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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Arthritis and the banjo


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/364281

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  09:43:09


Hello, I'm new to posting here but been lurking and reading for some time. By the post title you can guess what I'm up against but I'll supply a bit of background. I've had multiple back operations, 7 to be exact, due to a bad injury a long time ago. I'm no stranger to pain and as I've aged getting around has gotten to be a challenge. To add insult to injury I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about 8 years ago, in my feet, hips, shoulders, and hands, and of course my back. Now osteoarthritis has set in and my fingers have grown quite deformed. I've always wanted to play guitar or banjo, I was moving along with guitar but now attempting to fret cords is near impossible without muting strings I don't want to touch and the ability to tolerate more than a few minutes practice is just intolerable. So I've had some suggest the banjo and id really love to give it a try. I've no real need to make it to jam sessions and no ideation of being on a stage anywhere for any purpose; but to be able to sit and play a few songs would make me smile. I've read resonator if you want to play bluegrass at length but in my situation, I'm drawn to something lighter, maybe a wider nut to give a bit more room and my guitar, which is a short scale to cuts down the "reach". I know there is no silver bullet cure and I've got the creams and know about heat and ice. I've taken many medications to the point that all anti-inflammatory medicine eventually causes my kidneys and or liver to start making a fuss if I take them. I've come across a few people who seem to suggest one would not need a resonator or tone ring to play at home and I see Zach Hoyt makes a short scale 13/8" nut open back that's in a price range I could afford. Any of you have arthritis or hand/wrist problems that could confirm this might be a viable way for me to play, would this type of set up work or help, it's not like I can walk into Guitar Center and ask this, expecting to get an experienced answer. If anyone can help id most appreciate it. I know string separation and thickness are part of the issue with the guitar so in my no so experienced head this seems to make sense. thanks

thisoldman - Posted - 05/23/2020:  10:36:25


Well, I'll first say I am impressed with your attitude and willingness to give banjo a try. If you tune your banjo to standard G, you can play a lot of BG (and other) tunes using barre chords, which will make it easier on your fretting hand. Playing BG music will be a challenge, as most BG tunes are played at a brisk clip. However, there was a recent thread on slower BG tunes and you might check that out (or ask again). But there are many many other genres of music you can learn to play on the banjo, and I suspect you will find tunes played at a moderate to slow pace in each of them. Personally, I play a lot of Tony Ellis tunes, most of which are played at slow to moderate tempos, but most of his tunes would probably be considered "old time" rather than BG. BTW, you can play BG music on an open back, which works for you since you will be playing by yourself. I think getting a banjo with a wider nut is a good idea.  You can also get bridges that are very slightly wider (Crowe spacing) which might help. "Light" strings  require a bit less pressure.  I'm guessing that you are looking a Zach Hoyt's "A" scale banjo. I don't know if you would have to use medium (or could use light) strings if you went BG and tuned to an A scale to G.  But you can find many BG tunes in the key of A here in the "Learn" section of the HO.    Disclaimer: I have very mild arthritis, one spot is in my thumb joints, so I have learned to limit my playing time. Good luck with your banjo venture!


Edited by - thisoldman on 05/23/2020 10:49:13

spoonfed - Posted - 05/23/2020:  10:48:34


I would also add that, unless you are dead set on BG a nylon strung banjo is easier on the wrists and fingers than steel strings, I have found they "fight back" less. good luck.

hobogal - Posted - 05/23/2020:  11:13:34


First off, welcome to the Banjo Hangout - I am also impressed with your attitude and determination to play music. I am interested in this topic myself as I have been playing for banjo for around 15 years and over the past year have been having some joint soreness in my hands. I'm also a mental health worker and have recently been on some longterm condition training. There are two approaches that I think are helpful:

- CBT principles: it's not the situation but the appraisal of the situation that links to how well a person copes. So, I really like your attitude of focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't.

