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Right hands: Earl compared to JD and Kristin Scott Benson and Jim Mills

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Sep 13, 2019 - 11:56:41 AM
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kjcole

USA

1173 posts since 4/21/2003

Here's Earl. Slow down this video to .25X (click on the gear to the lower right).
youtube.com/watch?v=EjLyVmmQEk...dio=1&t=0

Seems to me that Earl played with a hand that was mostly parallel to the head because he didn't prop his hand up with the ring and pinky but laid it down close to the head. The picking motion was mostly from the middle and last knuckles of the fingers (not the first knuckle0, so that the trajectory of the fingertip was across the string and then arcing slightly up to the palm.

Then there's JD.

youtube.com/watch?v=tTv6CAmCO8...o=1&t=102

youtube.com/watch?v=dl0Z5LY7LUQ

JD picks with much more motion at the first knuckle (but still lot's of motion at the other knuckles), but because he stands his hand up more with his plant fingers (and his wrist is flexed so much more than Earl's) the trajectory of his fingertip is like Earl's (across and up).

Then there's Kristin Scott Benson standing next to JD. Kristin really plays with a lot of motion at the first knuckle because she too stands her hand up with her plant fingers.

Then Jim Mills, who also stands his hand up and uses lot's of motion at the first knuckle:

youtube.com/watch?v=mMEbwDJygZw

Different approaches to the basic hand/wrist posture, but the amount of motion at the first knuckle versus the 2nd and last knuckle is adjusted to preserve the basic trajectory of the pick (across and up to palm). That's the tone-pulling trajectory we should be aiming form, regardless of how we position our hand.

How do others see it?

Kelly

Sep 13, 2019 - 12:35:42 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23278 posts since 8/3/2003

Different people, different hands, larger, smaller, slimmer, thicker. Probably no 2 people have hands exactly alike and place their hands exactly alike. Nor should they. Do what works for you and don't worry about how J.D., Earl or anyone else does. Just my 2 cents worth.

Sep 13, 2019 - 12:44:05 PM

chuckv97

Canada

43391 posts since 10/5/2013

Coming from some classical guitar (ok,ok,,don’t shoot me yet) background, there is a school of thought (if banjo pickers think...) that pulling up (or down, as in the rest stroke on guitar) brings out the best tone, because the string puts more up & down vibration on the bridge. If you just pick across the string it will vibrate more sideways rather than up & down, transferring less desirable vibrations onto the bridge.

Sep 13, 2019 - 12:46:56 PM
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14295 posts since 12/2/2005

I like Sherry's council. I would, however, add that there's one hell of a lot more power and strength in the first knuckle than in the outer ones. The muscles for the latter are small and in the back of the hand. The muscles for the first knuckle are much larger and actually located up near the elbow (wear a T-shirt and watch yourself play in a mirror to see what happens).

Sep 13, 2019 - 12:51:25 PM
Players Union Member

KCJones

USA

488 posts since 8/30/2012

One things for sure, as far as this amateur can tell. Finger position and angle-of-attack affect tone greatly. Focusing on that technique is just as important as what rolls you're playing and what notes you're fretting, as far as overall quality of the sound and enjoyability of the music goes. Nobody wants to hear your picks scraping the strings, regardless of how hot your licks are.

Sep 13, 2019 - 12:57:03 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

Earl & J.D. had 50+ year careers. Were the hand positions consistent over the years? Earl in the 1970s didn’t sound just like Earl in the 1940s. Was that in part from a changed hand position?

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/13/2019 17:23:06

Sep 13, 2019 - 1:03:02 PM
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14 posts since 3/10/2009

I know a banjo play whos fingers are all over the place while he is playing but he doesnt miss a note or a lick. Its all about what works for you and the end result.

Sep 13, 2019 - 1:24:49 PM

chuckv97

Canada

43391 posts since 10/5/2013

But I dare say he’s an outlier

Sep 13, 2019 - 1:42:38 PM
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kjcole

USA

1173 posts since 4/21/2003

Hi Skip,

Actually the flexor muscles for the all three knuckles are in the forearm - except for the small intrinsic hand muscles that produce torque at the first knuckle. In fact the fingertip force contributed by the last two joints is considerable.

Sherri and others. I agree that we all need to find that comfortable position, but the end result regardless of differences in hand position is a pick stroke that finishes upward, with a considerable motion at the distal joints. That's what we all share.

Sep 13, 2019 - 2:18:44 PM
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5452 posts since 3/6/2006

I think this is an interesting comparison, and tone is comprised of many variables of course, including micro-movements of the hand and fingers and the angle of attack to the string etc. The angle of attack is something I find easier to dial in by adjusting the angle of the neck, not by moving my hand into uncomfortable positions.
But the ways we judge tone is with our ears, not our eyes, so this seems a bit backwards to be looking at our hands when our ears ultimately tell us when we have it dialed in.

