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Sep 4, 2019 - 3:54:44 PM
2 posts since 3/15/2019

Hello all,

I'm a young guy beginning to learn how to play Clawhammer. I've found that my wrist will hurt every so often when I play, and I'm afraid of developing carpal tunnel. I generally use my index finger to play.

Is there a correct way I should angle the banjo or frail that I missed?

Thanks!

Edited by - wschaerer on 09/04/2019 15:55:15

Sep 4, 2019 - 4:11:06 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22316 posts since 6/25/2005

Not really. The watchword for old-time banjo of whatever style is “whatever works.” Be sure your hand and wrist are relaxed, not rigid. You want to play with arm motion, not wrist motion. Watch videos that show hand and arm playing and see if a change helps you.

Sep 4, 2019 - 4:32:15 PM

2199 posts since 4/29/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Not really. The watchword for old-time banjo of whatever style is “whatever works.” Be sure your hand and wrist are relaxed, not rigid. You want to play with arm motion, not wrist motion. Watch videos that show hand and arm playing and see if a change helps you.


How do you play with "hand and wrist .... relaxed, not rigid....With arm motion, not wrist motion.". ?

As you say "whatever works". I play with an arm that goes up and down at the elbow and a wrist the rotates the thumb into the banjo on the the downstroke. The hand itself is pretty rigid. Works for me and I can play for hours in a session. And I'm NOT "a young guy" (except by BHO standards) . Only case of banjo related carpal tunnel I've come across was due to playing a gourd banjo and stretching across the deep gourd. So I'm guessing that keeping the upper arm and elbow into the body may help, which means playing with the banjo as vertical as possible. I often see players with an almost horizontal banjo in their lap and think "how do they do that - and why ?". Which is why I play with a strap even when playing sitting.

Sep 4, 2019 - 5:03:04 PM
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843 posts since 8/7/2017

Will, musicians run the gammet from stiff wrist to floppy wrist. Each person's hand, wrist, skeleton, sinews, etc. is different.

I have wrist pain, and have been diagnosed with early/mild/whatever carpal tunnel. For me, the more relaxed I play, the less pain. I also have played with Ace brand wrist braces (from Walmart) which reduce bending at the wrist, and find that helps too. You will just have to experiment, with your own body, to see what works best.

Music is practically the definition of repetitive stress disorder, unfortunately. Here is a book with advice for musicians: Playing Less Hurt by Janet Horvath. It has good ideas, I think.

There are various stretches for your hands that will help; I found them on youtube....but some presenters contradict other presenters, so you have to make your own decisions as to which procedures to use. If you could find a banjo-playing physical therapist, it might help.

I recently had great success with a physical therapist (non-musician), and wrote about it here:
banjohangout.org/topic/356419

For daily help, I first warm my hands and wrists with warm tap water before a practice session. At the end of play, I cool the same with cold tap water. This, plus the stretches, seem to help a lot.

Josh Turknett has written about new ways to practice. They work very well, and I highly recommend them: Josh's "laws of brainjo"
banjohangout.org/archive/298553
They are counter to almost everything I was told when I took up music years ago *smiles*. One of the most important laws for beginners: don't practice longer than about 20 minutes at a go. This increases the rate of progress, and also is easier on your wrists. Worked for me :-)

Hope this helps.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 09/04/2019 17:06:36

Sep 4, 2019 - 7:43:17 PM

72 posts since 1/2/2019

When I was starting out I watched a lot of videos on youtube. One of them that helped explained that your whole arm is pretty much straight and your elbow and forearm is like a fulcrum - i.e., the wrist is not going up and down. I can't recall the one that really made an impression, but I like this lady's video. She's an excellent player and very well known in the clawhammer world - this may help..

youtube.com/watch?v=IeNHy3nn8VA

Also, your arm is almost like the key of a piano. The key hammers the string - directly and straight on. Its more of a knocking up and down motion, not down strumming like a guitar. It took a lot of practice coming from a guitar background. But, my wrist stays straight in line with my forearm - its all one unit.

I know, as someone who has to type long documents at work, that I was early stage carpal tunnel and relearned to type keeping my wrist straight, forearm wrist - one straight line. I've never had problems since. I think that's why I like the video I linked.

