Avoiding Discomfort and Pain When Playing the Upright Bass

Double Bassist

Photo by Dani Alvarez

It should be physically easy to play the upright bass. When we experience discomfort or pain, during or after playing, it is our body’s way of telling us that we are doing something wrong.

While each body is unique, there are general guidelines all bassists can follow which will reduce the potential for bass-related injury. Below are some general recommendations I follow to avoid discomfort, pain and injury.

Be Aware of Your Body

When playing, be as aware as possible of your posture, your physical balance, how freely your joints move, etc. Many musicians investigate Tai-Chi, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique to help them improve their body awareness. Be aware not only at the bass, but throughout the day. Aim for maximum balance and freedom of motion.

Use Gravity Above Muscular Effort

It takes muscular effort to play the bass. Such effort, however, should be specifically directed and as minimal as possible. Whether you are pressing the string down on the fingerboard, shifting, or playing loudly with the bow, attempt to use your bodies “dead weight” to your advantage. Try to achieve any sound with a maximum of gravity and a minimum of muscle. Experiment with bass and body placement to find the optimal positioning for each activity. Attempt to see how easy you can make playing the bass.

Practice Regularly

One way to increase the likelihood of injury is to play in “fits and spurts.” Taking three weeks off and then playing 4 hours a day for a week, for example, is difficult on your body. Playing the bass everyday will not only increase your abilities, but it will keep your body in playing shape and reduce the potential for injury.

Seek a Professional Opinion

If you are already experiencing discomfort, seek out an experienced teacher to address any physical issues. Some issues may need to be addressed by people in the medical field, of course, but an experienced teacher with the relevant background is a good place to start.

Regular Exercise and Stretching

It should be no surprise to anyone that having even a light exercise regimen will help reduce your chances for bass-related injury. Pick something you enjoy and do it on a regular basis. Of course, as bassists we need not only strength but also flexibility. Adding some stretching to your routine will help with this. Many bassists take up yoga, or similar activities, for this reason.

Practice Intelligent Transport

Carting the bass around is often more taxing on the body than actually playing it. Be aware of how you use your body when loading basses, amps, etc. into your vehicles. You are basically moving furniture, be smart about how you do it. Use dollies, or casters, when transporting amplifiers and the like. Get a wheel, or “buggy,” for your upright bass and use it when walking more than a few yards with the bass.

Even if we are not currently experiencing discomfort, I believe it is wise to incorporate the above concepts into our playing, so as to avoid potential issues in the future. If you are already experiencing discomfort or pain, then absorbing these ideas into your playing should help to improve, and potentially eliminate, any issues.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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