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How to I teach my fingers to form 4 fret chords?

Posted by jimbowilly1960 on Wednesday, January 29, 2020


I am learning to play on a 5-String banjo. It's been 2 1/2 - 3 yrs now. So far, I've learned to play Cripple Creek and Foggy Mtn Breakdown. After playing these songs over and over a 1,000 +/-  times? And now that I am somewhat comfortable with string location, I have moved on to learning as many chords as I can so I can start playing with other more experienced musicians.

While attempting to place my fingers in the correct locations to form a D7 chord, I am finding out that spreading my fingers over 4 frets is nothing short of a miracle!

Is there some exercises I can perform between my practice sessions which will give my fingers more mobility in making these 4 fret chords?

Thanks Guys & Gals. Everyone here has been so great. Everyone has contributed so much. I hope in the one day I can be someone who can contribute to those just starting out.

Jim W.

Brunswick, NY



7 comments on “How to I teach my fingers to form 4 fret chords?”

thisoldman Says:
Wednesday, January 29, 2020 @12:11:20 PM

Fortunately, there are only two basic chord shapes to learn (not including the barre chord here, which is pretty easy) to play the major chords up and down the neck. It took me awhile to get those shapes under my fingers, and I find it is a "perishable" skill, one I need to practice often. The advise I got early on was to form the chord shape, press lightly down on the strings, lift up my fingers up a fraction of a inch (holding that position with my fingers), press down lightly, lift up, repeat, repeat, repeat. Also, start your practice in the middle of the fretboard. Down the 'board the frets spread out more, and up the neck they get a little too close. I'm not sure if there is anything you can do in between practice sessions that will help out. I think learning those full chords is just a matter of setting the goal and working doggedly to master the skill, maybe 5 minutes each session. Knowing those 4 finger full chord shapes are essential in learning basic backup skills. That said, you can do a lot with partial chords in the middle and up the neck. If you work with strings 1 -3 (and the 5th) you can do the basic rolls, and again, there are only a couple of shapes to learn.

jimbowilly1960 Says:
Wednesday, January 29, 2020 @8:20:42 PM

Thank you for your advise. I will add your method to my practice.

Texasbanjo Says:
Thursday, January 30, 2020 @4:39:09 AM

I started off many years ago making full 4-finger chords and going up and down the neck with the 1st (F) shape and the 2nd (D) shape. I make the first chord at 5, 2, 3, 5 (a G chord), then move up 1 fret, keeping my ring and pinkie down and exchanging my index and middle fingers and make the next chord, move up 1 fret, keeping the ring and pinkie on the strings and changing index and middle and continue going up the neck to the 15th fret and then back down. It's a good exercise to get used to changing chord positions and also keeping those 2 fingers down so you don't lose your place on the strings.

Try it. Not easy at first, but it gets easier as you practice.

jimbowilly1960 Says:
Thursday, January 30, 2020 @6:59:38 PM

Thank you Texasbanjo.

thisoldman Says:
Sunday, February 2, 2020 @8:57:26 AM

Something I struggle with is, after vamping a bit, switching from vamping to throw in a lick. Seems my fingers get "frozen" in that 4 finger shape and when I go to using individual fingers to play a lick it doesn't come quickly. So another thing to throw into the practice routine.

geoB Says:
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 @6:50:11 AM

Take two chords (I, II)
Go back and forth repeatedly until you're accomplished. Proceed from there.

Try it on the major and its relative minor... slow as you commit the muscle memory and speed it up.

Same for rolls too

jimbowilly1960 Says:
Thursday, March 12, 2020 @10:02:05 AM

Thank you for the help and direction. All of your suggestions are being put to good use. Slowly. Very slowly.

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