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My Picking Technique

Posted by hum on Monday, November 1, 2010

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Banjo players often comment that I don't rest one or two fingers on the drum head,  so I thought I'd let anyone else who is curious know the reason why.

Since 1990 I played resting my pinky on the head for stability - however - in October 2009 I came down with septacemia and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma which is a form of blood and bone cancer -  I lost the tip of my index finger on my picking hand and my fingers are left permanently curled so I can't rest my pinky and play comfortably in this position without the picks getting caught up in the strings - the webbing between my fingers has risen which restricts movement and the nerve endings in my fingers are damaged so I have areas of numbness.

I realised then that the only way forward was to learn a new technique that still enabled me to play wearing fingerpicks and to be able to use the 3 main styles of playing that I employed i.e. 3 finger style (Earl Scruggs) - Alternating Thumb and Index or Middle (Bill Keith - Melodic) - and single string style (Don Reno).

After trying different approaches I settled on having a floating hand (like a guitarist) and sometimes resting the thumb base of my palm above the bridge for support as this is the technique I use when I'm playing up the neck and I taped the fingerpicks to my index and middle fingers to stop them falling off. Taping them also enabled me to fashion the index fingerpick so it stuck out more than usual to compensate for the loss of the tip on my index finger  - It took me almost a year to feel comfortable with this new technique and get the speed and timing back - but so far so good! Nowadays I don't need the tape as I put velcro inside my picks and this holds them on. More recently I have had some tumours showing up and one was in my skull - thankfully some radiotherapy zapped it away but it has affected my eyesight and I now have to wear an eye paych from now on as I only have the use of one eye,

I have included some pics here in the photo section of my Banjo Hangout homepage that shows my right hand with the picks on - and also a splint that was made for me by a hand physio team at hospital to try to stop my fingers curling into a fist.

I hope by sharing this info it will give inspiration and hope to any other banjo pickers out there who may be experiencing the similar difficultys that I have come up against.

I have a 2 Albums of popular bluegrass and celtic tunes available on CD at

Or if you would like to download an album or individual tunes in MP3 format click here

 I am also now offering a FREE download of my third album which is quite different from the traditional approach.

The album "TRAVELLING LIGHT" is a culmination of 15 years as when I have had spare time between learning, busking and videoing 5 string banjo tunes I have recorded original compositions which have more of a unique contemporary approach.

To listen to samples or to download the album FREE - go here:

Thanks for all the support  from BHO members.

Dave Hum

Facebook Page  :

36 comments on “My Picking Technique”

disneykid52 Says:
Monday, November 1, 2010 @4:45:45 PM

Hi Dave,
I am sorry to hear of your medical challenges, but the sound and the soul that comes out of your banjo is that of a Master. I would have never guessed that your technique was anything but sheer mastery of your instrument and assumed that you had figured out an extra special picking technique to make the music sound so wonderful. You are an inspiration! Your technique is as beautiful and unique as your are. Thank you for sharing your awesome music and your story. Love your CD!

I started playing in the late sixites when the only lessons were the Seeger book and lessons on public television. Pete taught up-picking. I was distressed to hear "up-picking" is "not right". Kinda depressed me for a time, but realized that it is how the music SOUNDS, HEART and FEELING that is most important. So I do what comes natural and still do some up-picking. Have learned so much by watching and listening on BHO, it is inspiring.

My best wishes to you and hope to catch a live performance if we ever make it over the big pond. Take care, and thanks again! Deborah aka Disneykid

ronhan Says:
Monday, November 1, 2010 @7:05:07 PM

Musicians are a versatile group. I've been around bluegrass for many years and have seen people do some amazing things in order to keep on picking. I once had to tape my picks on over bandages. I didn't play well but I tried. Your picking is great despite your problems. I really enjoy every video I've seen so far. You are an inspiration Dave. Keep it up. Ron

skeller77 Says:
Monday, November 1, 2010 @7:20:41 PM

Dave, I agree with disneykid52. I noticed you didn't rest a finger (or fingers) on the head but just figured it was your playing style. now that I know why you play this way I find it amazing. I can't imagine going through what you did with my hands and still having the desire to play like you do. you are an inspiration to us all and I thank you for sharing your music with us.
Best Wishes Scott

Oalbrets Says:
Monday, November 1, 2010 @8:26:20 PM

Dave, I had the wnd of my right thumb blown off in Nam in 69 and I had to figure out how to ware a thumb pick. It took a long time to get use to it but now it is like normal and I do ok with it. Good luck with your pickin and have fun.

Lady Bird Says:
Monday, November 1, 2010 @10:02:35 PM

He's me thinking a knuckle implant has set me back, I think I better stop whining and get on with more practice.
Love your video clips Dave keep them coming...........Jill

banjotom2 Says:
Sunday, November 14, 2010 @5:30:04 AM

Keep up the good attitude... and the great banjo work!

