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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Index vs middle finger and sound


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/363952

andersv - Posted - 05/13/2020:  11:25:08


First of all, sorry for bringing up a subject that may have been discussed to death in these forums already, however, I haven't quite found the answer to my question.

I'm relatively new to clawhammer, not the banjo itself, but I haven't really attempted to specialize in any particular playing style until now. Originally a guitar player, I've used the banjo as a secondary instrument in the past. Now I'm starting to learn how to play the instrument properly and old-time styles in particular. I think I'm progressing alright and would say I'm an intermediate player at this time.

Here's the thing: When I started out every single tutorial or instruction I came across said that you should pick your index or middle finger, that it's a matter of personal preference and that either one will work just as well. Some would go on to say that you should use the other one as a backup. I chose the middle finger at first but I've been practicing with the index as well. To me they both sound and feel very different. I’ve grown nails on both fingers which are shaped similarly and I hold my hand in the same position. The index finger sounds brighter and louder, the middle finger sounds rounder and more mellow. I also find that I need to use the thumb differently and make a harder upstroke to compensate for the volume the index finger makes. Furthermore, drop thumbing feels quite different; as the thumb is closer to the index finger I find it easier to play faster drop thumbing.

So my question is if the choice of finger is really that irrelevant? Is it just me or something I’m doing? Or will it actually shape your sound as well as the way you play?

banjo bill-e - Posted - 05/13/2020:  11:42:09


Finding what works for you is highly relevant but which finger you choose will not be relevant to you or anyone else once that is established. I think it's an issue of hand size and shape, how you hold your banjo and the angle of attack that works for you.
I also get a brighter, louder sound with index so use that for melody notes and tend to "ditty" with the middle.
Just get playing and down the road you will no doubt be able to substitute one for the other when needed.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 05/13/2020:  12:32:22


I’ll echo the previous two posts and simply say that my playing years ago evolved to playing the 1st string with my middle finger and the inside strings with the index. I can play all strings with either when I break a nail. I’ll even use my ring finger occasionally on the 1st string. My choice of finger usage has less to do with sound than with comfort and feel. One of the beauties of clawhammer is the individual choice it offers. There’s simply no “right” or “best” way to play.

Broken Ballad - Posted - 05/13/2020:  13:51:21


Whichever is more comfortable. Also, like the guitar, the strings can be played closer to the bridge or closer to the neck. So If you choose your index and want it to be a mellow tune, strum or pick closer to the neck. Opposite for your middle finger and wanting it to be sharper. Just depends on how you want to play.


Edited by - Broken Ballad on 05/13/2020 13:53:03

mjt0229 - Posted - 05/13/2020:  18:26:12


Learn to do both and have a super power if you break a nail!

I only use my index: I like the hand shape and sound I get from it. I can’t cluck that well with my technique, though, and I think using another finger might help.

My advice is to think about it but don’t overthink it. You’ll find what works.

John Gribble - Posted - 05/13/2020:  20:49:50


I think it is great you can get distinctively different sounds, both interesting, from the different fingers. It gives you options. I'd cultivate both, choosing the one you think best suits the tune or the playing situation.

andersv - Posted - 05/14/2020:  04:18:24


Thanks for the advice guys. You're probably right that I'm overthinking this. I'm a bit inpatient and want to become better quicker so I'm afraid to be set back by using/choosing the wrong technique. It's a beginner's thing I guess and I'll just keep on using both fingers like I do now.

How about drop thumbing, do you guys notice any difference when you're using index and middle? To me it runs smoother when I use the index finger and thumb on faster 1-2-1-5 rolls, but it might just be my undeveloped skills.

mjt0229 - Posted - 05/14/2020:  08:17:15


quote:

Originally posted by andersv

Thanks for the advice guys. You're probably right that I'm overthinking this. I'm a bit inpatient and want to become better quicker so I'm afraid to be set back by using/choosing the wrong technique. It's a beginner's thing I guess and I'll just keep on using both fingers like I do now.



How about drop thumbing, do you guys notice any difference when you're using index and middle? To me it runs smoother when I use the index finger and thumb on faster 1-2-1-5 rolls, but it might just be my undeveloped skills.






Again, you'll have to experiment, but you raise another good question. For me, drop-thumbing is pretty cramped if I use my middle finger, because I have to get my index out of the way. That may be why some middle-finger players extend their first finger (look at, eg,  Josh Turknett).



I'm just a middling player, but my DT technique basically works like this: the index finger strikes the string - which string it strikes is controlled by my arm. The thumb comes to rest on (actually digging into a bit) a different string when the index strikes - which string it rests on is controlled by the "pinch" distance between my index and thumb. The ringing of the DT comes from the release of the thumb from the string it came to rest on.



I like this system because it assigns the landing of the index finger to the larger motor movements (wrist, arm) and then the DT is controlled by a simple, small mechanism - does the thumb land on index -1, index - 2, or index - 3?

Broken Ballad - Posted - 05/14/2020:  12:24:49


quote:

Originally posted by andersv

Thanks for the advice guys. You're probably right that I'm overthinking this. I'm a bit inpatient and want to become better quicker so I'm afraid to be set back by using/choosing the wrong technique. It's a beginner's thing I guess and I'll just keep on using both fingers like I do now.



How about drop thumbing, do you guys notice any difference when you're using index and middle? To me it runs smoother when I use the index finger and thumb on faster 1-2-1-5 rolls, but it might just be my undeveloped skills.






I've tried drop thumbing with my middle finger by itself and it felt pretty alien to me. Also my index finger wanted to do this action at the same time. I've been thinking of making up a technique that has something to do with that. It might work, might not. Just have fun and keep the fire going.

larrytoto - Posted - 05/20/2020:  13:59:30


My index finger sounds terrible regardless of nail length. It is just too flat. My middle finger works great, but the nail has a flaw in the cuticle that creates a weakness in the middle of the nail causing the nail to begin splitting at the tip with moderate use.



So I adapted to using my ring finger, with the middle finger as a backup. If I use a finger pick, I will usually revert to the middle finger.



The ring finger was awkward at first, but now it feels natural.  I am all clawhammer.



Larry


Edited by - larrytoto on 05/20/2020 14:01:10

andersv - Posted - 05/22/2020:  03:26:42


Thanks for all the answers, it's interesting to see that there are many different approaches. This last week I've been experimenting with using different fingers and found that some songs will work better with the index, others with the middle. I've even started using both at once which works pretty well for songs like Darling Cory in gCGCC where the melody is mostly played on the 3rd and 4th string (index) and the 1st and 5th string are drone strings (middle and thumb). Haven't tried the ring finger yet, though, but why not?

mjt0229 - Posted - 05/22/2020:  07:59:50


quote:

Originally posted by andersv

Thanks for all the answers, it's interesting to see that there are many different approaches. This last week I've been experimenting with using different fingers and found that some songs will work better with the index, others with the middle. I've even started using both at once which works pretty well for songs like Darling Cory in gCGCC where the melody is mostly played on the 3rd and 4th string (index) and the 1st and 5th string are drone strings (middle and thumb). Haven't tried the ring finger yet, though, but why not?






I can't remember which one, but I've run across books that suggested using index and middle depending on the string that was being struck. I'm sticking to index for now, but it just goes to show there are a lot of ways to to it!

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