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"A Banjo Workout " Focusing on Fretting Hand Skill

Posted by rossnickerson on Friday, May 9, 2014

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Banjo Workout by Ross Nickerson
Focusing on Fretting Hand Skill

Here is my second installment of a regular free column I’m offering to help banjo students improve their overall skills by getting a "Banjo Workout". One of the least worked on but important parts of banjo playing is skill and flexibility in the left hand or “fretting hand”.  

While it may be safe to say that you cant make a 5-string sound like a “bluegrass banjo” without being a skilled picker with good Scruggs Style 3 finger technique, many aspiring students have a fretting hand that is way behind the curve, There are so many benefits to developing fretting hand skill and flexibility that are not always obvious to the beginner and intermediate level pickers. If I had one to point out it would be that it helps you to relax when you play. By “knowing” your hand is going to arrive where its aimed, it takes a lot of anxiety out of the equation and we all know what tensing up in any fashion can do to banjo playing. Some other things that good skill and technique in the fretting hand bring to your playing are; not pushing down to hard on the strings, better tone, better tuning, (not squeezing notes sharp) relaxing up the neck, being able to play much better backup because chording is easier, learning your way around the neck and fret board along with following through properly with slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and many more benefits not even mentioned.

Students get the message early to practice picking, its obvious how important picking is and for most, picking is much more fun and far more consuming. Hence my reason for stressing that the fretting hand is also critical in banjo playing. To put it bluntly and with good intentions at heart to help, it can be alarming at my workshops to see how limited students can be with the fretting hand, this is not just beginners either. To me this just boils down to lack of practice and focus so the coach in me is saying “drop and give me 20” and stop avoiding working on your fretting hand technique! IT DOES MATTER!

I could go on further to make my case and encourage you more to improve in this area but in the interest of not having my articles go on and on... and also resisting my natural tendency to want to teach everything I know in one article, lets get to some exercises.

With these exercises its important that you focus on being accurate, to play steady,in time and be controlled. You want to be operating at a speed that you can control the involuntary motions in your other fingers as you do this. Build speed very slowly so your other fingers are not flailing around or lifting a long way off the fret board as you go along. The fastest most skilled players I have seen are able to keep their fingers closer to the fretboard so they are "close by" when needed.

Accuracy could be defined as fretting right up against the fret, not squeezing too hard and.only applying enough pressure to make the note clearly.

My recommendation is to use a metronome or tap your foot steadily as you go along.

Here is a link for t the fretting hand exercises examples in tablature.

Here is a link for the fretting hand exercises examples in tablature
Link for Tablature

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2 comments on “"A Banjo Workout " Focusing on Fretting Hand Skill”

thebanjobert Says:
Saturday, May 10, 2014 @3:42:29 PM

Good stuff, Ross. Fretting technique is my really weak spot. Some really good advice, here.


Doconc Says:
Monday, May 12, 2014 @9:50:33 AM

Fretting technique is something I really need to work and, you're right, it's easily overlooked. I have starting playing more melodic stuff that make me move around the fretboard and have found my right hand can move a lot faster than my left.

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