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Nov 10, 2011 - 10:11:49 AM

1280 posts since 8/2/2009

Rich gives good advice.  For me it was the opposite.  I practice at home and because of the TV and wife, I have to practice softly.  My instructor plays in a band so when I go to lessons he's telling me to "pluck the strings like I got a pair".  The muscle tension at home is fine but at practice my arm is sore from being tensed up trying to play to "live on stage" standards.

I find the louder playing does sound better because I'm more pronounced on the string.  Playing softly I ease the string so it doesn't ring like it should.  But I guess softly is OK to learn the song, then playing "like you got a pair" is OK when you are more concerned with the sound rather than the technique.

Originally posted by Rich Weill

Play softer. That's what my teacher always tells me. It relaxes the hand muscles and allows you to maintain a better rhythm (and probably to play faster, too). His standard advice: "Find the loudest banjo you can find, and play it as softly as you can." [Besides, it's always louder to everyone else but you, because you're sitting or standing behind it.]


Nov 10, 2011 - 10:52:55 AM
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10866 posts since 2/12/2011

The "pair" is sometimes a matter of location.  Home may not be a place where the "pair" is present.

Jan 27, 2012 - 5:01:37 AM

235 posts since 7/20/2011

I have had a problem come up with the wrist on the thumg side of my right hand getting sore. I cannot get much more practice than 20 - 30 minutes a day in before becoming sore. My doctor says it is a strain and not carpal tunnel syndrome. For that, I thank God. At work I type on a computer all day long. He has me on Alieve and ice for 10 days. I may have to go to PT. I dread having to wear a brace. Can someone pick and grin wearing a wrist brace?

Anyone had a problem like this? If so, what did you do to get over it?

I am a beginner, and this banjo playing is TOO MUCH FUN to quit. Maybe I need to buy a portable ice machine? Comments? Suggestions?

Feb 28, 2012 - 11:18:05 AM

90 posts since 1/2/2012

Great advise! I find myself doing the same thing when trying to play faster.

Mar 1, 2012 - 4:20:12 AM
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7 posts since 1/13/2009

I put a piece of rubber shelf liner in my lap during practice sessions.    I was adding a lot of muscle tension by having to 'hold' my banjo in the correct position.  Even with a strap it would slip and slide enough to be an issue.  With the liner, the banjo stays in place without any effort, allowing me to play more relaxed and more consistently.

Mar 1, 2012 - 12:10:50 PM

157 posts since 12/30/2011

The harder I practiced the worse the spasms.  Learning to relax my body has made a real difference.  A physical therapist friend of mine taught me some exercises to do before I start practice to help me relax the muscles.  Your mind is a powerful tool, it is amazing what you can overcome.  Keep on pickin. Pat

Mar 1, 2012 - 5:17:20 PM

235 posts since 7/20/2011

Originally posted by banjogal12

The harder I practiced the worse the spasms.  Learning to relax my body has made a real difference.  A physical therapist friend of mine taught me some exercises to do before I start practice to help me relax the muscles.  Your mind is a powerful tool, it is amazing what you can overcome.  Keep on pickin. Pat

 In addition to the diagnosis of tendonitis, I have muscle cramps related to the medicines I take.  What are your exercises?  The exercises may help.  I may also try a tincture of Jack Daniels or Wild Turkey.  :-)

Mar 7, 2012 - 3:09:42 PM

157 posts since 12/30/2011

I think I like the tincture of JD or WT...aren't they cure alls?wink  I have a hand exerciser that I have to squeeze with my fingers only.  It helps stretch the tendions and strengthen the fingers. I also crawl up and down with fingers only on the wall and  I have a ball of putty that I knead with one hand at a time.   In addition, I have learned to take a few minutes in a quiet place and mentally relax my entire body.  PT has me close my eyes and start at my feet, tense up and then relax them and continue with each body part  to the top of my head.   I am learning now how to relax any area of my body mentally.  It works! 

Good luck,  Pat

Mar 7, 2012 - 3:50:19 PM

235 posts since 7/20/2011

Thanks for the info.  Your PT sounds like my Rotator cuff repair PT from last year.  The only part of the wall finger walk was the ice bag afterward. I am going to tough through it.  Nothing is going to stop my banjo lessons.  My physican now has me in a bowling glove type wrist brace.  I am having to relearn the right hand finger picking.  I yam determined to do eet!

Mar 8, 2012 - 6:28:47 AM

157 posts since 12/30/2011

I fractured and dislocated my left arm and it is now titanium.  The PT put me through the same thing plus a few extra exercises of torture and ice bag at the end.  Hang in there friend, after all "banjo" is a priority in our lives!  LOL  Good luck and keep pickin. 

Mar 8, 2012 - 6:37:05 AM

235 posts since 7/20/2011

Much Gras! Indeed, the Banjo is a very high priority; below God and wife, but before dog. I yam determined to get-er-done! I plan to ice the wrist after practicing and practice my grinning during my banjo practicing.

