Today, we’ll embark on a journey to bid farewell to a silent adversary that’s plagued many bass guitarists: bad wrist angles.
In the pursuit of mastery, we often overlook the importance of proper technique, unwittingly subjecting ourselves to unnecessary strain, discomfort, and even injury.
In this bass guitar lesson, I’ll breakdown my personal approach for avoiding bad wrist angles on the bass. While your wrists won’t avoid angles 100% of the time (while playing) there are some crucial things to keep in mind.
Let’s get started.
If you’re short on time, watch my video that shows the causes of sharp wrist angles and what you can do about it. If you want to correct your technique, this is the video for you.
Here Are The Best Tips For Avoiding Wrist Angles With Your Plucking Hand and Fretting Hand
Before we dive in, understand that even the best bass players will play something where their right hand, left hand, or posture will look awkward or unnatural. The truth is, you can’t avoid a bad wrist angle 100% of the time.
Where it becomes problematic is when you’re playing this with excess wrist bend for extended periods of time. That’s when problems, like nerve damage, stress with your flexor tendons, even pain in your elbow begin to manifest.
General rule of thumb: if you can keep your wrist in a neutral position, you’ll increase your chances of playing pain-free.
4 Tips For Establishing Proper Hand and Wrist Alignment
Now that you know why you want to avoid or at least minimize the occurrence of, what I call “Tyrannosaurus Rex Wrists,” here’s what you can do.
These tips may help even if you have small hands.
Bass Guitar Height In Relation To Your Body Matters
Pay attention to how high the bass is on your body. If your stand when playing bass guitar, the length of your shoulder strap will directly impact where the bass guitar rests on your body.
If you play the bass guitar sitting, like I do, then the bass guitar will be as high as it can be resting on your leg.
Here’s why this matters:
- The higher your bass guitar is on your body, your fretting hand is less likely to form a bad wrist angle and more likely to remain in a neutral position. Which is good for your fretting hand. However, your plucking hand will likely have a bad wrist angle and become tense.
- The lower your bass guitar is on your body, your plucking hand will be able to maintain a neutral position and play freely. However, your fretting hand will suffer and likely form a bad wrist angle, and inhibit your stretch on the lower frets.
It almost seems like a lose-lose situation. So, strike a balance. Explore different holding your bass guitar at different heights and find the sweet spot that works for you.
How to keep your plucking hand wrist from bending too much
You’re gonna want to watch my video in order to fully understand this.
When you lay your bass guitar flat on your lap and then rest your plucking hand on top, your wrist will naturally be at a neutral position.
The idea is that your wrist remains in this same position when you bring your bass back up into playing position.
There’s a couple things to observe in order to keep the wrist of your plucking hand neutral:
- It’s important to keep your palm or base of your thumb close or touching the surface of your bass guitar. Doing so is one of the easiest ways to keep your hand from floating away and forming a bent wrist.
- If you place the thumb and anchor it on a pickup or the E-String, you’ll notice that your wrist will bend when you pluck the higher strings. So, I recommend a floating thumb technique, or what I prefer to call a hovering thumb (because I don’t press on any string). Instead of anchoring your thumb and resting it on a pickup or string, let your thumb hover over the strings as you pluck.
How to keep your fretting hand wrist neutral
Experiencing pain and not being able to play sucked for me. And, I wanted to figure things out so I could get back to playing music.
I discovered the following approach during my 6 month hiatus from playing the bass. It was a game-changer for me and the ergonomics of playing bass guitar.
I call this the Shotgun Method. And, it keeps the wrist of your fretting hand relaxed and in a neutral position.
The Shotgun Method For Holding A Bass Guitar
This approach works especially well if you’re sitting when you play. This is the approach I’ve learned works best for me and I hope it is very helpful to you.
All you’re gonna do is hold your bass guitar, similar to a shotgun, where the headstock of the bass is almost directly above your knee.
Again, watch my video and it’ll make sense when you see it.
Holding your bass guitar this way gets rid of any acute wrist angle with your fretting hand, even at the highest positions of the fretboard and even with playing chords!
When I started playing the bass guitar in this position many years ago, I found that my stamina and overall finger span on the fretboard dramatically improved.
Negative Impacts of Bad Wrist Angles When Playing Bass
The consequences of improper wrist positioning can range from discomfort and strain to more severe issues like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
In my case, I developed both, which resulted in me having to take a 6 month hiatus from playing the bass. And, this led me to reevaluate my bass playing technique and pay attention to every nuance my body was telling me.
Here are some key negative effects every musician should be aware of:
- Discomfort and Pain: Improper wrist angles can lead to immediate discomfort and pain while playing. Straining your wrists in awkward positions can cause muscle fatigue, tension, tingling in your fingers, and even acute pain during or after your practice sessions.
- Limited Technique and Control: Incorrect wrist angles restrict your ability to execute techniques with precision. It can impede your finger movements, hinder your ability to navigate the fretboard smoothly, and limit your control over dynamics and articulation.
- Reduced Speed and Fluidity: Poor wrist angles can slow down your playing speed and hinder your ability to achieve fluid, seamless transitions between notes. It can create unnecessary tension and hinder the efficiency of your movements.
- Increased Risk of Injuries: Playing with bad wrist angles for extended periods of time can increase the risk of developing chronic conditions like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. These conditions can cause pain, numbness, weakness, and potentially require medical intervention or even surgery.
- Frustration and Hindered Progress: Constant physical discomfort can lead to frustration, discouragement, and a slowed learning process. It may prevent you from advancing to more challenging techniques and repertoire.
By understanding and actively addressing bad wrist angles, you can overcome these negative impacts, improve your playing experience, and pave the way for greater musical growth and enjoyment on the bass guitar.
Now It’s Your Turn
By diving into the nuance of proper technique and exploring strategies for maintaining optimal wrist alignment, you’ve taken a significant step toward improving your playing experience and safeguarding your physical well-being.
Remember, perfecting your wrist angles requires time, patience, consistent practice, and constant exploration. As you continue your musical journey, be mindful of your hand and wrist positioning, striving for comfort, efficiency, and fluidity in your playing. Take breaks when needed, stretch your hands and wrists regularly, and listen to your body’s signals to prevent overexertion.
By implementing the techniques and insights shared in this lesson, you’re equipping yourself with the tools necessary to unlock your full potential as a bassist. Embrace the journey of continuous improvement, for every step forward brings you closer to achieving mastery and expressing your unique musical voice.
Now, armed with this newfound knowledge, go forth and apply it to your practice sessions, rehearsals, and performances. Embrace the joy of playing with freedom, control, and precision. Keep plucking and rocking on!