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Banjo holding methods - so the neck does not need support from left hand

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Feb 18, 2020 - 11:18:54 PM
16 posts since 12/19/2019

Brand new banjo learner working on clawhammer style.

I play nylon guitars for a while. both classical/flamenco guitars. Both of them have good methods to hold the guitar so the neck is stable and left hand can freely move without having to support the neck.

I am having hard time keeping the banjo stable. Either the banjo body rolls/slips away from my thigh. Or the neck wants to come down. I looked at a bunch of clawhammer videos and signed up for Lucas Pool's program. Couldn't find any lesson for banjo holding. I like how Lucas holds his banjo. Sort of hugging it tight under the elbow and wrist. That would be the closest to a flamenco guitar holding I would think.

I have also got a strap. That I need to figure out how to attach for the neck support. But I play my instruments sitting in my loft. Don't want a strap for a sitting position.

Anybody knows of a good video discussing how to hold a banjo? Didn't find anything convincing in youtube.

Update:
Folks - I am attaching a photo of my holding the banjo (blurred irrelevant parts of the image) similar to a flamenco guitar holding position. I have a beginner banjo with 11" pot. In this position, I support the banjo with my right arm, right thigh, and my body. Notice my right leg is crossing over left leg. The banjo neck seems to be decently stable. Only problem I see is my fingers are hovering over the scoop area and beyond (don't have a scoop on my banjo). If I move my hand so fingers are over the head area then the banjo is not stable anymore. I would like to build my holding style in this approach and tweak it to make perfect. Any of you hold this style? Can you share images? I guess if the pot is bigger say 13" there will be more surface area to grab the pot with my right arm.


Edited by - naushadj on 02/22/2020 13:45:37

Feb 18, 2020 - 11:58:53 PM
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Players Union Member

Chris Meakin

Australia

2782 posts since 5/15/2011

Hmmm, it shouldn't normally be a problem when sitting, even without a strap.

The strap is usually attached to the brackets or cradles the (banjo) body. Does the strap have plastic "clips" at each end, or is it more like a slim belt with leather laces at the ends?

Maybe ask a friend or family member to take a pic of you holding the banjo while seated (and the strap, on or off the banjo) and post it here.

PS I have the body positioned between my legs, right in the middle, rather than "on" one of my thighs, but the strap does take some of the weight.

Edited by - Chris Meakin on 02/19/2020 00:02:03

Feb 19, 2020 - 12:49:44 AM
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Nickcd

UK

197 posts since 1/28/2018

https://youtu.be/qJwwQvEkGN4

This one seems sensible re using a strap.
If not using a strap and sitting
Position the banjo in your lap so that it is balanced & will stay so without holding the neck with your left hand - your right arm gently resting against the pot should hold it in place (see video above).
You will find that the neck points up past your left shoulder.
The one thing I found with the banjo initially is my left arm / shoulder ached a little from raising the left arm to play as opposed to where neck of acoustic guitar is held - but as you are coming from classical guitar that may not be an issue.

Edited by - Nickcd on 02/19/2020 00:52:38

Feb 19, 2020 - 1:46:12 AM
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m06

England

8416 posts since 10/5/2006

It is vital that the neck is solid and needs no support input from the left hand. This leaves your fretting hand entirely free to play. And your right hand/forearm motor has a firm base to put energy and drive into.

I mostly play 12” pot banjos. In a seated position the pot is a snug fit between my right thigh and right armpit. You could bump into or push my neck and it won’t move or wobble at all. I like to play with the neck pretty much horizontal, parallel to the floor. I get drive from playing that way. You can see my position in my avatar photo. Stable banjo = relaxed player. That way my mind is 100% on the music not the mechanics of my instrument. Uncertainty and doubt are disruptive of what we are doing. Banish them.

I still use a strap, the lightest one I can find, as correctly adjusted it prevents any outward plane movement and provides additional stability. When playing standing a correctly adjusted strap is essential.

Edited by - m06 on 02/19/2020 02:03:03

Feb 19, 2020 - 5:10:17 AM

192 posts since 2/15/2015

The classic holding position for a classical guitar is based on the anatomy in that you are putting that classical guitar in that position in order for both wrists to be as straight as possible.

