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Thumb control - right picking hand - 3-finger picking style

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Mar 31, 2020 - 9:00:17 AM

EW

USA

69 posts since 2/7/2003

I have always had terrible control over my right thumb (picking hand, 3-finger picking style.)

I've been practicing a tip from Tommy Emmanuel (guitar, obviously) where the 4 fingers of the right hand are laid flat on the banjo top (and not moved) and only practice picking with the right thumb to try and isolate the thumb and develop the independence needed. I may be making a little progress, but it is taking FOREVER.

For those of you who've suffered from similar lack of control, what are some tips you would suggest for overcoming this issue? (I'm also 62 years old, so this dog is trying to re-learn some previous tricks.)

Thanks.

Mar 31, 2020 - 9:16:34 AM
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573 posts since 11/21/2018

I have this issue sometimes. I'm an intermediate level player. I notice that my lack of thumb control is most noticeable when playing thumb melody so I stop and JUST play melody notes-picking out an entire melody by ear and not using rolls as a warm up and that has helped quite a bit.
Playing a melody isolates the workout for the thumb only while keeping the boredom down a bit.
It's not just "jumbled" up inside the rolls. Then I follow up with rolls. Maybe that'll help?

Mar 31, 2020 - 9:48:06 AM

EW

USA

69 posts since 2/7/2003

Thanks for the reply. I'll try some of that as well.

Thanks.

Mar 31, 2020 - 10:44:20 AM
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10746 posts since 2/12/2011

Slow metronome and keep the thumb extended.

Mar 31, 2020 - 10:44:42 AM
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152 posts since 12/13/2004

Respectfully, I think you might be wasting your time with four fingers down on the head and isolating just thumb movements.  The object of the game is to get your brain used to how your entire hand feels while the individual digits make their required movements.  I would suggest you put your hand in your normal picking stance on the head and pick very slowly and deliberately for several days, or as long as it takes, to teach your brain where you want your thumb to travel and do so with the greatest economy of motion.  If you need to watch at first…OK, but just don’t get your brain used to the idea of having to watch your fingers move in order to create the correct movements!  The reason I recommend this approach is because how an individual finger moves is often linked to how the other two fingers are moving.  I know that sounds odd, but it proved to be true with me.  I can also attest that you will fight this problem with no resolution until you find comfortable “Normal” positions for all of your fingers, especially your thumb.  What I mean by that is, with regards to your thumb; should I hold it back in a tight hitchhiker’s position, hold it straight, possibly curve it in or forward?  A “wiggly” thumb that goes between all of these positions is the worst because your brain can’t develop a baseline for its limits of travel.  Find a comfortable static (But not muscle tight, hard ridged) position for it and develop around that.  Do that for the index and middle finger as well.

I think for this exercise using rolls is a very good idea since some of them can really focus on the thumb movement; forward, alternating, foggy mountain roll are good examples.  Concentrate extreme focus on thumb movement and don’t allow it to move beyond where you want it to.  Once you can do it at a slow speed with a metronome increase your metronome a few BPM higher.  As you increase speed your fingers will naturally want to travel further than they need to.  Keep going between the speed you can do it cleanly and the speed where things start to fall apart.  Training the brain is a very slow process that cannot be rushed!  Your job is to train the brain to understand the fingers don’t need to travel any further at higher speeds than they do at slower speeds in order to get the job done.  I did it and continue to work daily at economy of motion.  If I can do it, so can you.  How determined are you?

Mar 31, 2020 - 10:53:51 AM
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573 posts since 11/21/2018

You're very welcome. It occured to me:
I lift weights as another hobby and have found that increased grip strength has helped too. (maybe try squeezing a ball or one of those finger grippers, using "more" thumb could be of some help too. Worth a try anyway.
We seem to use the fingers a lot more for fine motor skills than the thumb which is kind of "along for the ride" mostly helping to grasp something and it might be just a tad "weaker'.
That's all I've got. Perhaps more experienced/pro players will chime in with something else that'll help. Let us know how it goes over time.

Mar 31, 2020 - 11:27:30 AM

EW

USA

69 posts since 2/7/2003

Thanks to all. I appreciate the input.

Mar 31, 2020 - 11:47:23 AM

3885 posts since 9/21/2009

Also, never forget the importance of having a relaxed hand and forearm. You're trying to overcome a habit that has been programmed into your brain and that is hard, but can be done!

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