Edited by - nightingale on 09/04/2019 19:46:13

Sep 4, 2019 - 9:15:26 PM

354 posts since 1/28/2013

You need to get a Dr. Arm wooden armrest from banjolit.com. they are designed by an Orthopedic hand and wrist doctor. You will see the difference as soon as you lay your forearm on one.

Sep 5, 2019 - 1:23:49 AM

m06

England

7865 posts since 10/5/2006

You mention that you are just beginning. It's a really good idea at the outset to organise 1:1 individual tuition. If only enough to ensure that your basic technique is solid and to prevent any unidentified bad habits causing you issues as you progress. If there isn't a suitable teacher located near you, there are some highly experienced and excellent clawhammer teachers who offer skype lessons. You can find their details in the BHO teacher list here: 

https://www.banjohangout.org/teachers/

The cost of a few lessons at this critical early stage will pay back hugely down the line.

Edited by - m06 on 09/05/2019 01:27:43

Sep 6, 2019 - 2:09:36 PM

28 posts since 10/17/2017

With most things, doing them with a bent wrist can cause pain, especially under tension. I know there are plenty of banjo players who cock their wrist on their striking arm when they play but I wouldn't recommend it as good ergonomics. Strive to use a "neutral" wrist (on both arms).

The clawhammer motion shouldn't come (entirely) from the wrist. The hand moves toward and away from the head with a movement primarily from the elbow.

Sep 6, 2019 - 10:46:23 PM

AndyW

UK

450 posts since 7/4/2017

It's probably just that your wrist is too stiff at the moment. I had exactly the same problem. One of the things I found when beginning was that playing slowly and deliberately gave a tendency to a stiffer wrist and hard strike on the strings which will dissipate after you start to speed up.

Going by my personal experience, although as above there is an element of wrist looseness that only comes after time and amount of play, it is actually possible to loosen up your wrist by actively focusing in on that area whilst practising. It takes an extremely concentrated effort that you'll only be able to keep up for short sessions (at least I found that to be the case), but after a while and a few of that type of practice session keeping your wrist looser should become a bit more natural.

EDIT- Just watched nightingales video of Hilary Burhans from a couple of posts ago.  If you play with the pot on your thigh definitely have a look at that. It's very similar to the way I play, though I have far more wrist than forearm in the strike. 

Edited by - AndyW on 09/06/2019 22:57:01

Sep 7, 2019 - 1:08:36 PM

95 posts since 8/25/2009

As others have said, you have to do what is right for your hand. That said, here is my experience.

My motion is all from the elbow, with perhaps a little adjustment at the end. I pretty much keep my wrist and hand stable (not rigid), with just a little adjustment at the end to put the thumb on the string after my index finger hits its string.

I had a great deal of trouble progressing from the bump-ditty (basic) frailing to double thumb, because I was trying to move my thumb to get the extra thumb note in the bump-a-dit-y, and it didn't work. Last spring I went to the New England Folk Festival (aka NEFFA), and Ken Perlman was giving a free banjo class. I had not brought my banjo (yes, I know I should never leave home without it :-), and Ken suggested those of us who were banjo-deprived could play air-banjo. Well, between Ken's teaching, and not needing to try to get a note, I started keeping my thumb motionless for the first strike, and it worked -just like the guys with real banjos :-)

So, my suggestion is to keep your wrist and hand stationary (NOT tensed up), and do most of your movement from the elbow (and maybe a bit from the wrist or even the shoulder, if necessary).

The other experience I had is that I spent nine months learning frailing!! I was doing it so badly I could not bear the sound of my own playing for more than 5-10 minutes a day, but the banjo kept calling me back, and eventually I got it right. So, if you have to cut back your time each day, do so, but don't stop completely!

Good luck,

Bill

Sep 7, 2019 - 2:40:51 PM
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6304 posts since 8/30/2004

I teach my students to play a basic wrist movement up and down. You should keep your arms and elbows from moving too much. The most important thing is to RELAX your motions. Speed will tense your arm. It's pretty basic really...Just watch the pros and you see very little motion. 
Watch Janet Burton, Donald Zepp, Lukas Poole etc. etc. they all have very little motion going on...Do Not be in a hurry, it will come....Jack  p.s. also, decide which finger/s you want to brush with. There are many variations but in the beginning don't be too ambitious....
 
