Eek, Flying Fingers! (and what you can do about them right now)


One of the most common questions I get from students of the Beginner to Badass course is how to get their fretting fingers to stop flailing and flying around.

This is a really important topic, but something I chose to put limited attention on in the course.

But why Josh??? My fingers are so craaaazzzzzyyyyyyyy…

Optimizing left hand technique is a years-long journey, maybe life-long (I still feel like I’m making improvements after 15+ years), so you can’t do it perfectly right away. To me, the priority is to start playing and having fun, and then gradually improve technique over months and years.

So yes, you want to reduce the distances your fretting fingers travel so that you’re not wasting energy. But the first priority is to play the right notes at the right time, and have fun, and then you can worry about optimizing technique.

That said, here’s something you can do right now, regardless of your ability level - just intend to move your fingers a little bit more efficiently every time you play.

It’s not really an exercise, or a new technique, or an act of magical manifestation. You just pay attention to what your hands are doing, and make an effort to communicate subtler movement commands to your fingers. All it takes is some attention, and some exploration and curiosity. Every time you play, you just think along the lines of “Hmm, I wonder if I can get my finger to stay a little closer to the neck after I lift it this time.”

So yes, there are lots of exercises we can do to work on fretting efficiency and flailing fingers, but if you’re in the realm of beginnerdom, my recommendation is to focus on playing music, having fun, and maybe putting a little attention/intention into moving more efficiently.

Let me know if that helps you, or if you have any follow up questions! I’m here to help. :slight_smile:


I definitely have the death grip. I feel like I have to press hard to get a decent sound so the strings do not rattle. I’m playing as close as I can to each fret. Hmmm.


@bauerfamlee. I was having the same issue, but spent some time with set up and now I don’t have to press very hard. As Josh has indicated, it’s amazing how much easier a properly set up bass is to play.


Yeah, like @ktm990guy said, it’s possible your bass needs a setup, have you ever had that done?


I had the death grip issue too and yes, it was because my setup is out of whack. I took it to a music shop to get it fixed. The Bass Mechanic…? Looked at my setup and tried his best to get my strings lowered(All for free after listening to his bass playing adventures lol) but couldn’t get it properly set right by just only adjusting the bridge and nut, because my neck is little warped.


What kind of bass do you have? Is it an acoustic? If not, did he try adjusting the truss rod?


It’s a Fender Squire Jazz Bass, yes he checked the truss rod and corrected it, but my neck still was warped. He said it was probably because I didn’t changed the strings at all. It’s my first bass and had it for almost 3 three years. If that’s the cause of damage, then lesson learned


Not changing the strings shouldn’t warp the neck… But yeah that action is crazy crazy high. I’m not totally convinced the neck isn’t fixable, but also since it’s a Squire J bass it’s not that expensive to get a working replacement, new or used.


Oh really? hmmm…I need to find another mechanic then lol. I feel this issue is holding me back. I’m currently saving to buy a new bass in September, so it would be nice to be able to get this issue corrected without pulling some funds from my savings to buy another J bass.

(Oh and my apologies if I took things off-topic in this discussion. Honestly didn’t mean too).


Yeah it’s possible… I’m sorta flying blind here with limited data we can exchange this way, but sounds worth getting a second opinion.

No worries about going OT!


Here’s something I like to do with students for flying fingers… It goes along with the basic principle of relaxing. Relaxed playing is better playing… don’t ever watch any videos of me performing, or you’ll catch me in my hypocrisy (I just get so damn excited).

Here’s the game. Just hold your fretting hand out in front of you, fingers up. That’s a relaxed hand. That’s the way your hand can look when it’s on the fretboard. Floppy, close, and nearly closed.

Now - tense your hand - flex the fingers and hand. Look at what it does. The fingers pull away from each other and from your thumb. If there was a bass neck in there, your fingers would be flying.

So - relax. Relax. Relax. I offer this tip to, first, myself. Then, anyone else who shares my over-excitability.


right on.


I was getting cramps in my hand and forearm, and my hand was falling asleep, so, I consulted my son, a guitar player in an Afrobeat band. He plays that kind of staccato African jazz (super fast and bell-like) and long long jams, and yet his fingers lie almost flat (as do Josh’s in the video). Super relaxed.

He noticed where my fingers go crazy, and then isolated the three notes…he instructed me to play those three hand positions up and down the neck as “homework.”

His idea is that as I do that sequence one direction, my tight hands must stretch a tiny bit each time, and as I go the other direction, it gets easy. My homework is to do this up and down the neck whenever I have two minutes free during a day.

I was doing it a lot for “Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson. You students of the course will know which part I mean.

Also, he has me simply pressing thumb against pinky, ring, middle when not playing bass. I am suppose to do it as a habit or almost like a learned tick that I do whenever my left hand is free. People probably think I’m weird, but for someone like me with tight, weak hands, the added exercise makes a huge difference. It works! I stopped getting cramps halfway through the lesson, and I am getting A LITTLE faster and flatter. Yay.


I like those drills. The fingers-to-thumb thing is a nice tactile habit. I always ask my students to do it - it’s a nice no-bass-necessary thing to work on.


right, no bass necessary. when I was only working those muscles during lessons, it was killing me. but first I needed to back up and work those fine muscles a little at a time, bunches of times a day.


…right. Something I need to keep in mind for EVERYTHING in life. Life lesson, music lesson.
Sometimes you gotta come at the target in a more roundabout way.
Good reminder.


Glad you shared this! I often tell students that I don’t think added exercise is really necessary, but sounds like it’s really helpful for you! Maybe I’ll be more open to recommending that in the future to other students of mine.


You might be correct in many cases, especially when players are young and have more than enough stamina for these short lessons (such a great aspect of the course). Some people getting back to bass after many years off or those of a certain age group might find the isometric thing helpful if ravages like carpel tunnel have already weakened muscles. All and all, I think you have done a great job of leaving out boring exercises and tedious things that might discourage some students. We all have such short attention spans these days. It’s the music that is so enriching and motivating.


That’s exactly what I go for! Even though I personally have done many boring exercises in my day. :slight_smile:


Another reason I think this is hard to answer…Everyone’s left hand is different. I.e. in my case I have hitchhikers thumb on both hands and a double jointed pinky on my left so depending on the line I am playing keeping my left thumb/hand in the “recommended” position is very difficult. The main thing I try to remember is to keep the best attack that I can and not use my left thumb to aid me in exerting pressure on the strings but more as a guide. Sometimes I just cant keep my left thumb where it is “supposed” to be but that’s ok. I just concentrate on keeping perpendicular as much as I can and also economy (spacing of left fingers above strings…something I remember from guitar speed building exercises). Often it will appear as if I am using a “baseball bat grip” while I am playing but in reality its just my weird thumb protruding in a direction that most peoples don’t. I still have plenty of spacing between my palm and the neck bottom most of the time. If I tried to force my thumb to do what it doesn’t want to it would cause injury (pain and cramping) so I concentrate on how my tone is and if I am having a speed or tone issue, THEN, Ill check my left hand and see if any adjustments can be made. I wanted to just say “Don’t worry about it” but thought that would be kinda weak lol. The recommended position is taught because its optimal and works for most. I would use it if I could but have had to customize for myself.