Mar 26, 2012 - 12:34:05 PM



355 posts since 3/26/2012

I've been playing banjo for 8 months now, so I am a world-renowned expert...;) Seriously, I had a very bad right hand injury about 12 years ago and get arthritis sometimes. Everytime I pick up my banjo, I just play plain open G rolls for about 5 minutes to loosen up my right hand. 5 minutes is actually a long time to play, so I don't play hard, loud, or too fast. I do just enough to keep my fingers moving on the strings. This has greatly improved my right hand felxibility, and I now see regular speed increases in weeks, instead of months. The next five minutes I add chords to the exercise to get my left hand limber and avoid tension in my left arm. Just like warming up before a baseball game by easing into throwing, these exercises get me warmed up to practice. I also find that committing songs to memory as soon as possible greatly improves on speed because I am able to anticipate what's coming. My banjo instructor told me to learn segments of songs and repeat them over and over before knitting them all together. All of these things are contributing to less tension and more speed.
Mar 26, 2012 - 1:26:19 PM

41 posts since 5/10/2011

Well, I dunno, but as someone who studies Body Mapping, I'd say a little arm movement in there to help the fingers and picks move across the strings could do wonders. I know that one finger balances on the drum head, but that doesn't mean the hand can't move around. I'd try it, anyway.

May 3, 2012 - 10:23:19 PM

26 posts since 7/15/2010

I just came upon this discussion because I am having the same problem with right hand tension. Here's how it goes: I started playing 40 years ago when in college but my playing tapered off after about ten years. Then my banjo was stolen and I didn't play at all until I picked up another about a year and a half ago. I feel like I'm starting all over again as a beginner. When I played years ago I know I had unruly finger movements but I don't remember the tension that I am experiencing now. This happens particularly with my index finger, which wants to curl up into my palm and often won't extend enough to strike the string, so I miss a lot of those index notes. I specifically feel the tension go through my hand and wrist at the moment the thumb picks the fifth string, which is relayed to the index finger. It is particularly noticeable with a forward roll, where the index follows the thumb. But oddly, if the thumb picks any bottom string it doesn't happen (as much). I've been trying the slow, relaxed practice method for a few weeks but it only seems to be getting worse. Now I can't get any speed at all, where I once had reasonable success with a steady rhythm at a reasonable speed. Anything else to suggest?


May 4, 2012 - 8:07:56 AM

238 posts since 5/30/2010

As a teen taking fingerpicking lessons on guitar I vividly recall my guitar teacher saying "Speed happens when it's d#mn good & ready" He also would frequently mention that just thinking about playing fast usually froze fingers & the brain up. How many times I would play a song perfectly at home only to get in front of my teacher to play the same tune & then play the worst sounding version I ever heard-I think it has to do with stress caused by either playing "perfectly" or "fast" The second you think "mush! mush!" it just doesn't happen.  I have found playing faster happens without you thinking about it - and your hands & mind knowing the song inside & out also helps a lot. 

May 5, 2012 - 8:47:35 AM

11 posts since 5/16/2010

I too have muscle tension and soreness but not in the wrist or forearm. Similar to Jeff, its on my picking hand in the joints/muscles near my knuckles on my index and middle fingers. Does anyone recommend any sort of stretching/ flexing routine of the hands or fingers for before picking? 

Edited by - BanjoRob88 on 05/05/2012 08:54:34

May 5, 2012 - 11:25:40 AM

235 posts since 7/20/2011

During last week's lesson, my banjo threw a curve at me and surprised me a lot. He put the metronome on while I was trying to play Two Dollar Bill. His metronome trick got me to play faster than I ever have done without me realizing it. Wow! Yes, I made misteaks, but played on. I got better and faster than I had ever been on Two Dollar Bill. He said that sometimes there is a "sweet spot" in the timing of playing a song. I may have found me a sweet spot!

I had no muscle problems (cramping), but was able to use them smile muscles more. Don't get me wrong. I am way far from ready to jam on stage with anyone, but it did sound Sa-Weet!

I recommend you consider trying it.

Jun 19, 2012 - 10:53:40 AM



315 posts since 3/20/2011

Your brain has two sides, left side and right side. Your left hand can fight the right hand. Your right hand will struggle when the left hand fingering is not just right. Practice right hand speed on one chord only until you get up the speed. Don't change chords. Practice each hand separately.

 The opposite can happen. Students who have trouble grabbing hard chords with the left hand always stop playing the right hand. They have to be taught to keep playing the right fingerings so the left hand will start to keep up. So practice your speed of the right hand by itself without the left hand interfering. 

Jul 4, 2012 - 8:57:28 AM

2915 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,Last year Pat Cloud's class here, discussed not only muscle tension but muscle control. When I listen to the good players, I hear the singular melody notes in the chordal runs. This means that all three fingers are independent in intensity while playing. Playing in control takes coordination and time. When I practice, training is tough starting out. Being tense with three fingers is hurtful. Being not in control is also hurtful tone wise. JohnAradobanjo
Jul 8, 2012 - 11:20:48 AM

52 posts since 5/31/2012

Great topic.  Thanks for starting it Collin.  