Your banjo videos inspire people all over the world...


Vanbanjoboy Says:
Monday, December 20, 2010 @12:23:24 PM

Sorry to hear about that Dave, but all that said, your playing is still amazing. They do say "Where there's a will, there's a way" and I see you definately found it! Just keep playing that banjo (or any of your other instruments) and making music.
Happy Christmas and New year.

BryanWB Says:
Monday, December 20, 2010 @1:07:57 PM

Wow - that's what I call perseverance ! Well done Dave.

1st - year Banjoist Says:
Friday, January 7, 2011 @12:15:39 AM

. Hey Dave - take great care of yourself, because I look forward to enjoying you reaching even greater heights ! Rest, Fruits & Veggies - plus wine . Great days to you ! .

hum Says:
Friday, February 18, 2011 @7:01:50 AM

Thanks for all the positive feedback guys - where there is a will - there is a way.

BanjoFlyboy Says:
Friday, February 18, 2011 @10:44:26 AM

You already know this, but I'll say it again. Dave you are one of my favorites on the Hangout. Always check out your videos, first thing. Another great example of life handing someone a lemon, and instead of complaining; they turn it into lemonade. Your pick'n has never been better. Very unique and distinctive. Most of us are trying ( with limited success) to sound like "Earl." You; however, because of that "lemon" analogy sound like Dave Hum. An original!

Stu D Baker-Hawk Says:
Saturday, March 12, 2011 @5:17:13 AM

I'll echo what BanjoFlyboy said, what an inspiration you are for other banjo players with hand injuries. Before joining the Hangout I checked out your videos on YouTube and was extremely impressed with your performances, as well as your right-hand technique, which had me very intrigued. I had no idea you played the way you did due to an injury. Whatever you're doing, Dave, don't stop because you've become one of my favorite banjoists, bar none! Well done!!

jchipps_1 Says:
Tuesday, April 26, 2011 @8:59:21 PM

I recently stumbled across your video of Reuben and was totally amazed with your playing of that tune. So much so, that I've returned and listened to it countless times.
Well, that was before saw this posting and read of the difficulties you've experienced with your fingers. Now I'm totally in Awe ! I would never have guessed in a million years that you had any issues you were dealing with when it comes to your playing. You're the kind banjo player that most players would aspire to someday be.
As far as being an inspiration to others, you've definitely inspired me. I'm fairly new to the banjo, less than a year and coming along okay I guess. But I too have an old injury to the tip of my fretting hand index finger which left the last joint fused solid, slightly numb and about 1/2 inch shorter than it should be. It does cause me many problems and I've considered checking to see if there is some type of prosthetic finger tip I could get that might be of help. But I had pretty much just accepted the fact that no matter what I do, I could never expect to ever play really well with this kind of issue, no matter how bad I want to or how hard I try.
Well, after watching and hearing you play, you truly are an inspiration and the proof that ANYTHING is possible !
Thanks....and Happy Pickin' :)

DrBob Says:
Monday, August 22, 2011 @7:47:41 AM

Dave, I just read your post regarding the reason you place your hand as you do-You Da' Man! I totally embrace your spirit to adapt and overcome...and, by the way, your playing is awesome! I put a Bowie knife through my left hand, and one of the reasons I play is to push the flexibility, that will always be somewhat limited. Adapt and overcome!!!

hum Says:
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @1:58:26 PM

Once again - Thanks for all the positive feedback guys - where there is a will - there is a way.

DrBob Says:
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 @12:37:31 PM

Hey Dave, Just wanted to let you know that I was braggin' on ya' to none other than Tony Trischka. We discussed how good players can modify how they play, and it's not only OK, it's actually great... I don't know if you read some of the threads; I had my first official lesson with him, because he doesn't live that far from me... I told him that, despite your medical condition, you're an awesome picker...and you inspired me!

hum Says:
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 @3:55:16 PM

Hi DrBob - that's nice to know - I love Tonys playing - wow that's cool you are having lessons from him and that he lives so close! - All the best and keep pickin'

BanjoFlyboy Says:
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 @5:37:46 PM

Dave, I haven't seen any videos from you recently. Hope all is well with you. Danny

hum Says:
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 @12:04:16 PM

Hi Danny - just learning lots of new tunes so haven't had time to post vids - will do soon as they are up to scratch!
Hope your well too.

banjoy Says:
Thursday, January 12, 2012 @5:51:13 PM

Wow. I have been watching some of your video posts and wondered about your hand position, but thought that was just the way you learned it, and I saw no need to comment because you play the heck out of a banjo. Then I stumbled into this blog and am humbled by you. Kudos. When there is a will there is a way.

