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Jan 14, 2013 - 4:47:47 PM

18 posts since 1/1/2013

it is all good information that has been replied to you Terry , and from some really excellent players. All that I can say is to carefully read these tips from all of us . We have all been precisely where you are right now at one time or another while we too struggled to learn to control our emotion , AND to play the banjo at the same time .It 's tough ! Confidence is a huge factor here. Believing in yourself ,and your ability to play . You have said a very true statement about not running before you learn to walk. You know a slow played tune on the banjo where you can really hear that sweet tone and appreciate the sounds coming out rather then ripping it off everytime at break neck speed is also very rewarding for a banjo player to experience . All too often everyone of us has got caught up in what we have heard others playing like and try to be as them .This is especially so when we are just starting out . You have to learn to accept some things in banjo as they are for the present , but realize that with practice , patience , and a strong desire and belief in oneself that you can and will achieve almost anything. For now , keep on playing but not as a fight or conflict with your banjo . You first have to become good friends with it . all the best to you bonnieandclyde

Feb 16, 2013 - 5:35:44 PM

9 posts since 1/8/2013

As another newbie who tenses up during the first ten minutes of practice....Thanks everyone, for all the advice. I haven't read all the answers yet but at least I know that I'm not alone with my problems. I'm only three weeks into playing banjo and the first two were spent in learning how to keep my pinky down on the head..not perfect yet, but far easier than three weeks ago.

I can't believe how much fun this is! Should have done it 40 years ago!

 

Dan

Feb 21, 2013 - 8:02:01 PM

2 posts since 8/29/2011

I found that muscle tension for me is caused by lack of workout with my spring loaded hand gripper(exerciser) ..... so I do 25 reps with each hand before I play either guitar or banjo.... also my left hand tends to cramp (between thumb & index finger) when using the steel bar on my Dobro...unless I exercise it with the spring loaded gripper. I see that many were taught to play "relaxed'.... I was taught to pick stronger with authority   and  then back off the authority during rhythm or when others are doing solo..... I found that this works best for me in a stage performance against a microphone and if playing outdoors where sound gets lost so quickly. I guess each one of us needs to search the best method for every environment we're faced with when jamming or performing.

Mar 17, 2013 - 3:08:14 PM

hayseed

USA

341 posts since 8/12/2004

The tension and cramping I feel is on my right hand pincky.  

I have been working a lot lately on improving my right hand technique and really slowing down.  I am  happy with what I am getting out of it abd speed is coming along and with greater accuracy but my pincky aches after just a few minutes of picking.  Its like it is being over - extended because its too short to plant on the head or something.  If I arch my wrist a little more I can get more of a relaxed bend in this finger but it changes my pick angle.  Any ideas on what to try next? 

 

   

Apr 12, 2013 - 8:44:37 AM

23 posts since 3/14/2013

This is such an important topic to me. I've only read through the first 2 pages so far but I keep getting new and good advice and points. It has completely changed how I approach metronome practice. I used to figure out what speed I was comfortable at for a couple verses, and then amp it up 10bPM and practice there until I finally "caught up", then go up 10 and do it again. I have been able to get a little faster this way, but this method has created so much extra tension that wasn't there before. I think what will be better now is to play 10BPM SLOWER than I am comfortable with, and then move forward when ready. Maybe even 20 or 30BPM slower for now while I am eliminating tension and getting into the thought process "this is easy". My middle finger is traveling way to far when playing fast or slow and I definately need to focus on minimizing the distance my fingers swing when picking. I used to pride myself on my sense of timing and syncopation but I think I have sacrificed that somewhat for speed lately. Time for some different practice.
Thanks to all who have participated in this topic. God Bless!

Apr 20, 2013 - 3:32:25 PM

23 posts since 3/14/2013

as an update to my previous post, I've reached the conclusion that it is countewrproductive to go slower than your ability on the metronome. I'm going back to my old way...start at a comfortable speed, work up until control is somewhat sloppy, work down again and repeat. I don'y think this will help for muscle tension, but my last experiment actually slowed me down.

