of the instrument and how you position your wrist (generally speaking) and it goes like this:
The higher up the bass, the greater amount of arch you need to put on your wrist and the lower the instrument is positioned, the less arch you need to put on your wrist.
Why is this important to consider?
Because when you’re new to an instrument – or any skill for that matter – the first inclination is to mimic those who inspired you to play or those that you want to be like.
The issue with mimicry is that the imitation is not always 100% one-for-one. We impart our own spin on what we’re seeing and end up creating a hodgepodge of what we see the experts doing and what we’re actually capable of.
As a result, we end up developing bad playing habits which we carry for years into our playing.
Moreover, our playing will likely continue to develop. We’ll likely try to learn more difficult lines and more challenging techniques.
But our form will stay the same or continue to adapt in an awkward way that doesn’t help match our playing potential and capabilities.
Here’s What You Should Do to Prevent Gig-Ending Wrist Problems
Tip #1: The next time you play, make yourself aware of any and all ‘tension’ spots.
Tension spots are the spots where you can feel your wrist tense up when you play.
Areas of small pains can easily escalate to areas of large pain and other problems like Carpal Tunnel that can put you out of commission for months at a time. At the first sight of pain, change up
Tip #2: Consider using some wrist warm up exercises before practice and shows – especially if you know it’s going to be an intense performance.
The best time to stretch is before and after any workout. We might not be running miles up hills or bench pressing in the gym after work, but as bass players and musicians, live performances and practice times are our musical workout.
Tip #3: Identify where your own personal comfort zone is
Your personal comfort zone covers two points:
- Where it physically feels best to play and
- Where you’re able to perform at your best
It doesn’t do you any good to position your right hand in such a way that is neither comfortable nor allows you to play to your full capacity.
Though it’s seldom discussed, it’s not uncommon for players to move their right hand and right wrist around as they play to get different levels of comfort and tones. So if it suits you to move around as you play – do it!
BUT WAIT! What If I’m Sitting Down to Play? How Should I Hold The Bass Then?
Proper form when sitting down to play bass is just as important to consider as standing up to play.
Luckily, many if not all of the points discussed apply to sitting down and playing as well as standing up:
- Understanding that the height you have your bass strung up to will affect where you position your wrist and how comfortable it’s likely to be
- Any pain or discomfort in your playing form should be identified and changed before it escalates
- Arching the wrist over the back of the bass or playing with the elbow out are just as applicable as if you were standing
Being smart about where to position your wrist when playing bass is crucial to avoiding preventable injuries.
What feels right and what helps you achieve your best playing is ultimately what matters at the end of the day. Certain rock star players have their own form which could be called “improper”, but, clearly, that playing style works for them.
That doesn’t mean it will work for you.
And of course, at the first indicators of pain change your playing immidiately or if it really gets bad, consult a doctor.
Lastly, check out this video for more information on wrist pain identification and cures:
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