I’d like to go over some material I presented recently in a pair of lectures for the International Society of Bassists biannual convention in San Francisco. If you haven’t had the chance to go to one, check out the next convention in Rochester, New York in 2013.
Although most of this material applies to upright in particular, it can also be easily extrapolated to include electric. Let’s dive in:
Before playing- assess your posture. Are your shoulders relaxed, are your feet planted firmly on the ground, evenly balanced, not shifting your weight on one side or the other? Is the bass evenly balanced? The way you start is the way you will finish, and leaning on one side or the other makes the low back muscles tighten up, and will become learned behavior and will affect the body all the time, as it now thinks this is correct and the way it is supposed to be.
Always warm up before playing- simple stretches such as shoulder shrugs, lifting your shoulders up and then dropping them down again, while rotating them in a circular motion forward and backward, shaking out your wrists and rotating them in a circular manner first one way and then the other, and remembering to remain loose are all necessary to avoid excessive muscle tightness which can start when you first begin playing if you aren’t sufficiently relaxed. With these as with any stretches or warm ups, if it is uncomfortable make sure you are doing it correctly, and if it is still uncomfortable discontinue.
Especially for the upright bassist, constant shoulder elevation with the left arm out and up makes one prone to rotator cuff problems and tendonitis.
When dealing with younger bassists who are just getting started in their careers and will be going for scholarships and placements, the concepts of good posture and not overdoing it, i.e. playing through pain, must be stressed. These players will be practicing more, and it will likely be drummed into their head through teachers, friends, and mostly well meaning individuals to keep pushing ahead, and they will equate more practice and playing with progress and betterment and will likely not pay attention to how their bodies are feeling. Bad habits learned now will develop into lifelong problems. They may show up now or in 10 years, but they will show up and by then it may be too late.
Many upright bassists will lean to one side or the other. I have also seen technique books in which they instruct the player to stand with the side of the bass leaning against the player, thereby ensuring that they will lean to one side. This sets up the player for future low back problems, as leaning to one side makes these muscles tighten up, and again, becomes a learned behavior and a chronic problem. Weight should be distributed evenly on both sides, with the feet planted firmly and the bass leaning back against the body at an angle. This will not only help the low back but the shoulders as the arms will not have to strain to reach the fingerboard. With the bass leaning against the body on its side, reaching around to play the e string will result in a bad wrist angle.
Some new information, mostly reminders, hope your summers are going well and see you next time-