Getting Rid of Tendonitis for Good by Igor Saavedra – Part 2… (Click to read 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 fell 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 did have 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, on this article I won’t try to convince you to turn into 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 which 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. On 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 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 long time ago and because I love you guys I just want to share this with you. J
In this two article series I will use the same method that I used with the 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 6 through 10 where I’ll be mostly taking care of the aspects that are related with the instrument itself…
6) Changing the muscles involved or the way you use them
It is good that you know we indeed have the capability of doing the same work and getting almost the same results on our instrument by using a different muscle or group of muscles than the usual, even though apparently it will look and sound as if we are still doing the same. We can achieve this “magic” just by performing a slight torsion or angle variation on some of our fingers, arms or even our neck and back muscles.
I will give you a simple and clear example so you can get the general idea and apply it on a different situation. Let’s say you are experiencing some severe pain on the tendon that extends your thumb every time you slap and the doctor told you that it’s a chronic problem and it will never get better unless you undergo surgery or keep taking pain medication for life… well, the doctor is not a bass player, so I can tell you here what you can really do to solve the problem simply and naturally…
First of all “forget about that tendon and let it rest for good.” Anyway, probably after 2 years of not using it, it will be almost completely cured, but it doesn’t really matter.
Secondly, don’t over-extend it and slap the strings with the tip of that thumb facing the floor instead of the roof J, or hang your bass higher so that you have to bend your arm more so that your wrist can stay in a higher position than the elbow. On that position you won’t need to over extend your thumb so you won’t be contracting and stressing that extensor tendon and it will be anyway resting at the perfect angle and you’ll still be capable of killing the audience with your monster slap chops… Problem solved!
7) Instrument Ergonomics
The instrument factor is something crucial… in a way that if you are playing on an instrument that doesn’t suit you it could generate a serious problem on any of your muscles and tendons. Please consider the following aspects and analyze if any of these aspects can be improved.
Always prefer a lighter instrument… a lighter instrument doesn’t necessarily mean that it will have a “lighter sound”, that’s a very common misunderstood. A lighter instrument will relieve a lot of stress from your back and shoulder muscles and that means that tension won’t have the opportunity to be redirected and transmitted to your most fragile tendons which are the ones located on your wrist and fingers.
Watch out for the bass neck… generally the thinner the better. Try resting your hand completely relaxed over any table with the palm facing up and check which is the natural separation between the index and thumb finger tips, it’s not much as you can see, perhaps a little more than one inch, that’ll be a good point of reference for you.
I said this once in a previous article: Use a wide strap and not a narrow one. “The wider the strap the more the weight is distributed on your shoulder, the less stress on your shoulder the more relaxation on your arms and fingers”.
Balance is also absolutely important; if you have to be all the time pushing the neck up with your arm you’ll be adding unnecessary and avoidable stress to all your muscle system.
Finally, if you have small hands the last thing you’ll need is a 35”, 36” or even 37” scale bass or a 20 or 22 mm spacing between strings. What you’ll need instead is a 34”, 33.5” or even 33” scale bass and perhaps a 17mm, 16mm or even 15 mm string spacing. In fact, I’m 6,2” tall and my bass has a 15.5mm string spacing and is a 33.5” scale bass… J
8) String height
This is a really simple and effective way to make yourself comfortable and relaxed while you are playing your instrument and keep any danger of injuring yourself really far. In order to achieve that, you just need two things. First of all, a perfectly straight neck & fingerboard, and second a perfectly leveled fret surface. Depending on the quality of the bass, it can come like that from the factory or can be later improved to almost perfection by any proficient Luthier.
Always remember that woods are suffering constant compression and expansion movements, which tend to decrease as the wood advances through its natural drying process, so the newer your instrument the more probability of having to send it to the bass technician at least once a year for the first 2 or 3 years. If the instrument is a really high end instrument where the woods were previously dried for many years till perfection, resting and waiting to be handcrafted on the exact moment, you won’t need to take care of that for many years till the frets get worn by the strings.
