How Bass Players Can Stay Healthy

25 02 2010

Bass player health is a topic that’s widely overlooked. How could you possibly hurt yourself playing an instrument? And is it really possible to injure yourself so badly that you can risk ruining your career as a musician?


Playing bass isn’t always riffs and giggles. Bass players can suffer from a range of health problems, including carpal tunnel, tendonitis, tennis elbow, neck, arm and back problems and even focal dystonia, a rare condition that causes the muscles (usually of the hand in bassists) to lock up, sometimes permanently.

Personally, I have definitely hurt myself playing my beloved instrument. I’ve split fingertips and torn fingernails using improper slapping techniques, and I have developed minor tennis elbow, carpal tunnel and other wrist problems due to playing with improper form for over a year.

Once I realized that the pain I was experiencing could get worse, and could possibly stop me from playing bass, I set out to research how to stay healthy while playing bass, and how to manage and—better yet—avoid these problems altogether.

So without further ado, here are some quick tips for staying healthy while slappin’ de bass:

  • Always warm up before you play. Start with your whole body (anything to get your blood pumping), and do some full-body stretches. Next, warm up your fingers by playing chromatic scales until your hands are relaxed and warm to the touch. Never, ever play with cold hands.
  • Take frequent breaks. Drink water, stretch, move around. Also, if you can, break your practice time into segments, with each segment focusing on a different technique. This way you’re less likely to overdo it, and more likely to take breathers and relax in between jam sessions.
  • Be conscious of what your body is telling you while you’re playing your instrument. Think about your posture and remember to breathe regularly (you’d be surprised how much you might tend to hold your breath while concentrating on a difficult solo). Pay attention to any excess tension you feel in your muscles, and work to correct it by changing your posture or technique.
  • Play songs appropriate to your skill level. While it’s important to lightly challenge yourself, don’t attempt the most difficult song you can find when you’re just learning how to play. Not only will you most likely become frustrated, you run the risk of pushing tendons and muscles too far and injuring yourself before you really even get started.
  • Choose an instrument that fits your body. Playing an instrument that is too large or too heavy for you can cause you to overcompensate, straining muscles and possibly leading to back, neck, and shoulder pain.
  • Finally, do not play through the pain. If you’re playing a song and your left arm is going numb or the tendons of your hands feel inflamed, take a break. If the pain continues to persist even though you’ve been following the above guidelines, seek out a physician knowledgeable about musicians’ injuries.

For more info on musician’s health, check out this website, which has a ton of links to other informative websites and lots of suggested warm-up routines.