Warming Up for Bass

Several months ago I wrote an article for Bass Guitar Magazine covering warming up for bass playing on what we do and don’t know so far, as the issue has passed and I own the copyright I can release it online here, enjoy.

“I know I should warm up” is a phrase I frequently here from musicians I see, and reading through a variety of online and text resources can leave you bombarded with suggestions from arpeggios and scales, to stretches and press ups. Doing all that combined can leave you warming up longer than actually playing and pretty bored as well.

Do I need to warm up?

Let’s be honest, if you’re sitting down to play for only 5-10 mins whilst waiting for something a warm up isn’t necessary. But warming up before a 60 minute gig or longer practice session is generally advised, not just for reducing the risk of injury as we will discuss below, but a sufficient warm up has been shown to lead to better performance in musicians too.

Will warming up reduce my injury risk?

We think so. Research in sport has found that a sufficient warm up of 15-20 minutes reduces the risk of lower limb injury in team sports (ref), and recent research has found the same for the shoulder injuries in handball athletes (ref). Research of the same size and quality has yet to be done in musicians, though a couple of smaller studies with regular warm ups as part of an overall injury risk reduction program have shown potential (ref).

What’s the best warm up for reducing injury risk?

That is very much un-known at present, though often the most effective warm ups for reducing injury risk are those containing a variety of different exercise types (e.g. strength, balance, stretching, technique etc), whilst those focusing on one individual type of exercise are less effective at reducing injury risk compared to multi-dimensional warm ups.

For bassists this means that warming up should be done both on and off the fretboard and should take around 10-15 minutes before a long performance or practice session. On the fretboard activities would include; scales, arpeggios, technical drills, improvising or just playing an actual piece.

Off the fretboard activities can cover a whole variety of options:

  • Stretches, we are all brought up doing them and are probably the most common warm up done. Can either be done statically holding a position for 20-30 seconds, or alternatively can be done dynamically for the same time period by repeatedly moving in and out of the stretch position quickly which gets the blood flowing faster and warmer quicker.
  • Resistance exercise, whether that’s bodyweight exercises such as press ups, planks and squats, or using the bass or amp as a weight to do some lunges and bicep curls. All working to get prepared for throwing the heavy bass around
  • Cardiovascular exercise to prepare the heart & lungs for a lively performance (and also to calm some nerves), whether that’s going for a jog, hopping on a bike, star jumps or even dreaded burpees.

Plus anything else that takes your fancy (e.g. handstands, ping pong, wrestling), the more variety the better for those 10-15 minutes, and remember not only will it help reduce your risk, it may well improve your performance too.

Have a nice day,

Ben.