By: James Duclos
A good motto for practicing any instrument is “You will only perform as well as you practice.” Practicing your bass is very important, but the methods you use to practice are even more important. Here we will do a quick run through of a well–developed practice session and get the low–down on knuckle cracking.
One overlooked aspect of practicing guitar is stretching before you begin playing. If you know you are going to be playing fast rhythms and running your fingers all over the place, it is a good idea to stretch your fingers beforehand. Much like an athlete running a sprint, you can injure yourself if you jump right into speed metal without first stretching your muscles.
Before you play, it may be common for you to pop your fingers. Here is your daily anatomy lesson: each joint in your body is surrounded by a thick liquid called synovial fluid. When you pop your joints, you are pulling the bones apart far enough to create a space in between the bones, or a bubble. After stretching to a certain point, this little bubble POPS, which is what creates the cracking sound. There is no evidence that popping your fingers (or any joint for that matter) leads to arthritis, but it may be one cause of decreased grip strength. So, if you can avoid popping your joints, try to.
To begin your practice session, hold out your right hand like you are telling someone to stop and then gently pull your fingers back a little farther with your left hand. Pull your hand back until you feel your muscles start to stretch a little and hold it there for about 15 seconds or more. Then, stretch your hand the other direction (down) as well. These two directions stretch the radialis brevis… well… it will stretch your forearm muscles. Repeat this stretching exercise for your left hand as well.
You will also want to stretch your thumbs, mainly on your fret hand. To stretch your thumbs, take your thumb and bend it slowly towards your forearm until you feel your muscles starting to stretch, then hold it for a few seconds.
It is also good for you to massage your hands before you play. This will relax the muscles in your hand and help you play without having to coax your fingers for those big 5–fret reaches. After stretching your hands, you should do a few scales to warm up your hands and get them used to working together again. The chromatic scale is a great scale to get warmed up on. Your total time to warm up should be long enough that you can stretch your fingers and play a few scales, but not so much that you lose the enthusiasm to practice.