Jul 21, 2013 - 7:26:16 PM

chummer

USA

34 posts since 7/27/2009

Here's a bit of advice about muscle tension.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi5yYrnJPmY&feature=youtu.be

Dec 20, 2013 - 8:28:10 AM

349 posts since 6/7/2007

I have read this ongoing topic with interest several times in the last few years. I have found something in the last week that seems to be helping me with this issue. There is an app for Apple products, iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, etc.. that costs $1.99 called Banjo Rolls Trainer. It has a visual of 12 different one measure banjo rolls that has the tab notes bouncing as they continuously repeat. At the same time there is a metronome, guitar, bass and banjo that plays an audio background. The banjo plays the appropriate open or down the neck chord type notes but everything else is like a rhythm section. You can turn the volume of all these up or down in the mix if it helps. Here is the part that helps me work on relaxing. The trainer has an automatic speed-up function so between 2 and 40 measures, your choice, you can have it speed up between 1-15 BPM, once again your choice. I have been starting the Banjo Roll Trainer at 40 BPM and letting it speed-up by 2 BPM after every 4 measures as I roll through the Forward Roll, Alternating Thumb, Foggy Mountain Roll etc....in a G-C-D-G pattern. The cool thing is I get the roll locked in at lower speeds and I have time to think about my tone and my hand position and try to keep my right hand as relaxed as possible. As it speeds up it starts clipping through those 4 bars at a pretty brisk pace I get more and more focused on staying on the beat but hopefully my tone, hand position, etc.. are locked in and I don't have to think about it. It also tells you when it is about to speed up with a little pop up message. I can feel my right hand start getting tenser as I approach and pass 100 BPM but even though I have only been using it for about a week I can get to a higher speed before I crash and burn. I think if I am disciplined about using this on a regular basis it will help me play relaxed at higher speeds if I can keep getting my muscle memory used to playing relaxed. Now I could have worked on this with a metronome but I feel like I lose some flow every time I stop playing and reset the time and on top of that I never want to start that slow. The surprising thing about this program is how fast you get from 40 to 100 BPM as you go through each measure quicker. Hard to beat this little tool for two bucks.

Edited by - five-string fever on 12/20/2013 08:29:58

Jan 14, 2014 - 7:26:49 AM

59 posts since 6/9/2013

Wow ... and I thought it is only me. Fellas , I have only been doing this for 3-4 years .... and all of a sudden .. I thought "Now what's happening ?" I tried changing posture , I tried moving my right hand forward, I tried adjusting my strap, & I tried moving the banjo from center of my lap, to either the right side or left. Anyway ... being totally confused.. I then thought...maybe I should just give it a rest for awhile .... but I didn't want to give up ! I enjoy the banjo !
Then this forum showed up.... I read each of the individual responses.... I am looking forward to implementing these ideas., and practicing today. You fellas are the best.

Thank You very much !

Donny

Jan 14, 2014 - 9:40:36 PM
likes this

26 posts since 7/15/2010

Chummer, the video you referred is private and needs permission to be viewed. Do you know how to grant access?

Mar 5, 2014 - 12:47:43 AM

Jack Adams

France

26 posts since 2/28/2014

The most worthy of threads! The advice and comraderie is priceless. Why is the last posting dated 1/1?5/14

Mar 5, 2014 - 1:22:42 AM

Jack Adams

France

26 posts since 2/28/2014

Sorry for the typo. I meant 1/15/14 ? in my last post.
After reading all of these posts, I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Alexander Technique? Frederick Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor who developed a method to overcome reactive, habitual limitation in movement and thinking. Check it out, if It can help, it's worth the go/see.

Mar 12, 2014 - 3:31:19 AM

RB-1

Netherlands

3768 posts since 6/17/2003

quote:
Originally posted by hayseed

The tension and cramping I feel is on my right hand pincky.  