Once you have a perfect neck & fingerboard you can really lower the strings as much as you can. When calibrating I suggest setting a perfectly straight fingerboard and not a slightly concave one. The reason is simple… when you are playing your instrument the bass is resting on its side with the strings facing front and not with the strings facing the roof like when its being calibrated at the bass tech’s working table… so what’s the need for applying that slight concaveness to compensate the string’s catenary (bending)?? I really don’t see the point on doing that, I have never done it myself so I’ve been always able to set my strings really low and comfortable with no undesired buzzing at all.
Eventually, the limit for lowering the strings is given by the quality of the sound you are looking for. If you don’t have any buzzing and the sound is still profound and warm, I suggest to continue lowering them till you get as closer as you can from that limit… and in fact, if you purposely want that “buzzy sound” like for example the “Korn” bass sound, well… cross that limit and lower the strings even more. Finally this is about sound tastes and nobody has the ultimate truth J
I resume this tip about string height just by saying that a lower string needs much less pressure from the fingers so to make contact with the fret and give us the desired note… the less effort the more efficient the technique… J
9) String tension
String tension is given by three main factors: Scale, Gauge and Tuning… and in simple words it works like this.
The bigger the gauge, the longer the scale or the higher the tuning;
“The higher the tension”
The smaller the gauge, the shorter the scale or the lower the tuning;
“The lower the tension”
A highly tensioned string has a very particular sound that you may like or you may not like… like everything it also has advantages and disadvantages that I’ve addressed in previous articles. The great Anthony Jackson is one of the most important bassists that follow the idea of using “High tension systems”, in fact he mostly uses 36” scale basses and has even experimented with much longer scale basses than that… obviously he likes the sound produced by that configuration.
I’m on the completely opposite trend, and that means I see much more advantages than disadvantages on using “Low tension systems”, but we are not going to go deep on that matter now.
What’s important for me on this article’s context are the alternatives and options I can provide you, so being able to help you on getting rid of any physical problem your bass might be causing you, and on that context I must say “A low tension system is exactly what you’ll need on this case”.
The lower the tension the softer the string, so that means you won’t need to apply too much energy in order to push the string down so to make contact with the fret and get a note. Also, when it comes to expressive resources like bendings and vibratos you’ll need much less strength in order to get that job done because the strings won’t be there… “Stiff like a metal bar” opposing to your finger pressure.
Finally, remember once again that you can lower the tension on your system by: a) Using smaller gauges, b) Playing on slightly shorter scale basses, and c) Lowering the tuning of your instrument, which is something I don’t do and I don’t recommend at all…
10) Getting rid of fear for good.
This very last tip has to do with a psychological related attitude that might be the most important one on the list, that one that might change your life as an instrumentalist forever if you are suffering from pain while playing, but only if all you’ve read on this two articles has made complete sense to you… making you seriously consider putting into practice the information provided.
I’ve been putting into practice all what I’ve mentioned here with so many students for so many years… you can trust this information because it’s not just theoretical… it comes from the reality and from more than 20 years of teaching and learning experience. Obviously I’m just a musician and not a prophet J… but “believe me on this” because I really know what I’m saying here.
If you seriously work out this information and dig really deep into this healing process and experience I can certainly assure you that the results are going to show up really fast. and in many cases INSTANTLY!
Finally, the most important thing you have to do is getting rid of that terrible fear from harming yourself again while playing, because that fear won’t let you flow and will be always paralyzing you… but mostly because it will never let you fully enjoy the magic of music playing.
You’ll be able to make that fear disappear by trusting science and knowledge that comes from experience and those two aspects have been addressed and applied here on this two articles.
I love you guys… and for that reason I want you to stay healthy and creative. I don’t want humanity to suffer the tragedy of loosing any great musician generally on its formation process for a reason that is completely solvable with the right information available…
Peace, Love and tons of Light. see you on the next month my friends…