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Oct 6, 2019 - 5:17:59 AM
55 posts since 6/24/2019

I am fairly new to claw hammer banjo and at the advise of my instructor I am using my index finger. I was getting used to the thumb but he said to try out the index as I was experiencing tension in my hand and wrist and coming from a history of tendinitis I surely don’t want to go down that road again.
But for the life of me I just can’t get it. My down strumbs sound week and I don’t always hit the right string...even after months. I feel like I have watched every YouTube video out there. Why can’t I get it? My index finger nail is short. Should I consider a false nail? I don’t really enjoy playing with finger picks. I am wondering if a longer nail would help solve some issues for me.
Any advice would be so appreciated ????

Oct 6, 2019 - 5:26:05 AM
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geemott

USA

236 posts since 7/7/2005

A little outside-the-box here... have you tried "Seeger style"? Same basic technique as clawhammer, but you up-pick with the index instead of down-pick. Everything else is the same.

A longer fingernail might help, but you can't always count on it being there. Of course it's worth a try.

Oct 6, 2019 - 5:29:13 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by geemott

A little outside-the-box here... have you tried "Seeger style"? Same basic technique as clawhammer, but you up-pick with the index instead of down-pick. Everything else is the same.

A longer fingernail might help, but you can't always count on it being there. Of course it's worth a try.


 I did try it and still felt a little tension in my hand but maybe it’s because I didn’t give it enough time....do you think I should consider playing that style instead of strumming down with my index?

Oct 6, 2019 - 5:46:09 AM
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dbrooks

USA

3673 posts since 3/11/2004

Certainly you could try your middle finger rather your index finger.  I suppose it depends on where you feel the tendonitis. "Hitting the wrong string" can be a problem in certain tunes, but clawhammer is far less precise than other styles. Certainly the strum (bum) may strike one or two lower (bass) strings or may brush all four strings. The ditty again may strike one string in certain styles or two or three strings before the thumb plays the 5th string. Also the hand works as a unit, and your frailing finger shouldn't flick at one or more strings.

You have likely heard all of this before, and I apologize for taking you back through it. It seems there have been a number of good clawhammer players with arthritic right hands, and it seems clawhammer should work for you. Certainly more than Scruggs style where the fingers are very active.

David

Oct 6, 2019 - 5:56:52 AM
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36 posts since 4/8/2019

I'm going to say something from way out in left field here: Get a teacher. I know everybody thinks they can figure everything out from youtube, and there are actually people pushing the idea that libraries are no longer necessary because we have g**gle. But the one-on-one experience of a good teacher will help sort out your mechanical problems.

RA

Oct 6, 2019 - 6:04:45 AM
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rudy

USA

14579 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by EulalieBlue

I'm going to say something from way out in left field here: Get a teacher. I know everybody thinks they can figure everything out from youtube, and there are actually people pushing the idea that libraries are no longer necessary because we have g**gle. But the one-on-one experience of a good teacher will help sort out your mechanical problems.

RA


Not left-field thought, but perhaps re-read the first sentence of the original post.

Oct 6, 2019 - 6:05:18 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by EulalieBlue

I'm going to say something from way out in left field here: Get a teacher. I know everybody thinks they can figure everything out from youtube, and there are actually people pushing the idea that libraries are no longer necessary because we have g**gle. But the one-on-one experience of a good teacher will help sort out your mechanical problems.

RA


I do have a teacher, that is why I am disappointed.  I feel like I should be picking this up by now ??

Oct 6, 2019 - 6:10:08 AM
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1 posts since 9/14/2019

I'm primarily a guitar player who is just now getting back into playing banjo after a 36 year break. I have tendonitis, have had carpel tunnel surgery (right hand) and am familiar with the frustrations concerning playing with pain and fingers that don't react the way we want them to. I also know what it is like to want to play but not be able to hold a pick or play without pain.

First thing. There is a guitar player of some notoriety (James Taylor) who uses false nails when he plays. He has done quite well with this setup so don't be afraid to explore this option. Find what is most comfortable for you and then run with it.

As far as playing with pain. Don't do it. I found it was easier to adapt my playing style rather than play through pain. What that meant for me was ditching the pick and using my fingers, even while playing electric. What I found out is that my sound changed, the fret board became a whole new pallet and I sound like me instead of me trying to sound like, fill in the blank.

Don't get discouraged, play what you can, boxes are for losers so take that leap and step outside of it. Just my opinion.

Oct 6, 2019 - 6:32:43 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

I guess I got the idea from watching Abigail Washburn play with two acrylic nails.