I have been working a lot lately on improving my right hand technique and really slowing down.  I am  happy with what I am getting out of it and speed is coming along and with greater accuracy but my pinky aches after just a few minutes of picking.  Its like it is being over - extended because its too short to plant on the head or something.  If I arch my wrist a little more I can get more of a relaxed bend in this finger but it changes my pick angle.  Any ideas on what to try next? 

 

   


Watch some of the old TV show recordings of Earl Scruggs. You'll see how he sometimes lifts his entire hand up from the head, no ring finger or pinky left.

As opposed to Scruggs', my 'planted' fingers are almost straight and wiggling a little, they respond to the movement of the other three. But I also found myself lifting them from time to time. I don't realize I'm doing this when playing.

When you found a more comfortable hand position that causes your picks to miss strings or impedes the tone you're aiming for, the answer is often overlooked, it's that simple.

When arching your wrist more, you most likely need a little more bend in the pick blades near the tip to restore the former blade angle.

This is done by putting on the picks and pushing the tips against a piece of wood board, while making a picking motion. If you'd do this carefully, little by little and checking on the banjo, you'll notice your tone coming back.

So, when you feel like grabbing the strings from below, all you'd have to do is bend the tips of the picks a little more round your fingertips.

When setting up a new set of picks, I usually copy what I already have and bend them a little on the round side. The a straighten them one by one to the point I no longer miss any string.

 

For a good, full tone it's important that you, sort of, 'push down' on the strings just a little.

As soon as your tone gets 'tinny' you're probably picking from below ( pulling the strings away from the head).

By the time you're beginning to miss strings (slipping across without really sounding), you might have gone too far and your picks become too round.

Also check what Dave Magram has written about pick blade angle. I think he's on to something.

Apr 4, 2014 - 8:11:50 AM

kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

Something to remember is that there is a strong tendency to 'co-activate' muscles around a joint when we are learning new skills (we think it may have something to do with minimizing the size of the joint movement errors resulting from the errors in our motor commands while we are learning the skill).  This of course 'stiffens' the joint, and requires greater force (muscle tension).  This is true whether we are learning to pick a banjo, swing an ax, or manipulate a scalpel.  With practice the nervous system will tend to reduce this coactivation (because we're learning how to reduce the errors in our motor commands - that is, we're acquiring 'skill') and the tension declines.  I think that in pickers, we often learn to keep that tension for a variety of reasons, such as 1) the desire to push that new skill to faster speed, 2) the mistaken impression that good technique involves jamming the right fingers into the head ('planting' - terrible term), and 3) the adrenalin release when playing in front of people, and so on.

The trick is to train your self mindfully to keep correcting that tension in your hand and forearm while you practice.  It takes a lot of attention at first.  I started by attending to the 'rest' (plant) fingers (the comments about Earl's light touch on the head are spot-on), and making sure that I wasn't jamming my forearm against the banjo, and trying to keep that relaxed, loose feeling (play a tune you know inside and out) while speeding up a little.  Rinse, repeat.  You really need to practice this by focusing your attention on your hand and forearm, so you need a tune that you can play in your sleep.  Make it a part of your practice regimen.  Then try it in front of someone whom you can trust to sit there while you play it over and over until your adrenalin subsides and you are paying attention to your hand and forearm until you feel that target of relaxed looseness. Then speed up a little until you reach your relaxed target.  And it gets a little more natural each time.

Edited by - kjcole on 04/04/2014 08:15:18

Apr 10, 2014 - 9:06:07 PM

2052 posts since 10/9/2004

quote:
Originally posted by kjcole

Something to remember is that there is a strong tendency to 'co-activate' muscles around a joint when we are learning new skills (we think it may have something to do with minimizing the size of the joint movement errors resulting from the errors in our motor commands while we are learning the skill).  This of course 'stiffens' the joint, and requires greater force (muscle tension).  This is true whether we are learning to pick a banjo, swing an ax, or manipulate a scalpel.  With practice the nervous system will tend to reduce this coactivation (because we're learning how to reduce the errors in our motor commands - that is, we're acquiring 'skill') and the tension declines.  I think that in pickers, we often learn to keep that tension for a variety of reasons, such as 1) the desire to push that new skill to faster speed, 2) the mistaken impression that good technique involves jamming the right fingers into the head ('planting' - terrible term), and 3) the adrenalin release when playing in front of people, and so on.

