Getting Rid of Tendonitis for Good by Igor Saavedra – Part 1… I’m sure many of you know that I started very late in music when I was 22 years old. Before that magical day in my life when I felt in love with music and with Electric Bass, I was studying at the University to become a Physical Education Teacher.
I’m mentioning all this because what I have to say regarding the topic of this month’s article doesn’t come only from my experience as a Bass player, but also from having studied that career for more than four years before suddenly quitting it so to become a professional musician… which obviously is something that I don’t regret at all
When I was just starting as a bassist back in my country, I was aware that I was really old to start with a life project from zero at that age, so for the first three years I was studying almost 17 hours a day! Anyway that was something very good for me because very soon (within those first three years) I started playing with many important artists in my country.
While being on the third year of having started playing music, that’s when I was about 25 years old, the alarm lights started blinking…. While studying very hard I felt a really bad pain and swelling on the back of my right hand and wrist, and I immediately knew that a tendonitis was starting its process and that I had to do something immediately or if not everything was going to become harder to solve. In fact, this situation was the genesis of VST (Vectorial Synthesis Technique), which is the Bass technique I’ve being developing for the last 20 years. Don’t worry my friends, in this article I won’t try to convince you to turn to my technique (Maybe I will do that in another article though – hahahaha)! What I want here is to help you and to give you hope if you are in trouble with the tendonitis issue, sharing with you what I consider the best solutions you can apply in order to get rid of that problem FOR GOOD!
What I told you about happened to me back in June 1990. In that moment I did a profound analysis on the exact reasons that caused me that problem and to my surprise I found all of them in a couple of months… then I did my homework and went about solving them one by one… it took me almost a year but like in “Man v/s Food”…. MAN WON!
So having passed 21 years after this “event” I can literally tell you that I got rid of my tendonitis FOR GOOD, and that you won’t have to go to the whole tedious and long process of finding all the exact reasons and solutions to get rid of the problem… I already did it for you a long time ago and because I love you guys I just want share this with you. J
In this two article series I will use the same method that I used with last month’s article, which is going straight to the point sharing what I consider the 10 most important tips to learn and to apply regarding this matter.
Here you have tips 1 to 5 on Getting Rid of Tendonitis for Good…
1) Mental Relaxation
As many philosophical schools propose “All is Mental”… and I agree 100% with that. What you always need to do, is to leave your problems behind and get into the proper mental state “right before” grabbing your instrument. Just think and connect with nice and cool things, with love, with beauty, with light and good energy, and the most important, you must keep like that all the time while you are playing and not only before. If there’s not any toxic muscle tension because of your proper mental state, no opportunity for tendonitis.
“Never grab your Bass to relax through playing it, you should do that before grabbing it, that’s the main mistake many people make.”
2) Physical Relaxation
The body is what we call “Matter”, and that matter is obviously affected by our thoughts, so besides the fact of thinking and connecting with cool things before grabbing your Bass you also must concentrate and focus on your body. You must feel any part of it and mostly the areas directly involved with the execution of your Bass. Get rid of any “Isometric Contractions” which are the muscle contractions that don’t produce any articulation movements… we usually don’t notice it, but anytime we are tense this contractions affect many of our muscles, mostly the neck and the back muscles, which eventually transmit many of those tensions into the exact muscles we need for playing our instrument. As I said on the first tip, you must keep your muscles relaxed all the time while you are playing and not only before. If there’s not any toxic muscle tension because of your proper physical state, no opportunity for tendonitis.
“Before grabbing your instrument, sit for a couple of minutes and relax every muscle in your body, but certainly and mostly the specific ones you’ll need for playing.”
3) Right Position of the Articulations
This aspect has a lot to do with avoiding unnecessary isometric contractions. In general terms I suggest to you very simple things to avoid. Don’t over bend any of your articulations (mostly both wrists), if you do so the muscles will be in a constant over extended and over contracted position creating tension, which generates no work. The correct articulation positioning avoids you to relax your muscles and tendons. If there’s not any toxic muscle tension because of a proper articulation position, there’s no opportunity for tendonitis. J
“When you over-extend any muscle or group of muscles (e.g. wrist extensors), you are over contracting the opposed ones (e.g. wrist flexors), a double problem with just one action.”
4) Minimum Size and quantity of your Movements
Each time you go into practicing technique pay a lot of attention to the “size” and “quantity” of your movements. Regarding “quantity”, this is something much more complex and long to address for an article like this. “Quantity” aspect has a direct relation with the fundamentals of my Vectorial Synthesis Technique or VST, so having that said and resuming by saying that “is better to avoid any unnecessary movements”, I will focus now on the “size” of that movements.
You should try to stay as close to the strings as you can with both of your arms hands and fingers with no affecting the sound and the capability of accelerating any movement. In other words, a good thing to develop is to be able to accelerate as much as you can at the smallest distance possible. Ideally you should be able to place the tips of your fingers (from both of your hands) at 1mm from the strings at any time, so that will be the distance they’ll have to move back and forth. In that case the mechanical efficiency will be optimal, a lot of notes with almost no effort, less than .00001 miles traveled for a whole song!
“The smaller the movement the most efficient it is and the more relaxation it produces… No tension no possibilities for tendonitis.”
5) Minimum Strength on your Movements
The basis for this aspect is quite similar to the one related with the size and quantity of your movements. It’s very usual that musicians, due to many reasons, have the tendency to over press and over pluck the strings when it’s really not necessary. One really funny thing is that due to motor coordination reasons when a student is told to e.g. “Release pressure on the fingerboard’s surface”, immediately starts to play extremely soft with the right hand and when we tell the student to recuperate the volume and the “touch” on the right hand (not much, only what’s necessary) he/she immediately starts to over press the fingerboard again.
It’s very important to achieve independence in both hands allowing them not to “infect” the other with its duties. In terms of strength, each hand and finger must be able to do exactly what is required completely independent from the other, if so there won’t be any toxic muscle tension because of an excess of strength applied while playing, no opportunity for tendonitis. J
“If the technique is proficient, the strength needed to play an instrument shouldn’t be more than the one needed to caress your baby, any more strength than this is just a waist of energy and an invitation to injury.”
Applying the minimum strength while playing is a factor that doesn’t only depend on you but it also depends on the instrument itself. This is something that will be addressed in next month’s issue, in the second part of this series, which will be containing tips 6 through 10.
See you then folks!
About Igor Saavedra
It's amazing that Igor was not into music till he picked up a bass for the first time at the age of 22 in 1988.