- S.O.C approach to chronic pain - this is about adapting activities:

Select: select parts of an activity you may be able to do (e.g. a concert pianist may continue playing by reducing their repertoire and playing shorter pieces)

Optimise (e.g. practice selected pieces more intensely)

Compensate (e.g. play at a slower speed; use of adaptions that would help)



Yes, an open-back banjo will be fine for playing at home. You want something light and comfortable - you could also go for a shorter scale length (e.g. 25.5 or an 'A scale/travel banjo'). I wouldn't go for anything too expensive until you get an idea of what works for you - wide v slim neck, high string action v low action etc.  You may be right that a wider neck and spacing will be easier.



There are different playing techniques: 3-finger, 2-finger (forefinger and thumb), frailing. I would try each to see what is more comfortable. I'm guessing it depends which fingers are most affected. In all these styles you can play in open-tunings that are easier to fret - you can partial chords etc. I think maybe find a teacher who can guide you on your journey.


Edited by - hobogal on 05/23/2020 11:19:24

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  11:55:51


Thanks much for the quick feedback. I had some help early on from a psychologist that worked at the pain clinic I was being treated at. He helped me get through the feel sorry for me phase and got me focused on what I could do. I’ve watched a bunch of YouTube, great when you can’t sleep, and learned about the different styles. Like I said I’d be pretty happy to play some songs sitting at home or on the porch. Slow, fast medium so long as the neighbors aren’t calling the sheriffs office. Zach has a couple in stock banjos that are wide neck 25.5” scale that will tune open G. Light banjo strings should be easier than any guitar size but I know they make some that are supposed to be even easier to fret but I’ll have to learn a bit about them if I decide to go that way

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  11:58:54


quote:

Originally posted by thisoldman

Well, I'll first say I am impressed with your attitude and willingness to give banjo a try. If you tune your banjo to standard G, you can play a lot of BG (and other) tunes using barre chords, which will make it easier on your fretting hand. Playing BG music will be a challenge, as most BG tunes are played at a brisk clip. However, there was a recent thread on slower BG tunes and you might check that out (or ask again). But there are many many other genres of music you can learn to play on the banjo, and I suspect you will find tunes played at a moderate to slow pace in each of them. Personally, I play a lot of Tony Ellis tunes, most of which are played at slow to moderate tempos, but most of his tunes would probably be considered "old time" rather than BG. BTW, you can play BG music on an open back, which works for you since you will be playing by yourself. I think getting a banjo with a wider nut is a good idea.  You can also get bridges that are very slightly wider (Crowe spacing) which might help. "Light" strings  require a bit less pressure.  I'm guessing that you are looking a Zach Hoyt's "A" scale banjo. I don't know if you would have to use medium (or could use light) strings if you went BG and tuned to an A scale to G.  But you can find many BG tunes in the key of A here in the "Learn" section of the HO.    Disclaimer: I have very mild arthritis, one spot is in my thumb joints, so I have learned to limit my playing time. Good luck with your banjo venture!






 

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  12:02:59


Well thank you for your complement, I’ve had some help and lots of faith. Zach actually has short G scale models unless I’m reading wrong but I think finding some tunes to play will not be a big issue in the scheme of things. Again thanks for the support and feedback it helps get the motivation to take the leap

Texasbanjo - Posted - 05/23/2020:  12:51:36


If you want to learn banjo, whether bluegrass or any other genre, any 5-string will help you learn. I learned on a $70 entry level Iida years ago and while it had no tone ring and sounded tinny, at least I learned the basics.

Speaking as one who has had arthritis most of my adult life, I can empathize with what you're coping with now. It is possible to play 3-finger, bluegrass style banjo even with advanced arthritis and deformed fingers. Ask me how I know! Maybe you'll never play like Earl, but if you just want to enjoy picking, go ahead and try.

Get a good beginner book and start learning basics: rolls, basic chord shapes, and the frills, which you probably already know from guitar; i.e., slides, hammers, pulls, chokes, licks (or riffs on guitar). You're probably ahead of the game since you already play guitar and understand chords, how to read tab, how to count and stay in tempo.

It is not necessary to learn 4-finger chords as you probably won't be doing a lot of backup work, so partial chords will make it easier on those arthritic fingers/hands.