The trick is to train your self mindfully to keep correcting that tension in your hand and forearm while you practice.  It takes a lot of attention at first.  I started by attending to the 'rest' (plant) fingers (the comments about Earl's light touch on the head are spot-on), and making sure that I wasn't jamming my forearm against the banjo, and trying to keep that relaxed, loose feeling (play a tune you know inside and out) while speeding up a little.  Rinse, repeat.  You really need to practice this by focusing your attention on your hand and forearm, so you need a tune that you can play in your sleep.  Make it a part of your practice regimen.  Then try it in front of someone whom you can trust to sit there while you play it over and over until your adrenalin subsides and you are paying attention to your hand and forearm until you feel that target of relaxed looseness. Then speed up a little until you reach your relaxed target.  And it gets a little more natural each time.


This may be the single, most important post I have read in my 9 1/2 years on this list, as well as the most important thing I have run across since I started playing almost 39 years ago, Dr. Cole.  I have always heard to play with a relaxed hand and forearm but, for the last 20 years or so I continually found myself cramping up (not painfully so) and missing notes that I attributed to trying too hard and trying to go too fast, but I didn't think I could do much to improve my technique when I noticed it.  I even convinced myself I was developing focal point dystonia and almost gave up.  Then I came across Tony Trischka's "Essential Practice Techniques" video and discovered just how weak certain muscles in my fingers were.  (This may have been due to a car wreck I had in '93 from which I ended up losing two cervical discs in 2005.)  I started working with GripMaster's about 6 years ago and trying to slow my picking down to relearn which muscles to use more efficiently.  I also learned from Bill Evans' Master's Video to try to swing the fingers from the knuckle joints on the back of the hand more, rather than the second joint down on the picking fingers.  This last bit of info you have supplied tells me I need to slow my picking down even more to get the efficiency I need to pick the way I want.  At 58, I just hope I still have time to relearn at this level in time to get up to decent speed to be the picker I have always wanted to be.  Thank you very much for posting.

Happy trails,

Randy

Apr 11, 2014 - 8:03:25 AM

kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

Hi Randy,

Glad you liked reading my lecture (too long a professor).  We have at least two things in common:  1) we're 58 years young, and 2) Bill Evans gave both of us good advice.  He told me to get my Scruggs solid before trying to play too many melodic fiddle tunes, and also to study the right hand.  (By the way, our aging brains are not losing the ability to learn and/or adapt our motor skills -barring injury or disease - so old dogs learn new tricks quite well!  Heck I just started mandolin!)

Playing BG banjo at performance speeds demands great right hand mechanics (both hand posture and as Bill says, also the basic way of performing the pick motion), and the ability to do all this efficiently (that is, without undue tension).  Plus, you have to hit those strings in a way to 'pull tone.'  Unless you have a great instructor for all this, the next best way is to really study (up close) the pro's right hands (and there's lot's of pics and videos), and find something that works (maybe not JD's 'claw' if you are prone to carpal tunnel!, or Shelor's pinky hood around the bridge).  I've seen a Crowe quote about when he realized that a relaxed right hand was absolutely essential (for good sound, and for surviving a long night of playing).