Sep 13, 2019 - 3:38:01 PM
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2558 posts since 11/15/2003

Please don't anybody be offended by this,

Your " WAY OVER THINKING THIS"

None of those people gave the first thought to hand positions and finger angles and such.....the just did it, and used there natural abilities they have, and used there ears to listen for good tone and volume, or power as some of you like to put it.

Again, no offense is meant by this,

Warp!

Edited by - warpdrive on 09/13/2019 15:38:35

Sep 13, 2019 - 5:24:29 PM
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gtani7

USA

927 posts since 3/22/2017

There's other v ariables besides what Sherry listed, including how you bend your fingerpick blades, how long they are vs thumbpick, picking at X vs Y position (string tension), bridge height etc etc. There's a detailed analysis of RH technique at Jack Hatfield's "Exercises for Three Finger" book and also in Trischka/Wernick "Masters of the 5 String" book, if you want to read a really really really long analyiss of guitar flat and fingerpicking, look up Tuck Andress' website on that. If your fingerpicks are curved close to fingertips, try straighter blades and vice versa, they feel and sound different but over time you adapt to get good motion and tone.

The switching picks exercise is interesting, but like Warp! says, don't overthink this and don't force yourself to do unnatural things because some famous player did it.

Edited by - gtani7 on 09/13/2019 17:29:33

Sep 13, 2019 - 5:26:09 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

Exactly. Same with clawhammer. Too many folks way overthink it.

Sep 13, 2019 - 6:10:31 PM
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107 posts since 7/28/2019

Trial and error rules.

Sep 14, 2019 - 3:57:27 AM

169 posts since 12/16/2012

i remember when I first started playing I wanted to sound like Mr. Scruggs. At first I thought it was the banjo he played, so I found a Gibson Mastertone and found out it wasn't that, I still did not sound like him. Then I thought it was how he held the banjo, made adjustments and found out it wasn't that. Then it dawned on me, it was Mr. Scruggs. He had a "heart" for the instrument and the music. I still don't sound like him but I CAN have a heart for the instrument and the music and I sound like "I" sound. I stopped trying to be a Mr.Scuggs and worked on sounding the best "I" can sound. Satisfaction is much better than frustration. :)

Sep 14, 2019 - 4:30:48 AM

3201 posts since 7/12/2006

id have to get an operation to keep my hand the same as JD's.

Sep 14, 2019 - 5:34:02 AM
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beegee

USA

21326 posts since 7/6/2005

After teaching banjo for many years, I have seen about every kind of hand position. One factor overrides all others in clean and "fast" picking:economy of motion.

Sep 14, 2019 - 8:45:43 AM

2319 posts since 9/12/2016

Doug got a lot of long velocity strokes. One of the fundamentals is the more you bend the string before it releases the louder it is.
 

Sep 14, 2019 - 9:54:26 AM

1913 posts since 10/9/2004

quote:
Originally posted by beegee

After teaching banjo for many years, I have seen about every kind of hand position. One factor overrides all others in clean and "fast" picking:economy of motion.


Bob, y'ever see Cia Cherryholmes pickin'?  Her fingers just be a flyin' - would be flailin' if I did that - and yet she consistently gets clear, sharp tone with good note separation.  Tina Hart (Stelling Belle) once related an analogy that Ned Luberecki made to her about runners regarding finger motion.  He pointed out to her how a runner can have a lot more power in their stride by motion from the hips and how that compares to finger motion from the first knuckle.

Personally, I'm also in the economy of motion camp and I am working real hard at that.  It is harder to achieve economy of motion by powering from the first joint but leaves more fine control to the second and third joints if you can "pull it off" (pun intended).

Speaking of pulling it off, Paul Hawthorne (RIP) in Gestalt Banjo spoke to this as well in the context of string motion in the vertical vs. horizontal plane.  He also argued and I agree that the tone produced by the string moving in the vertical - at least as much vertical component as you can achieve realistically - is more pleasing than that generated by moving in just the horizontal plane.  (Cia Cherryholmes is the exception to my ear; she still seems to strike in more of the horizontal plane but again gets terrific tone.  Maybe her Huber banjo deserves some of the credit here, as do the pre-war Gibsons?)  Hawthorne said string motion in the vertical plane can be achieved either by pulling/plucking with a slightly upward component to the motion of the finger at string release or by pushing slightly downward as Bela does with picks bent back almost across the top of the fingertips and results in almost a tapping motion by the finger to get the vertical component into the string motion.  I have to think that the tapping motion from the first joint could result in potentially blinding picking speed compared to the plucking motion by itself from the second and third joints.  

Picking almost exclusively from the second and third joints early on in my experience wound up giving me problems that many have attributed to focal point dystonia in their experience, in my case resulting in the index finger of the picking hand wanting to tuck up toward the palm at around the 12 -14 year point for me when playing at a fast clip.  Concentrating on powering more from the first joint has helped me with this a lot in recent years.   A significant change in my technique, it has also been difficult to get to the point that my right hand is relaxed.  It takes awhile to retrain muscles to work in a more optimal manner when they have been doing things a different way for so long.