Don't try for marathon practice sessions, it'll just make your hands ache. Try for 15 to 30 minute sessions with rest in between so the hands/fingers can relax. Warm water or a heating pad will help the hands (or it helps mine).

I'd work mainly on vocal tunes, not instrumentals or fast breakdowns. Vocals are easier to hear the melody and play along or sing along as you learn to pick the song.

Whatever you decide, just relax, enjoy and take it slow and easy. Banjo isn't the easiest instrument to learn, but I think it's definitely the most fun, exciting and sometimes the most irritating instrument you can play.

monstertone - Posted - 05/23/2020:  13:17:34


Seeing as how you are in the "Bluegass Scruggs" section I, as well as everyone else replying to your post, are mostly Bluegrass picker's. That being said, your situation seems to be crying hey, try clawhammer style.



in addition to what others have noted about the difference in banjo's, just go on you tube, do a search on clawhammer banjo, & pay attention to the way the right hand moves as opposed to bluegrass style. Not only that but, the way the left hand holds the banjo as opposed to BG style thumb centered behind the neck, may be much more comfortable for you. OT clawhammer banjo pickers left hand chording appears, to me, much easier than BG.



Last but not least BG style banjo picking, all by itself, is harsh enough to drive most folks away, where as OT clawhammer style on a plunky banjo will pull people off the streets to listen even to simple stuff! There are a lot of people making open back  "A scale" banjos, even fretless and gourd banjo's, wide, even clubby necks to us BG players. There must be a reason for those neck shapes. Perhaps they are easier to play in the OT style than the thin necks we BGer's prefer.



Not trying to drive you off but, may be a good idea to see if you can get your post moved over to the OT section to get another point of view. Or at least copy & paste your first comment over there & see what comes of it.



You certainly have the right attitude. Never give up, find a way, & be satisfied with what you are able to accomplish. I think there is a well known line something to that effect. It may be a prayer, so I leave that to your discretion. Should it be of interest, you'll find it. Hang in there.

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  13:46:08


Thanks for the tips, I have listened to clawhammer style and would agree with some of the things you brought up. To be honest I was not aware I was posting in the bluegrass section or for that matter that there were such sections. Ill claim ignorance but it may come down to just plain not paying attention. Maybe one of the moderators can move this for me? Not quite sure how things work here. In any case I seem to be getting some good information here so if it does not get moved I can re-post it in a day or so

Thanks for everyone's help, got to be one of the coolest things in the music world is people will always offer some help.

Gallaher - Posted - 05/23/2020:  21:16:11


Search YouTube for a Banjo Player named Barry Abernathy.
You’ll be shocked. Maybe motivated. Maybe you’ll change your mind about what is possible.

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/23/2020:  21:30:29


Yep I've seen him and there is a guy who plays guitar with a deformed hand. I worked for many years as a paramedic, (actually went back to work for 12 years after my 2nd fusions finally took) I've seen lots of people who have things harder than I do. Good medicine if you get to feeling sorry for yourself.

Motivation, not an issue, I came here to get some help getting on the right side of this to increase my ability to do this, and I appreciate all the help Ive gotten. I've decided to go the open back route and start with clawhammer or any of the other names for that style. Looking forward to it.

Texasbanjo - Posted - 05/24/2020:  04:48:02


First of all, you can't have duplicate posts, so do NOT copy your original and move it to another forum. It's against the rules to do so. (Rules and guidelines are found here: banjohangout.org/forum/rules.asp

Since you posted on the bluegrass forum, we presume that's what you want to learn. Try it for a while and if it isn't doing what you want it to do, then check into clawhammer or other genres of music. Listen to both bluegrass and clawhammer and figure out which one you like the most.... then go for that one.

Bluegrass doesn't have to be daunting, just take it slow and easy, learn one thing at a time before going on to another. Don't worry about speed, think timing, tone, technique and, most of all: enjoy what you're doing.

TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/24/2020:  06:49:17


Thanks, I read the guidelines last night, probably a little late, (sorry). I think going slow will be important. I know if you get it right slow it's easier to get a little faster but again just being able to play will be nice.

mickwright - Posted - 05/24/2020:  10:49:44


Another instrument you may find worth a try is dobro/lap steel. Fretting hand work is less demanding, neck length and width less critical, and bluegrass is still an option :)

thisoldman - Posted - 05/28/2020:  07:25:57


TakeDeadAim When I first read your post, I thought (like Mike) of a resonator guitar (dobro). But this being a banjo site, didn't. You are fretting the strings with a bar. Tuning (GBDGBD) lets you do barre chords with the bar. You can strum (like a guitar), pinch 2 or 3 strings, pick individual strings, "chop", etc. Lots of online instruction. I split the tip of a finger on my fretting hand 2 summers ago and while I was waiting for it to heal I got a cheap squareneck resonator (Rogue) - perfectly serviceable beginner instrument. MIne was a like new return which I got for about $170. You can buy a very nice reso for $500 or less, and the high level ones start around $1000 and up. There is a Reso Hangout, and you can ask your question(s) there.


Edited by - thisoldman on 05/28/2020 07:28:24

RV6 - Posted - 05/28/2020:  16:03:21


When I started playing the banjo 8 years ago, I had no idea what style I wanted to play.  So, I practiced rolls and I practiced the clawhammer stroke.  When I got bored with one, I'd switch to the other.



I bought a banjo at 65 because I always wanted to give it a try.  After recovering from a shattered left wrist and the accompanying rare case of CRPS, a severe nerve disorder that can affect the whole extremity (and did in my case) and undergoing physical therapy for a year (and continuing the exercises at home for several years, I decided it was as good of time as any to hit the banjo trail.  It took me a year before I could make a quick, proper "C" chord.  Banjo playing turned out to be good therapy in my case.



Looking to the future, I though Clawhammer old time fiddle music would be just the thing for me as I had a bit of arthritis in my hands and feet for a few years.   No four finger chords as with B.G.  My left ring finger never got around to completely obeying brain commands so four finger chords, especially up the neck were probably not going to work.  I figured my wrist would never be able to bend going up the neck.   I play in first position with clawhammer and I think the 10th fret is as high as I go. 



Old Time isn't really chord based and chords are often open or one or two fingers.   I also thought that clawhammer sounded just fine slower than what might be considered normal which would work just fine as I got older and slower.



In my banjo journey, I also found that a short scale (I have two that are 24 3/4" scale) is more comfortable for creaky shoulders/hands/fingers.   I have both banos equipped with Aquila Nylgut 5B strings which are lower tension than steel strings.  I also found I could get much greater volume with much smaller effort if I wore a bluegrass pick backwards on my middle finger.



And lastly, I liked the hot paraffin bath the therapist used so much that I bought one.  It was a "Therabath" and it's been plugged in since I bought it and really relives the pain in my hands for 3-4 hours.  If it burns out, I'll order another quickly.



I just turned 73 and the old hands are doing pretty well.  Well enough that I bought my first fiddle last August and I can actually play the dang thing (to where people don't run away screaming).



I hope you have good luck on your banjo journey.  


TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/28/2020:  16:16:39


Ouch that looks like it hurt. Thanks for the info. I’ve ordered an open back

DocSavino - Posted - 05/30/2020:  05:53:22


I have similar issues, sans the rheumatoid arthritis, and started with a nylon stringed open-back banjo.... graduated to a Gibson and, with guidance from Tony Trischka, am doing quite well... playing Scruggs style, but focus is on melodic style more (don Reno, Bill Kieth). I also had a short scale open back custom made by Stone Banjo company - check his page. I added nylon strings and when the pain gets bad playing the larger banjo, switch to the short scale and sit on the lazy boy to play. stonebanjo


Edited by - DocSavino on 05/30/2020 05:54:31


TakeDeadAim - Posted - 05/30/2020:  08:14:23


Thanks for the feedback, I’ve gotten such great ideas here.

I bought a short scale open back with a wide neck so I have a bit more room for my fingers. Should be great for sitting and playing I want to order some strings now so I can see what I like and plays well

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