I am a very new beginner myself.  I tried to get things going on my own but I have a teacher now.  Good move for me to have specific guidance and tasks to work on.  I found myself in a little pain in the right arm/wrist and have been working to relax it and find the right position for my arm to rest.  It's getting better. Still a little pain in the wrist up from the thumb.   I also find myself grinding my teeth and it is directly correlated to a break down of staying relaxed.  I am now doing a bit of a Stevie Wonder thing with my head and having better success. I still look at my right hand some and my left to get on the right string.  Not always coming down clean on the frets but getting better with that too.  Someone wrote the right hand fights the left and the left fights the right and there is a lot of truth to the that.  I've been trying some of the things mentioned here before I even realized it was being discussed but there are some others that I think will help so I'll try them out too.  

Thanks everyone for throwing in your 2 cents. 



Oct 24, 2012 - 10:32:18 AM
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22 posts since 10/7/2011

There was an article recently about how to activate one-side of the brain to allow muscle memory to not be dominated by stress. Substitute banjo player for 'athletes' and banjo teacher for 'coaches' and it makes a lot of sense. Key part of article is below:

"Simply squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand can activate certain parts of the brain that may help some athletes boost their performance in high-pressure situations, new research indicates.

For the study, German researchers tested the skills of soccer players, judo experts and badminton players during practice and then in stressful competitions before a large crowd or a video camera.

"Right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competition were less likely to choke under pressure than right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their right hand, according to the study published recently online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:

For skilled athletes, movements associated with their sport become automatic with little conscious thought. When they fail to perform well under pressure, it may be because they are focusing too much (ruminating) on their movements rather than relying on their motor skills developed through years of practice, explained lead researcher Juergen Beckmann, chairman of sports psychology at the Technical University of Munich.

"Rumination can interfere with concentration and performance of motor tasks," Beckmann said in a news release from the American Psychological Association. "Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice."

Oct 30, 2012 - 1:10:47 PM


New Zealand

4 posts since 7/20/2012

Same problem with me -- my upper back is so tight I can barely lift my arms. Not related to speed, though, just to practising in 3 hr stretches! I find that restricting playing time to 30 min sessions (a few a day) helps, as do upper and lower back exercises.

Nov 4, 2012 - 3:12:41 AM
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281 posts since 11/2/2007

It has always been well documented that many people try [or want] to learn too fast and to be a fast picker, TODAY. !!! I'm sorry but it just doesn't happen that way.

It has also been well documented that when you practice 'SLOWLY', you learn much quicker. Keep your learning pace at a slower metronome / rhythm until the muscle memory is fully trained in the task you are trying to teach it.

If you are trying to "push" something that isn't ready to be pushed that hard it will naturally tense up. Right hand or left hand tension is no good in any instrument playing. Ask any career typist. Making mistakes is natural in any learning process but to continue and 'engrain' those mistakes into your muscle memory is a big no-no and takes longer to "RE-train' the mistakes out and the proper skill "in".

Clean picking is good picking.

3 absolute rules I constantly preach to my students are:

1) SLOW (practice slowly to 'train' the muscle memory. When you practice slow, you learn fast)

2) SMOOTH - (after what you're trying to "learn" is "learned", work on getting it smooth. Which means cleanly picked and in time / rhythm)

3) After 1 and 2 are accomplished, SPEED WILL COME TO YOU - NATURALLY. You don't go to it. Trying to practice and learn something at 120 bpm is not possible when you're only capable of playing it "cleanly" at 84 bpm.

When you can play what you've "learned" and your hands are relaxed, you are at the proper pace.

Frustration is a great motivator but a piss-poor teacher :-) and you will be taking 2 steps backward rather than a step forward.

If you get frustrated during your practice, physically put the banjo down and walk out of the room for a minimum of 2 minutes. You need to break the frustration "cycle". The come back to it and repeat your practice regimen. The frustration pattern will be broken and you will usually do much better on the same task.

Nov 4, 2012 - 3:21:39 AM
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281 posts since 11/2/2007

Hi Kelly,
I practice in "marathon sessions" also. Hence, hours at a time and have experienced the same "back" issues you spoke of. My remedy is this. First, practice and play while standing up [not sitting]. Also when you practice standing up, pull the shoulders back a lil' and keep your back straighter. Most people have the tendency to "lean" over top of the banjo to 'SEE' what their hands are doing. Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT necessary. Quite frankly the standing position and not looking over to "see" actually makes my picking cleaner. I think it's due to some sort of positioning thing with the human body. My point is "rely" on your muscle memory training. Your eyes don't play the banjo. Many times during a teaching session with my students I will have them play what they are trying to learn with their eye's closed over and over. This 'MAKES" you rely on your muscle memory and helps to instill it quicker and better IMO. :-) Good luck ++=,==(O)
Originally posted by kerrychallinor


Same problem with me -- my upper back is so tight I can barely lift my arms. Not related to speed, though, just to practising in 3 hr stretches! I find that restricting playing time to 30 min sessions (a few a day) helps, as do upper and lower back exercises.


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