Photo by Hani Amir
Q: I’d like to ask something about right hand endurance. I’m playing in two metal bands, so some of our songs are rather fast-paced (I play 95% of the time with a pick). When rehearsing, everything seems just okay – no problems. But when playing live, my right tends to get this irregular muscular tension, and after a short bit of time I need to drop the pick and continue with finger-style. Do you know this problem or have you ever heard of other bass players with this issue? Do I just have to practice more right hand endurance? Can you show me some exercises, please?
A: The only thing I can think of that would cause tension during live performance where there is none during rehearsal is… tension, so to speak.
What I think is most likely happening is one of two things (or possibly both):
1. You are playing at a better relative volume to the band during rehearsals than you are live. Or possibly you just aren’t hearing yourself well enough live. I’ve come across this when practicing a particularly difficult passage. I’m fine in the shed, but on stage, I have a hard time pulling it off. With me, this is usually because I’m playing harder live as I tend to be very conscious about my volume. But when I’m practicing, I’m often at a volume that would be inconsiderate to the music (so I can hear myself well). In short, I practice with my volume cranked and then when I hit the stage, I wind up plucking harder because I’m not hearing myself as well.
The only real cure here is to force yourself to play lighter by turning your volume up either on your amp or in your monitor wedge (or in-ears – which is likely the better solution). No need to clutter up the stage volume. If you force yourself to play with a lighter touch, you’ll be more relaxed and able to play faster, for longer.
2. You are just plain tensing up on stage for one reason or another. This might be due to a tendency to get more “into it” in front of an audience and you’re moving much more and using more strength to perform and/or plain old nerves. All I can suggest here is that you breath deeply and try to relax.
Aside from general relaxation, the only thing you can really do is to make sure that you are practicing like you will be playing live. I generally sit when I practice and stand when I gig, but if you’re having a disconnect, it might be best to match the two experiences as best as you can. Stand up, use and pedals that you use during the show, move like you’re going to move (beware of the ceiling fan and other obstacles in the room if you are hyper-animated), and just play like you’re really playing the show. That includes keeping your volume at the same level (relative to the music).
As far as finger exercises go, it sounds like playing that music is enough of a workout. Just keep practicing your music and be aware of your body. Watch out for pain and do not try to play through it. Notice your body mechanics and make sure that your overall ergonomics are on point. If your body is relaxed, your mind clear and your sound is happening, you should be in the clear!