Originally posted by wschaerer

Hello all,

I'm a young guy beginning to learn how to play Clawhammer. I've found that my wrist will hurt every so often when I play, and I'm afraid of developing carpal tunnel. I generally use my index finger to play.

Is there a correct way I should angle the banjo or frail that I missed?

Thanks!


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/07/2019 14:43:33

Sep 10, 2019 - 5:38:13 PM

2 posts since 3/15/2019

Thank you, everyone! It was helpful.

Sep 12, 2019 - 1:49:38 AM

Jimbeaux

Germany

175 posts since 5/24/2016

I think what others have said is very likely. That you're probably just a little too tense and once you figure out how to relax a little more, your pain and playing will get better. I went through discomfort at one point on the banjo, and real pain with the fiddle, but those problems went away after I learned to relax. Pain could also be a sign that you need to change something, so it's also worth exploring other options. If you need to play for a long time, it's good to change positions every now and then, whether it's how you sit or how you hold your arms or how you play. Banjo is a much more comfortable instrument to play than something like the fiddle, so your problems will probably solve themselves.

One thing that might be contributing to your problem is your banjo. Is it really quiet and you're forced to play extra hard to hear yourself in a jam? Not everyone would agree with me, but I believe good banjos should be loud if they are meant for playing with other musicians. However, a good banjo player should know how to hold back on volume and be a tasteful accompanist. I like having a loud banjo because I can play soft and still be heard. It conserves energy and makes playing easier and more relaxed.

Sep 12, 2019 - 4:26:10 AM

5 posts since 8/2/2015

There has been lots of great information and advice shared thus far. One more thing to consider, seeing as you're just beginning to learn, is that sometimes new activities take some time to get through being uncomfortable. It took me a long time (a year or two) before I could play comfortably for long periods of time.

I have mild carpal tunnel syndrome and I usually have some sort of pain in my hands/arms from working in the woods so I have a good idea of which activities cause which pain. Unless you clinch your hand really tight, you shouldn't have to worry about carpal tunnel playing clawhammer. Occasionally, I'll get pain in the top of my wrist from playing too much, however.

Sep 12, 2019 - 6:24:08 AM

m06

England

7865 posts since 10/5/2006

Mike, many new processes and activities can feel unnatural for a while until we familiarise ourselves with them.

However, the new need not, and should not, involve pain. Hence my recommendation that the OP has a few 1:1 lessons at this early stage. As a banjo teacher myself I know that probably the most solid foundation from which to progress is comfort and efficiency imparted from acquiring good technique. One of the most time-consuming and challenging tasks for teacher and student is to unlearn bad habits once we have got accustomed to them.

Edited by - m06 on 09/12/2019 06:25:52

Sep 12, 2019 - 8:28:21 AM

AndyW

UK

450 posts since 7/4/2017

As a recent beginner myself I can say anecdotally that there is definitely a bit of right hand pain as a beginner in the early stages.

This is due to fatigue/overuse through playing too long and hard whilst the wrist is tense(which for me wasn't a huge length of time). Once the wrist loosens up, which is a byproduct of trying to play faster in a chicken/egg situation the pain goes away. Also, it is possible to really focus in and 'make' that right hand looser through focussed practice.

I found many short sessions instead of one long session to go a long way in helping out through the period where my wrist wasn't properly loose.
One way of reducing the

Sep 12, 2019 - 9:01:54 AM

6304 posts since 8/30/2004

Hi Bill,
If you watch Donald Zepp, Steve Martin, Lukas Poole, Josh Turknett, they all move mostly from a relaxed wrist. The arm of course is involved. I think, from what I've read in these posts, that most people are in too much of a hurry and tense up...Jack

Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Not really. The watchword for old-time banjo of whatever style is “whatever works.” Be sure your hand and wrist are relaxed, not rigid. You want to play with arm motion, not wrist motion. Watch videos that show hand and arm playing and see if a change helps you.


Sep 12, 2019 - 1:29:46 PM
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RG

USA

2922 posts since 8/7/2008

No "proper" technique except one where your wrist doesn't hurt playing...

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