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Dec 2, 2020 - 12:45:26 AM
12 posts since 11/7/2020

Hi all.
Just been reading some posts and realized my "left hand" is a big problem.
I'm a complete beginner (69-year-old), so go easy on me... and I'm going to have lots, but here's the first.
How do you cope with BIG FINGERS, BIG HANDS ??? (being in construction all my life)
Are there any exercises to loosen up my fingers? (diets for fingers etc, ha ha)
My teacher makes his finger movements look so easy, but looking at them, they are very slender fingers.
I'm struggling with the D7 chord and looking at my chord chart, wow I'm gonna be struggling even more.
Your help would be appreciated.
Thanks

Dec 2, 2020 - 1:43:12 AM
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maxmax

Sweden

1464 posts since 8/1/2005

Hi Fred,

There might be specific exercises, but mostly it just comes down to spending time playing. Everyone feels the way you feel in the beginning, regardless of hand size. Your fingers will slowly but surely adjust and become more manageable the more you play, I promise!

Fortunately, the banjo has pretty good spacing between the strings compared to a lot of other stringed instruments. You can get banjos with wider necks and you can usually also get a new nut and bridge for your exciting banjo to move the strings a little further apart as well, but I would not worry about that right now. You just need the hours.

It would be a good idea to make sure your banjo is setup decently though. If you see your teacher in person, ask him to take a look at it just to set your mind at ease. Most importantly, look at your action height (how high the strings are above the frets). This makes a big difference in playability. Also make sure your bridge is placed in the correct spot (otherwise it's not going to sound in tune). These are fairly easy to adjust yourself if you look it up on YouTube or somewhere.

Good luck!
Max

Dec 2, 2020 - 4:41:45 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

25364 posts since 8/3/2003

Part of your problem might be the way you hold the banjo. Most beginners tend to try to strangle the neck to get a good, clean, clear note and that usually doesn't work.

Try these ideas and see if any help:
1. Put the fleshy part of your thumb on the back of the banjo neck and arch your wrist over the banjo. The only part(s) of your hand that touch the banjo will be your thumb and the finger(s) you use to fret the neck.
2. When you fret, be sure your fingers are as close to the fret as possible (not in the middle between frets).
3. Use only the tips of your fingers and be sure your fingernails are short and not muting the sound by hitting the strings.
4. Don't try to strangle the neck, use only enough pressure to make the note sound clearly.

Most all beginners have problems with making chords/partial chords at first. Most feel it's awkward and impossible to do. Most are wrong. It takes practice, practice, practice and it will get easier.

Dec 2, 2020 - 6:23:56 AM
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Owen

Canada

7491 posts since 6/5/2011
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My fingers/hands look pretty normal to me, but Initially I was unable to contort my left hand so as not to choke adjacent strings [even when I used my right hand to twist/position my left-hand fingers].  My solution (?) was to get a wide-neck banjo.... and for good measure a bought a second one!!   I'm still no whiz, but it worked.... and as mentioned ^^^,  things do get better.... after a few years I found a regular/standard (?) neck almost wide enough.  And I suspect that stretching exercises ... [for your hands/fingers, not the neck], would be beneficial.   Good luck.    

Edited by - Owen on 12/02/2020 06:30:20

Dec 2, 2020 - 6:35:43 AM
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fluxie

UK

12 posts since 11/7/2020

Max and Sherry.
I'm not looking for an easy way out. As my teacher tells me "you are trying to do something with your hands that you've never done before"... and right he is.
I've had 4 lessons to date and loving every minute of it. It's just that my fingers don't always do, what my head tells them ha ha.
My banjo teacher set up my banjo and when he plays it, sounds great.
I'm grateful for your help, so practice, practice, practice
Fred.

Dec 2, 2020 - 7:17:12 AM
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481 posts since 1/28/2011
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

Part of your problem might be the way you hold the banjo. Most beginners tend to try to strangle the neck to get a good, clean, clear note and that usually doesn't work.

Try these ideas and see if any help:
1. Put the fleshy part of your thumb on the back of the banjo neck and arch your wrist over the banjo. The only part(s) of your hand that touch the banjo will be your thumb and the finger(s) you use to fret the neck.
2. When you fret, be sure your fingers are as close to the fret as possible (not in the middle between frets).
3. Use only the tips of your fingers and be sure your fingernails are short and not muting the sound by hitting the strings.
4. Don't try to strangle the neck, use only enough pressure to make the note sound clearly.

Most all beginners have problems with making chords/partial chords at first. Most feel it's awkward and impossible to do. Most are wrong. It takes practice, practice, practice and it will get easier.


Sherry, I don't agree with using the fleshly part of the thumb behind the neck.  I read that and thought maybe I was doing it all wrong all this time so went on U Tube and took a look.  There are lots of pics of Earl, JD, and Sonny Osborne, all playing right along with thier thumb sticking out.  If you look up "Osborne Brothers Banjo Medley", you will see that Sonny does appear to have his thumb behind the neck sometimes, but most of the time the neck is in the crook of his hand between thumb and index.

Dec 2, 2020 - 8:20:59 AM
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2417 posts since 2/10/2013

Make sure your hands are warm. Start out doing simple finger exercises. Start exercising and playing by playing slowly. Gradually increase speed.

Playing slowly at first helps regardless of how good a player someone is. Just like a car in cold weather. Warm it up before you start using it.

Finally, what your instructor is saying is true.

Dec 2, 2020 - 8:30:28 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

25364 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by latigo1
quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

Part of your problem might be the way you hold the banjo. Most beginners tend to try to strangle the neck to get a good, clean, clear note and that usually doesn't work.

