Can Playing the Bass Be A Painless Experience?

Staying relaxed, practicing good posture go a long way

By Jon Liebman
Week of March 23, 2020

Many years ago, I had a bass teacher who used to say, “No one was born to play an instrument.” The point he was making was that our bodies need to conform to the laws of nature when we set out to play an instrument. Especially when that instrument is a bass.

Regardless of whether you play electric, upright, or both, there are certain ways the body needs to move, often unnaturally, in order to achieve the desired result. Granted, for certain techniques we build a gradual tolerance and are resigned to endure pain along the way, like thumb position, wrist or shoulder fatigue. And don’t forget how much your fingertips hurt when you were a beginner!

What got me thinking about all this was my interview with Marcos Varela, published this week on FBPO. Marcos is incessantly traveling around the world playing shows, sessions, and festivals, not to mention solo projects, composing, arranging, and more. What enables him to put his body (and mind) through so much non-stop performing – and to keep coming back for more?

Marcos is a big proponent of staying relaxed while playing the bass. “If you’re ever straining anything, you’re doing something wrong,” he says. Posture and core strength are an important part of his approach, as well. “I even do a workout regimen where I try to strengthen my core, and think from that part of my body, whether I’m playing upright or electric.”

It’s important to be mindful of what you’re asking your body to do when you play the bass. It’s also crucial to avoid straining anything. “I think that’s overlooked,” Marcos says. “People just kind of start playing, at least I did, and I had to go back and relearn these things for myself. It really opened up my playing.”

If we want to play the bass, we need to adapt. After all, nobody was made to play an instrument.

How about you? Do you have any warm-up routines, stretches, or anything else that keeps you in top-notch bass-playing from? If so, leave a comment below and share. I’d love to know what you do. In the meantime, check out my interview with Marcos here.

Comments on Can Playing the Bass Be A Painless Experience?

  1. Many years ago, I started getting pains in my elbows while performing. I did what all musicians do, I went to the doctor! It was time for a regular checkup anyways. I explained to him my concerns of my elbows. He asked me to show him my positioning, so I played air bass for him. He stopped me and said “You have Tennis Elbow, but we’ll call it Musicians Elbow”. I asked him there was such a thing, and replied, there is now. Ok, fine; fix it. He gave me two instructions. Lower the bass, then slowly work it up to a non-hurting and comfortable level, and stretch before picking up the bass. At the time I played the instrument very high, some called it Jazz style. Fifteen years later, no pain and still follow his direction.

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