Cold hands are a bassist’s worst nightmare.
The speed and fluidity of your playing suffer when your fingers are cold. This feels frustrating and can hamper a rehearsal session or live performance.
Hailing from Norway, I have had to deal with cold fingers countless times before playing the bass. Thus, I decided to make a guide for how you can best deal with it.
You will learn various ways of warming up your hands for playing the bass and how incorrect breathing can lead to cold fingers. If you are experiencing perpetually cold fingers I will also show you some possible causes and solutions for this.
How to warm up your hands as a bassist
It’s a best practice to always warm up your hands by playing scales and finger exercises before playing the bass. Other methods for warming up your hands include using gloves, heat packs, hot water, or finger exercise tools.
Here is some more information about the various methods:
- Hot water – A quick fix for cold hands is to keep them under running hot water. This is best for situations where you need to heat up your hands quickly and don`t have the time time to warm them up in other ways. Make sure that the water isn`t too warm to avoid scolding. Also, don`t do this for too long, as it will be easier to develop calluses if you do. I only use this as a last-minute solution if I suddenly find out that I have to play.
- Heat packs – I find heat packs to be the best way to keep my hands warm before a gig. They do however take a while (~ 20 minutes) to heat up properly, but as long as I know when and where I`m going to play, this is not an issue. I prefer these heat packs from HotHands, as they are affordable and effective.
- Scale warmups – I always warm up my bass playing before a gig, even when my hands feel warm. If my hands happen to be cold, it just becomes all the more important. I have found that moving between major and minor scales chromatically works the best for me. Once I`ve done this for a while I start practicing various finger exercises. Noisegate also has a great list of warm-ups here.
- Gripmaster – The Gripmaster is a tool meant for building endurance and strength in your fingers. They are commonly used by musicians and athletes. It`s a great tool because it has the added benefit of strengthening your fingers in addition to warming them up. If you decide to get one, I recommend getting this one with light tension, as it will provide a sufficient warm-up, without exhausting your fingers, before a gig.
- Gloves – Some bassists elect to wear gloves. A common claim is that it helps them move around the strings, in addition to keeping their hands warm. Personally, I find them obstructive while playing, but they are great for warming my hands up before playing a live show.
How breathing affects your hands
I didn’t pay much attention to this in the past, but after learning about it I have noticed countless bassists breathing incorrectly while playing.
The most common breathing mistake bassists make is that they hold their breath while playing. This most commonly happens during fast parts or during basslines that require a lot of concentration.
Holding your breath in this way makes your hands feel clammy and cold. It also leads to a change in your ability to make decisions and a loss of coordination. In other words, everything you don’t want when playing a hard bass part.
Thus, if your fingers are feeling cold when you are playing, start being mindful of how you are breathing. If you find yourself changing up or holding your breath when playing bass, focus on staying relaxed. Work on keeping your shoulders down while playing, and practice sticking to your regular breathing pattern.
Chronic cold hands and the bass guitar
If you do the things listed above and still find yourself having cold hands, I recommend a medical checkup. Chronic cold hands can be connected to a medical condition, or to an unhealthy lifestyle.
The below bullet points are possible reasons for chronic cold hands. Keep in mind that I`m a bassist, not a doctor, so do not consider this medical advice. They are based on statements I’ve heard from other musicians and my own research on the subject. If you have chronically cold fingers, I advise talking to a medical professional.
- Raynaud’s disease – Raynaud`s disease makes the arteries that supply blood to your skin narrower. This results in limited blood flood, which in turn results in certain areas of your body staying cold, and the fingers are a commonly affected area. It is more common for people living in colder areas and for women to suffer from Raynaud’s disease.
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – Thoracic Outlet Syndrome refers to a group of nerve and blood vessel disorders. These disorders are connected to repeating the same physical motion repeatedly, poor muscle development, and poor posture. Cold, sore, and numb fingers are common symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
- Smoking – Given how common smoking is in some genres of music, it is often overlooked as a possible reason for cold hands. In truth, the tobacco makes your blood vessels constricted, which in turn can result in your hands and feet feeling perpetually cold. If you have an existing condition with your hands, smoking can also lead to the healing process slowing down or stopping.
- Buerger’s disease – Sufferers of Buerger’s disease can experience their blood vessels becoming inflamed or swelled. This leads to damaged skin tissue and can lead to infections, which can result in cold hands. Buerger`s disease is closely related to tobacco consumption and is a relatively rare condition.
For the majority of bassists, cold fingers can be avoided with sufficient warm-up before playing. As long as you know when you are going to play, there are several methods you can use to get your hands into shape prior to it.
Heat packs, a Gripmaster, or gloves can be used anywhere. If you use any of these solutions 30 minutes before a performance and are mindful of your breathing during it, cold hands are unlikely to be a problem.
If you find yourself with cold hands despite this, I recommend speaking to a doctor. Chronic cold hands could be a result of a blood circulation-related disease or a result of lifestyle habits.
Regardless of the cause, you should do everything you can to avoid performing as a bassist with cold fingers. The physical limitations it puts on you cannot be overcome with technique or willpower, and your playing will suffer if you are not sufficiently warmed up.
If you live in a cold area, leaving your bass in a car could damage your instrument. To learn more, check out my guide on leaving your bass in a car.