Hey everybody. As a new upright player (not a new instrument, but new to the instrument) and in preparation for my lecture at the International Society of Bassists convention in June at Penn State, I thought I’d share some findings about this rewarding and at the same time challenging instrument. If you are looking for back and wrist and neck and shoulder problems, you have come to the right place.
Upright players will be more prone to have stiffness and tightness in the neck musculature due to the head moving in time with the music and leaning forward to read charts and/or to look at the neck or a conductor while playing. This can lead to soreness of these muscles and often to a pinched nerve. While not always available in an orchestral setting, it is best to have one’s own music stand to avoid unnecessary strain while transitioning between these places.
Bodyweight should be evenly distributed so that it can be shifted as needed to aid the right or left hand. The instrument should be balanced against you so that it can stand without the aid of the left hand (all assuming you are right-handed). If the weight of the body is all on the right side the left hand will have no power and vice versa.
Many bassists will sit on the edge of a chair or stool. This can frequently activate the piriformis muscle, which runs from the lowest part of the back to the hip and can cause sciatica, which presents as pain, numbness or tingling going down the leg starting in the buttock. This can be helped by balancing evenly on the stool between the right and left side of your buttocks and taking anything out of the back pockets so there won’t be any extra pressure on the muscle.
When playing upright, the vibrato should come from the elbow, not the wrist. The hand and arm should act as one in an involuntary motion, using the elbow as a support. The full arm vibrato is a sideways motion and if the hand begins to roll in you will not be able to generate the force required to press the string down. Keeping this in mind can help you to avoid wrist problems.
Make sure the peg height is set correctly so that you don’t have to alter your
posture, any more than is absolutely necessary to compensate for tight musculature from an uncomfortable stance. This alone can cause you discomfort anywhere in your back which can lead to other areas as the body compensates to try and lighten the load.
These are a few things immediately discovered when playing the upright bass. There will be some discomfort. But it is worth it. These tips should help with part of the process.
You can watch my lecture at the International Society of Bassists convention via streaming video on Friday June 12th at 11:00 a.m. EST. Hope you get a chance to tune in. Details are available at the ISB website, www.isbworldoffice.com or from me at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.drkertz.com.
All the best always,