Oct 6, 2019 - 6:55:42 AM
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191 posts since 10/9/2017

quote:
Originally posted by HoosierDoodles

I am fairly new to claw hammer banjo and at the advise of my instructor I am using my index finger. I was getting used to the thumb but he said to try out the index as I was experiencing tension in my hand and wrist and coming from a history of tendinitis I surely don’t want to go down that road again.
But for the life of me I just can’t get it. My down strumbs sound week and I don’t always hit the right string...even after months. I feel like I have watched every YouTube video out there. Why can’t I get it? My index finger nail is short. Should I consider a false nail? I don’t really enjoy playing with finger picks. I am wondering if a longer nail would help solve some issues for me.
Any advice would be so appreciated ????


I won’t address the question of pain, since I don’t know enough about it (blessedly) to do so. As a beginner, you shouldn’t be that surprised that you don’t have great tone after “months”. It took me almost a year before I had what I thought was decent tone with my index finger. Almost two years after that, I feel like I’m still improving that aspect fairly rapidly, so there’s a learning curve and you’re at the beginning of it. Do not despair. The same applies to accuracy.

For the nail question, let me offer something that works well for me, and it’s a tip I got from Ken Perelman: Scotch tape. Pull off a strip that’s slightly longer than your nail; wrap it over the top of the nail and tuck or trim the excess. It has to be the opaque Scotch brand tape sold at office stores; neither generic brands nor the clear Scotch tape work. You’ll get a much stronger tone and protect your nail. 

Oct 6, 2019 - 7:05:54 AM

584 posts since 2/19/2012

Someone above mentioned not flicking your fingers. That's really good advice, even though you see some accomplished players doing it. Think more about a solid claw like you're holding a tv remote in your hand. Adjust the opening of your hand as needed to get your picking finger to land on the right string. And maybe be sure you have a good clawhammer instructor, not a three finger player who dabbles in clawhammer. Good luck!

Oct 6, 2019 - 7:18:39 AM

10722 posts since 4/23/2004

Acrylic nails, for me, are a two-sided coin. I used them for a while, they sounded good. However, they were a PITA to keep in proper shape. The benefits were not worth the constant upkeep.

One of the frailties of adult new players is that they are insecure. They don't want to make the wrong noises. A kid wails away and eventually learns to eliminate the wrong noises (sometimes wink). When I was teaching, esp. with adults, I would have them hold a chord position (any of them) and just hit the banjo with their RH. Hit all the strings...loudly. Downstroke after downstroke. After a few tens of strikes, add the thumb string and the 1&2& rhythm = Bam (1&), Bam(2)-ding(&)...Bam, Bam-ding. Doesn't matter how many strings you hit, just get that rhythm down. LOUD, don't worry about annoying your neighbors. Pretend you're a teenager in a garage band.

Of course, don't hurt yourself...but push yourself out of tentative.

After you can do this without pain and with confidence, move to individual strings. Do NOT attempt to miss the head with your downstroke. Strike thru the first string and whack the head with your fingernail. It is part of the sound, let it happen. You won't get those cool scratches and wear marks on the head unless you play THROUGH the string. I used to have students make sure the first knuckle of the RH playing finger hits the head about the same time as the fingernail.

Sometimes, if your nail isn't longer than your finger, the fingertip flesh will dampen the string as it passes. This is often why some folks (including me) try acrylic nails. I worried about that for a while...but any dampening is simply part of my sound now. I don't worry about it.

Keep at it. It takes obsessive behavior to learn the banjo.

Oct 6, 2019 - 7:36:25 AM
Players Union Member

Neil Allen

France

806 posts since 6/15/2014

I take it that when you say "I was getting used to the thumb", you meant "I was getting used to the middle finger", given that the thumb is always used.

Not being able to get good tone when playing clawhammer is a problem I experienced and I believe it is common. There are solutions involving picks of various kinds, such as this, The problem of hand tension is also a problem that can be very difficult to overcome. The conventional advice from a certain well-regarded teacher is to loosen up your wrist and imagine that your hand is a wet rag and you are swatting ants with it, but while this is a nice metaphor, putting it into practice while retaining accuracy on the strings is a lot easier said than done.

My advice would be that if you feel you are beating your head against a wall with clawhammer, try another style. Two-finger thumb lead will almost certainly solve the "tone" problem and probably the problem of hand tension as well. Check out the playing of Clifton Hicks on YouTube. He mixes and matches a variety of styles and it all comes out well.

Oct 6, 2019 - 8:05:38 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

Yes my nail is super shortquote:
Originally posted by trapdoor2

Acrylic nails, for me, are a two-sided coin. I used them for a while, they sounded good. However, they were a PITA to keep in proper shape. The benefits were not worth the constant upkeep.