Try these ideas and see if any help:
1. Put the fleshy part of your thumb on the back of the banjo neck and arch your wrist over the banjo. The only part(s) of your hand that touch the banjo will be your thumb and the finger(s) you use to fret the neck.
2. When you fret, be sure your fingers are as close to the fret as possible (not in the middle between frets).
3. Use only the tips of your fingers and be sure your fingernails are short and not muting the sound by hitting the strings.
4. Don't try to strangle the neck, use only enough pressure to make the note sound clearly.

Most all beginners have problems with making chords/partial chords at first. Most feel it's awkward and impossible to do. Most are wrong. It takes practice, practice, practice and it will get easier.


Sherry, I don't agree with using the fleshly part of the thumb behind the neck.  I read that and thought maybe I was doing it all wrong all this time so went on U Tube and took a look.  There are lots of pics of Earl, JD, and Sonny Osborne, all playing right along with thier thumb sticking out.  If you look up "Osborne Brothers Banjo Medley", you will see that Sonny does appear to have his thumb behind the neck sometimes, but most of the time the neck is in the crook of his hand between thumb and index.


People who have long fingers and slender hands can get away with playing that way.  Those of us with short, fat fingers,  small hands, do much better with the thumb on the neck.   

It's just a matter of personal preference.  If the other way works best for you, use it.  My way works best for me and I presume for others with fat fingers.

Dec 2, 2020 - 10:21:48 AM
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Alex Z

USA

4046 posts since 12/7/2006

quote:
Originally posted by fluxie

Max and Sherry.
I'm not looking for an easy way out. As my teacher tells me "you are trying to do something with your hands that you've never done before"... and right he is.
I've had 4 lessons to date and loving every minute of it. It's just that my fingers don't always do, what my head tells them ha ha.
My banjo teacher set up my banjo and when he plays it, sounds great.
I'm grateful for your help, so practice, practice, practice
Fred.


Mr. fluxie, everyone new to the banjo thinks their fingers are too large to fret cleanly.

The analogy I've used is Sonny Osborne.  Mr. Sonny has hands the size of an NBA center, and yet makes beautifully clean tones on a tiny banjo neck.  Mandolins have thin necks too, and the players are often fretting all four strings.

What will happen as you play more and more is that your finger positions will adapt to the strings.  A finger will end up not perfectly centered on the string, may "cheat" to one side or the other so that it doesn't interfere with an adjacent string that is also sounding.  This is perfectly OK.

As far as the awkward and stiff feeling, that will go away.  Four lessons?  Give it at least 6-8 months to feel more comfortable.  Your teacher has had a lot of hours playing over the years.   Yet, turn the banjo around to play left-handed, and he would be awkward and stiff too at the beginning.  smiley

Glad you're enjoying the banjo.

Dec 2, 2020 - 11:02:56 AM
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Players Union Member

mud400

USA

51 posts since 5/30/2016

A couple of things that work for me, I have big hands with big fingers also. I also have a few bad joints.
A really need to make sure my hands are warm. I have been messing with my thermostat and the other night tried to play with cold hands, it was sad....
I also do some finger/hand stretching exercises. Nothing fancy, it just helps a bit. Take a look on youtube at ones for guitar.
And of course practice. I have a few Bela Fleck tunes I am working on that have some tricky chords. Every time I practice them, it gets easier (to hit the chord).

Dec 2, 2020 - 12:38:43 PM
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2343 posts since 5/2/2012

I remember struggling with that D7 chord early on, fretting those strings cleanly and not touching the 1st or 4th strings. For me, it was a combination of things - where and how I placed my thumb, the arch of my wrist, and the curve of my fingers - lots of trial and error. Fretting lightly helps. I have to keep my fingernails on my left hand REALLY short, as when I do it is easier to fret cleanly. Here is an exercise my teacher taught me. Fret the (D7) chord (lightly) , relax a bit and lift up your fingers/hand off the strings just a little bit, repeat...... Serves as a warm up too. I'm 74 and it takes a few minutes for my fingers to warm up every day. I am always amazed how some players move so easily and quickly around the fretboard - I know it takes a lot of practice, but having a light touch on the strings has to be part of that mystery. Stick with it - it will come.

Dec 2, 2020 - 5:25:52 PM
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2382 posts since 4/5/2006

Four lessons, a few minutes to warm up? Oh well, I guess that depends on how warm one considers warmed up. There was a time when my definition of "warmed up" was not until I could fly. laugh That usually took at least a half hour. But I digress, we're talking apples & oranges here. If it makes you feel any better though, consider this little nugget. Not long into banjo playing, I met a two finger player who knew every song in the book & could play circles around me. Whenever I asked him how he played so well, he would rag on me by asking "how old are you,,,,,and you still haven't learned how to use your hands?" Yes, it's like your instructor said, you are asking your hands/fingers to to things they have never before had to do. Don't be too hard on yourself. It takes time for the control center (brain) to establish an express pathway thru the nervous system to each finger.  Practice, practice, practice, along with a good helping of dogged determination & positive thinking on your part. The day will come when you'll look back on it & wonder why you had so much trouble with it.

Dec 3, 2020 - 5:45:53 AM
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27 posts since 12/12/2019

What kind of banjo do you have? Some inexpensive import banjos have very thin necks. Most of the time it's because you are new to making those chord shapes but if your problem persists you may need to look at the string spacing and neck width at the nut.

Dec 3, 2020 - 11:06:03 PM

fluxie

UK

12 posts since 11/7/2020

Thank you all for the advice, all good as usual...

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