It's been a few weeks of late-night picking, but I think my single-string stuff is starting to sound a bit smoother. However, there seems to be a major roadblock thats been frustrating me. I've been trying to transpose some jazz/non-bluegrass licks to the banjo, which has proven to sound pretty cool. But these licks require me to extensively use of the ring finger and pinky (on the left hand), and it seems like these fingers just don't stretch/function/move as well as the index and middle finger. Now I understand that with time the whole process will feel much more comfortable, but I was wondering how single-string pickers were able to overcome this obstacle.
I play single string bluegrass and I seldom have to use anything but the thumb and index - you can move the thumb and index over to any string and do single string and you can pick single string on just one string or you can do a thumb and index on any two adjacent strings. I wouldn't even think about using the ring and pinkie.
Bryan stated that he is referring to his left hand, not right.
Yes, I think that with time using all four fingers for single string becomes much more comfortable. I learned good left hand techniques while playing electric bass prior to banjo. Here are some principles for efficiency:
If you are using your middle finger, keep your index finger down also.
If you are using your ring finger, keep your index and middle fingers down also.
If you are using your pinky finger, keep your index, middle, and ring fingers down also.
When you pick up a finger, make the movement as minimal as possible, just barely lifting it off the string.
The best way to build the dexterity in the left hand is to practice your closed position scales in the diaganal approach of three notes per string up the neck. When playing you will probably work more vertically across the neck but the diaganal approach helps train the fingers. Go to musicmoose.org and check out ryan cavanaugh's single string lessons. He's the master and you will learn a lot quickly.
This is for guitar but it works perfectly on the banjo, but be careful if you use it. Make sure your not tense, your wrist is straight, and that your whole arm is relaxed. If you don't, you could get tendenitis, and trust me you dont want to :)
thanks for your tips and advice. I asked a good electric bass player friend of mine who has incredible left-hand technique, and he showed me a few pointers. I will definitely keep working on closed position scales, and keep studying Ryan's videos off of Music Moose. Music Moose rules!