Keeping your wrists straight should convey to the banjo as well.

Feb 19, 2020 - 5:37:29 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12362 posts since 8/30/2006

Cradle strap

Feb 19, 2020 - 5:43:06 AM

2799 posts since 2/18/2009
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I think it may partly depend on the particular banjo you are trying to hold. A bluegrass banjo with a 3 pound tone ring and a resonator is much heavier on the pot end than the neck end, so having a strap that is connected to either side of the pot makes sense. Some open back banjos have very light pots, so that can make them feel neck heavy. When I have put a strap on a banjo I have run one end to the peghead, and the other end to the pot. This had made the neck fully supported with no input from my hand. I haven't done this while sitting down, though.

The closer to vertical your neck is the less weight your left hand will have to hold up, but you'll also have to hold your left hand up higher in the air which can also be tiring. I've seen pictures of people with their banjos at all possible angles, and I've had to play in a more vertical position in a crowded room, but I find the more horizontal angles to be more comfortable for me.
Zach

Feb 19, 2020 - 6:04:59 AM
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dbrooks

USA

3751 posts since 3/11/2004

Most of my students solve this problem by using a strap. It makes a difference how you attach it. One end can go on the bracket above the tailpiece. The other end needs to go on a bracket below the heel so that the strap laps across the heel from the bottom to support the neck. Then the length of the strap is adjusted to get the banjo in the best position.

Putting the banjo in your lap will work, but using a strap to support the banjo allows you to put the pot on your right thigh (if you're right-handed) so that your right hand plays closer to the pot-neck junction and your left hand can reach the first frets more easily.

David

Feb 19, 2020 - 7:41:40 AM
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184 posts since 1/30/2010

Here's a video on how to hold a banjo from Hilarie Burhans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeNHy3nn8VA

Lots of good advice for getting power in your down stroke and, most importantly, not giving yourself a repetitive stress injury. 

Good luck!

Feb 19, 2020 - 10:12:30 AM

16 posts since 12/19/2019

"The one thing I found with the banjo initially is my left arm / shoulder ached a little from raising the left arm to play as opposed to where neck of acoustic guitar is held - but as you are coming from classical guitar that may not be an issue."

Man that is my 2nd biggest pain point at this time. The left hand literally hurts to reach the to part of the neck for even playing 2 minutes. Don't remember having that issue with classical guitar ever. Strange isn't it? I think the banjo neck extends a couple more inches than the classical guitar neck. And the position of the instrument. Together makes it harder and connected with the ache.
quote:
Originally posted by Nickcd

https://youtu.be/qJwwQvEkGN4

This one seems sensible re using a strap.
If not using a strap and sitting
Position the banjo in your lap so that it is balanced & will stay so without holding the neck with your left hand - your right arm gently resting against the pot should hold it in place (see video above).
You will find that the neck points up past your left shoulder.
The one thing I found with the banjo initially is my left arm / shoulder ached a little from raising the left arm to play as opposed to where neck of acoustic guitar is held - but as you are coming from classical guitar that may not be an issue.


Feb 19, 2020 - 10:17:57 AM

16 posts since 12/19/2019

quote:
Originally posted by m06

It is vital that the neck is solid and needs no support input from the left hand. This leaves your fretting hand entirely free to play. And your right hand/forearm motor has a firm base to put energy and drive into.

I mostly play 12” pot banjos. In a seated position the pot is a snug fit between my right thigh and right armpit. You could bump into or push my neck and it won’t move or wobble at all. I like to play with the neck pretty much horizontal, parallel to the floor. I get drive from playing that way. You can see my position in my avatar photo. Stable banjo = relaxed player. That way my mind is 100% on the music not the mechanics of my instrument. Uncertainty and doubt are disruptive of what we are doing. Banish them.

I still use a strap, the lightest one I can find, as correctly adjusted it prevents any outward plane movement and provides additional stability. When playing standing a correctly adjusted strap is essential.