Kelly

Edited by - kjcole on 04/11/2014 08:09:28

Apr 15, 2014 - 7:19:45 PM

10 posts since 7/27/2011

I have been playing the banjo for quite a lot of years, and had somewhat a similar problem.   I had to learn how to pick the 5 string all over- because I first tried for about a year playing 2 finger style and doubling with the index finger to make it sound somewhat like 3 finger picking.    A man which had played bluegrass all of his life said this to me-----"You have to Force Yourself to learn the 3 finger roll, and not go to any other self learned stuff- to be able to play real bluegrass"   soo, to make a long story sort of short- I, after about a year of playing in a strain and wanting to go back to my self learned 2 finger style= I finally got it, and as time went by = a lot of time= it comes natural the 3 finger roll.  Something I usually do that a lot of banjo picker do is this=   since I first learned by doing "Clawhammer Style", I can go from clawhammer to 3 finger picking in the middle of a song, or go from 2 finger picking to clawhammer style in the middle of a song.   It took quite some time to be able to not jump time doing this- but it comes natural to me now and has done so for some years gone by.    I think everyone tenses up a little at times "especially when it comes time for their break in a song"   Practice with a few Steady Playing musicans like a good solid and smooth guitar player and bass player helps a lot.   the mandolin helps keep the time with a steady chop.   Awwwhh- but what do I know?    Keep on Pickin

Apr 15, 2014 - 7:33:43 PM

10 posts since 7/27/2011

One more thing which I was thinking is this, and it may help some of you as it did me. finding the right place to pick in relation to the bridge is very important as far as how your banjo is going to sound. You don't have to move it far for it to change the sound you are producing soo-- you need to experiment with it to get it right. Depending on the type song you are playing, etc. Another thing which I have found over a long period of time is this== Concentrate on picking all of your strings with the same force (that's the big thing that helps). If you can do that your banjo will sound so much better in its breaks, etc, and even in your backup licks also. I always pick a little harder when its time for my breaks to give it a little extra kick, lol, and it gets the bank moving to get in there with me too. haha

Apr 15, 2014 - 7:57:42 PM

10 posts since 7/27/2011

quote:
Originally posted by tpratersr

I have been playing the banjo for quite a lot of years, and had somewhat a similar problem.   I had to learn how to pick the 5 string all over- because I first tried for about a year playing 2 finger style and doubling with the index finger to make it sound somewhat like 3 finger picking.    A man which had played bluegrass all of his life said this to me-----"You have to Force Yourself to learn the 3 finger roll, and not go to any other self learned stuff- to be able to play real bluegrass"   soo, to make a long story sort of short- I, after about a year of playing in a strain and wanting to go back to my self learned 2 finger style= I finally got it, and as time went by = a lot of time= it comes natural the 3 finger roll.  Something I usually do that a lot of banjo picker do is this=   since I first learned by doing "Clawhammer Style", I can go from clawhammer to 3 finger picking in the middle of a song, or go from 3 finger picking to clawhammer style in the middle of a song.   It took quite some time to be able to not jump time doing this- but it comes natural to me now and has done so for some years gone by.    I think everyone tenses up a little at times "especially when it comes time for their break in a song"   Practice with a few Steady Playing musicans like a good solid and smooth guitar player and bass player helps a lot.   the mandolin helps keep the time with a steady chop.   Awwwhh- but what do I know?    Keep on Pickin


Jul 18, 2014 - 11:39:31 AM

137 posts since 7/16/2014

Sounds like Carpal tunnel setting in. I have been an aircraft mechanic for 30 years using hand tools..... and I feel the same pain when playing the banjo.

Sep 14, 2014 - 7:24:13 AM

8 posts since 9/13/2014

Hi all
This is a great forum and community and I have learned a ton reading this thread. lots of great advice from helpful friendly folks.

Nov 28, 2014 - 11:17:45 PM

steev

USA

21 posts since 3/29/2011

 

my solution to tensing when playing I learned with the guitar, first I used to stand always or shift my weight when standing to focus on the instrument -which helps. sitting I get too involved in what I'm doing to what I'm going to- or if it's a pattern I'm having a hard time synching my picking with my fret hand - I shift gears into a faster or slower tempo or use an alternate roll to comp- The main idea I remember was after all this sometimes tension builds, I would adjust my attack or dampen the strings with the palm which forces the hand to relax.

after a bit you get back to speed you start raising up on your bridge fingers on the hand again, so drop it to the strings and relax - its' a process that works for me.