One of the frailties of adult new players is that they are insecure. They don't want to make the wrong noises. A kid wails away and eventually learns to eliminate the wrong noises (sometimes wink). When I was teaching, esp. with adults, I would have them hold a chord position (any of them) and just hit the banjo with their RH. Hit all the strings...loudly. Downstroke after downstroke. After a few tens of strikes, add the thumb string and the 1&2& rhythm = Bam (1&), Bam(2)-ding(&)...Bam, Bam-ding. Doesn't matter how many strings you hit, just get that rhythm down. LOUD, don't worry about annoying your neighbors. Pretend you're a teenager in a garage band.

Of course, don't hurt yourself...but push yourself out of tentative.

After you can do this without pain and with confidence, move to individual strings. Do NOT attempt to miss the head with your downstroke. Strike thru the first string and whack the head with your fingernail. It is part of the sound, let it happen. You won't get those cool scratches and wear marks on the head unless you play THROUGH the string. I used to have students make sure the first knuckle of the RH playing finger hits the head about the same time as the fingernail.

Sometimes, if your nail isn't longer than your finger, the fingertip flesh will dampen the string as it passes. This is often why some folks (including me) try acrylic nails. I worried about that for a while...but any dampening is simply part of my sound now. I don't worry about it.

Keep at it. It takes obsessive behavior to learn the banjo.


Yes my nail is super short and I think that is what is muting the sound and making it more difficult ??

Oct 6, 2019 - 9:25:34 AM

m06

England

8024 posts since 10/5/2006

Some folks pick the basic right hand technique up from videos. Others find personal tuition works for them where a video doesn't. The additional benefit of having 1:1 lessons at the early stage is that the watchful eye and individual guidance of a good teacher will ensure you don't practice in unhelpful habits. The folks who get it 'quick' from a video don't have that preventative feedback.

I've taught students who have gone on to make excellent progress after frustrating months (up to a year in one case) of trying and failing to learn clawhammer right hand on their own. No reason to give up at all. As RA said: find a good teacher.

Oct 6, 2019 - 10:20:50 AM

Alex Z

USA

3657 posts since 12/7/2006

" . . . at the advise of my instructor I am using my index finger. I was getting used to the thumb but he said to try out the index . . . ."

Some of us are not understanding exactly what you are using the index finger for, and exactly what the thumb was doing before in place of the index finger.

Could you provide  a bit more information on which digits are striking which strings in your clawhammer picking now, and which digits were striking which strings in your clawhammer picking before using the index finger?

Oct 6, 2019 - 10:29:30 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Alex Z

" . . . at the advise of my instructor I am using my index finger. I was getting used to the thumb but he said to try out the index . . . ."

Some of us are not understanding exactly what you are using the index finger for, and exactly what the thumb was doing before in place of the index finger.

Could you provide  a bit more information on which digits are striking which strings in your clawhammer picking now, and which digits were striking which strings in your clawhammer picking before using the index finger?


I am using my index finger for the down strumming.  I was going back and forth between index and middle trying to determine which finger would result in the least amount of tension.  Adam Hurt suggested the index and I am working on that now.  But my nail is short and I am wondering if that is hindering my playing.  I see Abigail Washburn using acrylics and I was curious if that would be the way to go.  Especially since my sound is so muted now.

Oct 6, 2019 - 10:41:17 AM

m06

England

8024 posts since 10/5/2006

Quiet is not initially or necessarily a 'problem'. Volume is something that naturally develops as a student improves and becomes less tentative. That's largely the result of improved accuracy, contact and right hand 'motor' dynamics as improvement in all these areas leads to increased confidence that opens up the energy potential transmitted by the right hand/wrist/forearm and shoulder.

Oct 6, 2019 - 10:44:30 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by m06

Quiet is not initially or necessarily a 'problem'. Volume is something that naturally develops as a student improves and becomes less tentative. That's largely the result of improved accuracy, contact and right hand 'motor' dynamics as improvement in all these areas leads to increased confidence that opens up the energy potential transmitted by the right hand/wrist/forearm and shoulder.


So tha nail length has little to do with accuracy and sound?

Oct 6, 2019 - 10:58:51 AM

601 posts since 5/20/2008

quote:
Originally posted by HoosierDoodles

So tha nail length has little to do with accuracy and sound?


No.  It has everything to do with accuracy and sound.  I cannot imagine how you would be able to play with without proper nail length and thickness.  It requires experimentation.  If the nail is too short, you won't achieve any tone or attack.  Too long, and the nail gets in the way.    And if your instructor hasn't been paying any attention to your nail, then my advice is to find a new instructor. 

Oct 6, 2019 - 11:01:51 AM
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601 posts since 5/20/2008

quote:
Originally posted by dbrooks

... but clawhammer is far less precise than other styles. Certainly the strum (bum) may strike one or two lower (bass) strings or may brush all four strings. 