Hi Mike -
I actually want to put my banjo pot on my thigh the way I put my flamenco guitar lower bout on my thigh. For some reason I don't like putting the banjo between my legs. Looks too formal and robotic to me. But not sure why you put the neck parallel to the floor. It seems it will be impossible for me to reach the top part of the neck that way.

Feb 19, 2020 - 10:30:38 AM
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m06

England

8416 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by naushadj
quote:
Originally posted by m06

It is vital that the neck is solid and needs no support input from the left hand. This leaves your fretting hand entirely free to play. And your right hand/forearm motor has a firm base to put energy and drive into.

I mostly play 12” pot banjos. In a seated position the pot is a snug fit between my right thigh and right armpit. You could bump into or push my neck and it won’t move or wobble at all. I like to play with the neck pretty much horizontal, parallel to the floor. I get drive from playing that way. You can see my position in my avatar photo. Stable banjo = relaxed player. That way my mind is 100% on the music not the mechanics of my instrument. Uncertainty and doubt are disruptive of what we are doing. Banish them.

I still use a strap, the lightest one I can find, as correctly adjusted it prevents any outward plane movement and provides additional stability. When playing standing a correctly adjusted strap is essential.


Hi Mike -
I actually want to put my banjo pot on my thigh the way I put my flamenco guitar lower bout on my thigh. For some reason I don't like putting the banjo between my legs. Looks too formal and robotic to me. But not sure why you put the neck parallel to the floor. It seems it will be impossible for me to reach the top part of the neck that way.


That’s just my natural preferred position. I have no issue with reach.

My left foot always beats time on the ground, and that has become an integral part of my sound. The movement of my left leg would throw my banjo around if I was lap player.

I suggest you experiment to find the position that feels right for you. 

Feb 19, 2020 - 10:31:21 AM

3784 posts since 10/13/2005

That Hilarie video above is great! Pretty near to my playing sentiments. However I must say we are all put together differently neurologically and physiologically and a lot of variation is possible without trashing yourself. There are great players out there with floppy wrists that would send others to the carpal tunnel surgeon in short order. Some do better holding an 11" pot or a 12 incher, perhaps a shorter neck like Reiter's Ab scale banjo. Carbon rod in the neck makes for a lighter neck. It is good you are paying attention to pain, let it be your guide. A small amount of pain can be body building but a lot of pain is tearing down the body and causing learning slowing down damage. banjered

Feb 19, 2020 - 10:41:39 AM
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1076 posts since 8/7/2017

Good topic, Naushad. I learned a bunch from the videos.

I run my strap like David Brooks described, and it works well to hold up the neck w/o my having to use my left hand to do so.

Feb 19, 2020 - 11:45:38 AM

192 posts since 2/15/2015

And then there is the ultra-secret rarely talked about Alexander technique, which supposedly exists but I have yet to find any appreciable information concerning the therapy.

Feb 19, 2020 - 1:51:51 PM
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173 posts since 8/25/2009


Hi Mike -
I actually want to put my banjo pot on my thigh the way I put my flamenco guitar lower bout on my thigh. For some reason I don't like putting the banjo between my legs. Looks too formal and robotic to me. But not sure why you put the neck parallel to the floor. It seems it will be impossible for me to reach the top part of the neck that way.

My experience is that, with an open-back banjo, if I put the banjo between my legs, or even on my thigh, the bracket hooks provide enough purchase to keep the banjo neck in position.  The smooth resonator on a resonator banjo does not provide this sort of purchase, so I either have to use a strap or support the neck with my hand :-(

When I've played the banjo wearing shorts the hooks dig into my flesh uncomfortably, so I always wear long pants (unless I'm feeling masochistic :-)  I've also noticed that the neck is usually not completely perpendicular to the floor, but at about a 20-30 degree angle from the vertical.  

I hope you can balance your open back on your thigh; if you have a resonator (or a Nechville??) you will likely need a strap, even when sitting.  

BTW: Do you put your guitar on your left thigh or your right?  I typically put my banjo between my legs, but occasionally on my right thigh.  I think most banjo players, even when using straps, "cheat" to the right to keep their right arm comfortable.  