picking always gets harder when my hand is raised up on my bracing part of my hand, I'm most relaxed with the hand in a dampened position, and I can pick faster- but it works its way to a braced forth or pinky against the head, and that's okay but sometimes that postion is my relaxed postion (good day for me) - but not usual.

you need to constantly know your own attack changes needed to help with this. if you only use one position or bracing of the hand, then you'll never have any advancement. Also to know when to forget the technical parts sometimes when speed is called for and use what you have that is your fall back roll or other technique. If practice- and this is going to sound the direct opposite of what people teach professionally is not to ever go slow - always play as fast or quick and snappy as you possibly can controlled. when you start to loose control, adjust a bit slower then bring it back up again. this teaches several things -

1st  you need more than just accurate pickings and rolls to play fast.

2 you never will be up to speed playing unless you are comfortable and are relaxed in that state of playing.

3 if you loose your majority of roll patterns for the song then drop them they slow you down and use the ones your best at for speed.

4. some like to use the tumb for much of the play instruction today, alot of bringing the thumb down to the 3 and even the 2nd string, it is slow sometimes. and the muscles of the thumb are not like the fingers- it is a slower digit- fact. while the thumb is critical for alteratating it is between that and the middle that the hand moves - and the index finger is going along for the ride. raise the index finget to play the 3rd string rather than bringing the thumb there, and the middle to play the 2nd string,.

5 you can always fall back to the other method that is popular today in teachng, music is about the sound technical playing isn't neccessarily accomplished by perfect technique- one mold doesn't fit all.

6, try this wild idea, put a pick on you ring finger and play with 4 picks. there's speed potential! I've done this from playing dobro and works or rather sounds awesome- despite the frowns I'm sure pro-techers would be at odds with most or something above because it is not part of their method. 

For those folks I who adhere to the gospel of their methods and others,  the method is on borrowed time -it will be useless once the concepts are out. Isint that really what teacher do? they tech examples no matter how involved which boils down to something intangible- that the reason for the 'methods' or the exercise. Even all of Earl's 'licks' are simply his method that illustrated the concept he was trying to get across. one you get the concept toss the method- it's all that matters.

If one wants to play fast- then start doing it and stop listening to all the experts, they know as much as you do. 

Edited by - steev on 11/28/2014 23:54:03

Nov 29, 2014 - 12:13:01 AM

steev

USA

21 posts since 3/29/2011

stop using metronome, you need to have the rhythm of roll patterns into a feel not just a fingering pattern. this when relaxed will allow you to play faster and retain more of the original key voices intact. The metronome is a distraction. when you have the pattens at will and your own speeds/feel the rythmns or shuffle of the thumb to ring finger - then you are relaxed better, under the fast play and more prepared to perform. tension in the hand can come from distractions- that keep you from that automatic state you do things better, you need that state of mind in order to really put things into nervous system memory, it's not just muscle memory. Why is that missed?

learn to keep your own bio clock and play to that tempo, fast or whatever. if you can't do that, how could one possibly play with a metronome and relax? or play at all? just listen to the instrument purely, no listening to something else - people who do that are with another agenda. It's all in the mind and find the ways to relax and sort things by eliminating everything but what your trying for.It's an idea.

Jul 29, 2015 - 8:40:26 AM

121 posts since 6/15/2015

ce to sha



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xcerciseThx  for this topic a ton of help!



I have started a blog place to share lol 



 



 



 



 


Aug 19, 2015 - 1:11:33 PM
likes this

1195 posts since 9/25/2003

Seeing as there's 10 pages already - my two cents worth can't hurt.

Muscle tension comes from anxiety and anxiety comes from trying to do what you're not comfortable doing. So the answer is to get comfortable doing whatever it is that's making you anxious. No?

And the way to get comfortable is to practice GOOD TECHNIQUE slowly and deliberately. IMO good technique is everything. If your fingers are flying all over the place or you have inadvertent 'trigger' movements in either hand then it's impossible to be comfortable and thus eliminate tension. So it's imperative not to practice mistakes i.e. bad technique.

There - my two cents worth.

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