Could not disagree more.  And it depends greatly on the style of clawhammer.  My heroes, e.g. Adam Hurt, Chris Coole, Jason Romero, Tom MacKenzie, are very precise players. 

Oct 6, 2019 - 11:05:03 AM

55 posts since 6/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Matt Buckley
quote:
Originally posted by dbrooks

... but clawhammer is far less precise than other styles. Certainly the strum (bum) may strike one or two lower (bass) strings or may brush all four strings. 


Could not disagree more.  And it depends greatly on the style of clawhammer.  My heroes, e.g. Adam Hurt, Chris Coole, Jason Romero, Tom MacKenzie, are very precise players. 


Yes they are amazing players.  I wonder does anyone know what there are no length is like?....you just can’t tell from watching videos of them.

I can’t help but think if my index finger were a little longer it would help with the Percision but these players are definitely very precise and they’re playing

Oct 6, 2019 - 11:09:53 AM

6343 posts since 8/30/2004

Matt,
Good point. Beautifully played and executed Clawhammer can be every bit as challenging as Bluegrass. And, it has its own built in rhythm section cool...Jack

Originally posted by Matt Buckley
quote:
Originally posted by dbrooks

... but clawhammer is far less precise than other styles. Certainly the strum (bum) may strike one or two lower (bass) strings or may brush all four strings. 


Could not disagree more.  And it depends greatly on the style of clawhammer.  My heroes, e.g. Adam Hurt, Chris Coole, Jason Romero, Tom MacKenzie, are very precise players. 


Oct 6, 2019 - 11:20:27 AM

m06

England

8024 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by HoosierDoodles
quote:
Originally posted by m06

Quiet is not initially or necessarily a 'problem'. Volume is something that naturally develops as a student improves and becomes less tentative. That's largely the result of improved accuracy, contact and right hand 'motor' dynamics as improvement in all these areas leads to increased confidence that opens up the energy potential transmitted by the right hand/wrist/forearm and shoulder.


So tha nail length has little to do with accuracy and sound?


Nail length can have something to do with tone. Almost nothing to do with accuracy, which is largely dependent on acquiring an angle of attack down and into the string(s).

This can be easily illustrated by considering the fact that the physical form of folks nails differ significantly. Some naturally have nails that are well below the finger tip, some curved, some flat, some convex, some concave, some a large nail area and others almost none at all. Despite differences they are all still capable of adapting and finding good tone. Plenty of working folks have short nails from work use. Similarly I deliberately keep my picking nail on the short side and even when it is worn very low by steel strings I can still get decent tone. Nail length is not the be-all-and-end-all.

In regard to 'precision' (as compared to accuracy that gives us a measure of control and ability to carry out our intention) that is really a feature of playing style; partly a choice not a necessity. If we're lucky in time we tend to develop our own individual playing styles that are an amalgam of our physical and creative make up; who we are.

Edited by - m06 on 10/06/2019 11:31:55

Oct 6, 2019 - 12:09:01 PM
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dbrooks

USA

3673 posts since 3/11/2004

Matt Buckley and Jack Baker , of course clawhammer banjo has very proficient artists who play very precisely. I should have acknowledged that. But that seems to be little help to a new player thinking about quitting. I was trying to say that everyone takes small steps in the beginning. The imperfections and mistakes are learning opportunities. I should have planned my message more carefully.

Oct 6, 2019 - 12:27:23 PM

10722 posts since 4/23/2004

quote:
Originally posted by HoosierDoodles
Yes my nail is super shortquote:
Originally posted by trapdoor2

Sometimes, if your nail isn't longer than your finger, the fingertip flesh will dampen the string as it passes. This is often why some folks (including me) try acrylic nails. I worried about that for a while...but any dampening is simply part of my sound now. I don't worry about it.

Keep at it. It takes obsessive behavior to learn the banjo.


Yes my nail is super short and I think that is what is muting the sound and making it more difficult ??


For a beginner, I usually recommend your playing nail protrude beyond the tip by about 1/16" (about 1.5mm). If you have solid, hard nails, that should be a good start...eventually, you'll want to experiment.

I have horribly thin and weak/flexible nails. They're lousy for playing on steel strings in CH style...and not much better on gut for Stroke Style (for which, I use a thimble). I always wanted a crisp, clean, precise strike so that I could play complicated tunes cleanly. Unless I put on acrylic nails, I simply cannot be that precise with my strike, especially on interior strings. Eventually, I discovered that I wasn't a lead or solo player...much happier backing up a fiddler. No need to play every note, no need to be super precise. Keep the rhythm going and enjoy being part of the music.

Edited by - trapdoor2 on 10/06/2019 12:28:20

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