My opinion only,

 Bill 

Feb 19, 2020 - 2:40:57 PM

9378 posts since 2/22/2007

a folded towel across the top of the thigh prevents that hook-digging action, and is helpful even when wearing long pants.

Feb 19, 2020 - 5:29:10 PM
Players Union Member

RV6

USA

1305 posts since 2/3/2012

quote:
Originally posted by banjo bill-e

a folded towel across the top of the thigh prevents that hook-digging action, and is helpful even when wearing long pants.


And a piece of old yoga mat on your right thigh will prevent wear on the jeans, help hold the pot in position and prevent rotation and therefore help keep the neck up.

Feb 19, 2020 - 11:06:43 PM

16 posts since 12/19/2019

quote:
Originally posted by dbrooks

Most of my students solve this problem by using a strap. It makes a difference how you attach it. One end can go on the bracket above the tailpiece. The other end needs to go on a bracket below the heel so that the strap laps across the heel from the bottom to support the neck. Then the length of the strap is adjusted to get the banjo in the best position.

Putting the banjo in your lap will work, but using a strap to support the banjo allows you to put the pot on your right thigh (if you're right-handed) so that your right hand plays closer to the pot-neck junction and your left hand can reach the first frets more easily.

David


Is there a video or picture of how to attach the strap and then how to wear it? 

Feb 19, 2020 - 11:10:19 PM

16 posts since 12/19/2019

quote:
Originally posted by BrooksMT

Good topic, Naushad. I learned a bunch from the videos.

I run my strap like David Brooks described, and it works well to hold up the neck w/o my having to use my left hand to do so.


It would be best if I could figure out a way to hold it without accessories like a strap/mat/rug etc. That way the technique becomes portable. You can go anywhere, you see a banjo and you can start playing it. But for now I will play around with the strap. Let me know if you have a video or picture of the where the strap connects and how you sit. I have a open back banjo only 4 pounds.

Feb 19, 2020 - 11:57:23 PM
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Nickcd

UK

197 posts since 1/28/2018

A search of "how to attach a strap to a banjo" will give you several video options - you could even be more specific and add "open back" to the search!

Feb 20, 2020 - 10:17:21 AM

Paul R

Canada

12438 posts since 1/28/2010

I hook the strap under the heel (not shown in actual use). Bring it around and under the neck. I also find it aids stability to use it while seated, although I often play without it. When I jammed with the resonator/Bluegrass banjo, I pulled the strap tight behind me and leaned back in the chair to hold it in place. It made for solid positioning. Since I alternate between banjo and guitar, I tend to be lazy about using the strap when I'm sitting.




Feb 22, 2020 - 1:48:05 PM

16 posts since 12/19/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Half Barbaric Twanger

Hi Mike -
I actually want to put my banjo pot on my thigh the way I put my flamenco guitar lower bout on my thigh. For some reason I don't like putting the banjo between my legs. Looks too formal and robotic to me. But not sure why you put the neck parallel to the floor. It seems it will be impossible for me to reach the top part of the neck that way.

My experience is that, with an open-back banjo, if I put the banjo between my legs, or even on my thigh, the bracket hooks provide enough purchase to keep the banjo neck in position.  The smooth resonator on a resonator banjo does not provide this sort of purchase, so I either have to use a strap or support the neck with my hand :-(

When I've played the banjo wearing shorts the hooks dig into my flesh uncomfortably, so I always wear long pants (unless I'm feeling masochistic :-)  I've also noticed that the neck is usually not completely perpendicular to the floor, but at about a 20-30 degree angle from the vertical.  

I hope you can balance your open back on your thigh; if you have a resonator (or a Nechville??) you will likely need a strap, even when sitting.  

BTW: Do you put your guitar on your left thigh or your right?  I typically put my banjo between my legs, but occasionally on my right thigh.  I think most banjo players, even when using straps, "cheat" to the right to keep their right arm comfortable.  

My opinion only,

 Bill 


Hi Bill - I posted a photo in my original post with some update notes. That is similar to how I hold my flamenco guitar as well. Of course the guitar because of its upper and lower bout valley in the middle is much more stable in hands.

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