JanetB Says:
Saturday, January 14, 2012 @1:38:47 PM

Dave, I'm also inspired by your story and appreciate knowing about this condition. Overcoming obstacles requires courage. Now when you come to my first grade class in California, if you're ever here AND want to play Buffalo Gals, you'll have even more to share with them.

Dan Mountjoy Says:
Saturday, January 14, 2012 @4:11:30 PM

Interesting and inspirational! Thanks for sharing your story as well as your music!

From Greylock to Bean Blossom Says:
Sunday, January 15, 2012 @11:14:53 AM

You have not let adversity keep you down and have persevered and excelled throughout it. Way to be tough!

wrightedward Says:
Monday, March 19, 2012 @9:09:27 PM

Inspire me ,,you bet you do .. To the point of making me ashamed of my self ..I have been having a pity party on the BHO,,think i will stop and smell the roses and play a little banjo ,Thanks Dave

banjomandan Says:
Wednesday, April 4, 2012 @1:26:05 PM

You are a great banjo player; I admire your music and your spirit

skollie Says:
Thursday, May 3, 2012 @12:56:56 PM

Dave you are truly a Banjo picker (player} man i just love the way you play eight more miles .i downloaded it and i listen to it for inspiration ,i have just started to learn the Banjo and the way you play eifgt more miles makes me want to practise the whole sounds so much different from the others i just love it .have you any advise ,as we dont have any teachers in South Africa ,so it all dvd and books , just love it man

hum Says:
Thursday, May 3, 2012 @1:48:35 PM

Thank you all for your kind comments -
Hi skollie - Some advice would be to make the melody stand out from the picking patterns by emphasising those notes and practice playing a tune maybe three times through but making each section a little different each time - of course timing and tone is
important so maybe try concentrating on this with your eyes closed once you are familiar and comfortable with the fingering - focus on how each string feels at the end of each finger on your picking hand as you pick - if you have the
chord structure handy practice improvising over it and dont worry about the melody for a while until you are ready to come back to it .... there is a lot of other ways to approach a tune but hopefully these few tips will get you thinking and trying them out for starters!
Best Regards

ccress Says:
Tuesday, June 26, 2012 @8:09:52 PM

Well I had no idea and never questioned the way you were playing.I just figured you created your own style of playing..and I guess you have.You are an excellent player!! And my hat goes off to you in what you have been thru.You have a very strong will and you are a wonderful banjo guy.One of the best I've heard.I'll be sending you good vibes and prayers.Take care..Cathy Cress

hum Says:
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 @12:13:36 AM

Thank you Cathy for your kind thoughts.

Eddie Colborne Says:
Sunday, July 1, 2012 @9:40:07 AM

hi dave, love your music mate i have watched you live in chichester and guildford, sorr to hear of your problem, im sure you will come back even better , i have both my picking fingures missing from the first joint and have been struggling but after hearing about your problem it has encouraged me to try even harder my tuitor seems to be quite happy with me and i have now got quite a few tunes under my belt looking forward to seeing you busking again mate can you let me know when you are around these areas again, keep picking my friend

Eddie Colborne Says:
Tuesday, July 3, 2012 @9:09:30 AM

hi dave my name is eddie , i have watched you live in guildford and chichester and a amazed at the way you play espially woithe the problem you had i am missing both fingure tops from the firs joint and have struggled to cope ,but reading your story i am determind to carry on on working at it my teacher seems to be quite please with me and ia am gettin quicker i hope to see you busking again soon mate all he best eddie

kevinwholmes Says:
Friday, July 6, 2012 @12:31:24 PM

Where there's a will there's a way. Yes, Dave, you are very inspirational and an amazing musician. It's an honor being on your BHO friend list.


JRushing Says:
Friday, August 10, 2012 @5:48:57 AM

Great job man, way to rise above. I met a guy when I was hitchhiking down the east coast in SCarolina that taped the hook end of a clothes hanger to the stump end of his missing hand to play guitar. He was very good and I fine flat picker.

hum Says:
Friday, August 10, 2012 @10:19:12 AM

Hi JRushing - He must be a clever strongminded fellow - It's amazing how people can adapt!

ernieS Says:
Monday, October 15, 2012 @1:06:25 PM

Hi Dave love to listen to your pickin' , I was wondering how you set up on the street for busking. Do you get power from an inverter and battery under the seat you sit on or do you plug into another power source ?You are an amazing banjo playing and wish more people here in the states could here more from you.Ever thought of doing something like a talent show ? Keep up the playing , I try to listen to your playing every day..

hum Says:
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 @3:32:23 AM

Hi ernieS - Yes, just as you mention - i get power from a car battery and an inverter.
I am not interested in talent shows as I don't feel that music needs to be a competition - as long as we all enjoy making music - then that's all that matters! - Thank you for your feedback!

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