Call it overthinking if you want, but the subject deserves thought early on when somebody is just beginning their banjo journey.  Otherwise, you have to unlearn bad habits later on, making banjo playing harder than it already is for some of us.

Great topic, Kelly!

Happy trails,

Randy in Germantown, TN

Edited by - Quagmire on 09/14/2019 09:59:50

Sep 15, 2019 - 7:54:36 AM
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1224 posts since 2/10/2013

I once went to a workshop, and the instructor recommended that a player not try to imitate the hand movement of their idol. As Sherry wrote, individuals are configured differently. The important thing is playing comfortably and produce good quality music. If your hand/wrist/fingers hurt, your body is sending you a message.

Sep 16, 2019 - 4:40 PM

153 posts since 6/22/2012

banjocompass.com/lessons/begin...xercises/

Best I have seen for an explanation

Sep 16, 2019 - 7:42:52 PM

153 posts since 6/22/2012

I meant Geoff's explanation of finger movement in the second video. Emulating him has helped me a lot, no changes for a while, right down to his pick angle. Geoff has good attack on the strings, and his hand looks relaxed.

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:24:39 PM

3423 posts since 5/6/2004

quote:
Originally posted by stanleytone

id have to get an operation to keep my hand the same as JD's.


I find JD's right hand painful to watch,

In Masters of the 5-String Banjo, Pat Cloud said: "[T]he reason I angle my fingerpicks and straighten them out is because I can just put my hand in a very comfortable position where I don't have to cock my wrist to the side. I've noticed a lot of bluegrass players cock their wrist to the side, and if tendinitis or tension results, it's because the wrist function is being impaired. In other words, you're running those tendons through a kink in your wrist. So I do what I do to be as comfortable as I can with the right hand."

Sep 19, 2019 - 12:55:21 PM

kjcole

USA

1173 posts since 4/21/2003

Thanks for weighing in everyone!

I wasn't trying to advocate that we try to copy any of these masters, but only that Earl use comparatively little MP joint motion, which seems likely due to the way he positioned his right hand (parallel to head, plant fingers at a more acute angle to the head). The other players used less acute angles for the plant fingers, resulting in a hand less parallel to the head, which turn allowed for them to use more MP motion. One seems to be causing the other.

Why? I was thinking that probably because the most important thing is how the pick hits the strings, not whether you lay the hand down or stand it up.

I don't know if one approach or the other is more efficient, or mechanically optimal because these players clearly can pull tone, play fast, have great timing, and have the endurance to jam all night. It was just an observation. I suspect that as the hand stands up more, more MP motion is required to hit the strings so as to excite them optimally (presumably, more vertical oscillation). Randy does remind me of the important fact that the more the pick blades are curved (e.g., bent or flattened to follow the contour of the fingertip) can translate into pushing the string down as the fingertip travels on its arc through the strings. Given this, I doubt that any of them were actually plucking up, per se - it's just the follow-through of the fingertip trajectory.

All of this is fascinating to me (at the risk of boring everyone else), because while at jams etc you see all types of hand positions and finger motions and picks bent to different contours in jams, not everyone is pulling good tone. Which now leads me to being Captain Obvious, and saying that pickers still looking for good tone might need to worry less about their hand positions and joint motions and more about how the pick swings through the string. Fix that and you'll probably find yourself somewhere on the continuum of hand 'flatness' vs 'MP motion' that seems to be reflected in the videos. Heck I'm just trying to think through this and see if any of this makes any sense.

Sep 19, 2019 - 3:52:10 PM
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10114 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by kjcole

... at jams etc you see all types of hand positions and finger motions and picks bent to different contours in jams, not everyone is pulling good tone. Which now leads me to being Captain Obvious, and saying that pickers still looking for good tone might need to worry less about their hand positions and joint motions and more about how the pick swings through the string. . . .


I think pickers looking for good tone need to spend time developing an image in their mind's ear of what they want their banjos to sound like, hearing what their playing actually sounds like, and working on the sound of their banjo playing rather just working out banjo stuff to play.

I don't think I've ever heard a good player who didn't also produce good tone. That's because to my mind, tone comes from and reflects musicianship.  Tone isn't the result of just the mechanics of hand position, pick length, pick angle, or pick swing through the strings. What we hear as tone is intentional expressiveness of musicians who sing through their instruments. How one musician pulls tone may not be the same as how someone else does it.

Sep 19, 2019 - 5:13:14 PM

2558 posts since 11/15/2003

Ken,
you are exactly right....good tone don't just happen, and i've seen people try for years, trying different hand positions, different picking angles, and it is really , really simple, after it's all said and done.....either they get it or they don't, but i can tell you that the good one's don't have to struggle with it, and the one's that never get it, will constantly blame it something other than the fact that they just don't have it!

This is a harsh reality, but sometime the truth is.

This is something that is a real stickler with me, because i do grow tired of hearing people try to come up with short cuts, and reasons that good tone can be achieved as easily as something like hand positions and finger attack and such.

If it was easy, everybody and anybody could do it!
There is something to be said for Ability and Talent!

warp!

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