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Jan 16, 2021 - 4:31:22 AM
17 posts since 11/22/2020

I am not a guitarist but my understanding is that guitarists typically position their instruments much flatter than the 45 degrees suggested as the correct angle for holding the banjo.

As a relativel beginner I am very interested to understand what the underlying rationale is for why this is good technique for the banjo and not the guitar ?

Jan 16, 2021 - 4:54:47 AM
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Players Union Member



16755 posts since 6/30/2015

I hold mine at 47, but I've always been a rebel.

I've seen guitarists hold guitars at various angles, and rock & roll guitarists tend to wear them very low. It's a fashion statement. But if you wear a strap you'll see that the guitar balances flatter, and the banjo has a steeper angle. This is probably due to the weight of the body of the instrument, but mostly it's because that's how Earl did it. Following the sage advice of Mike Gregory, who got the sage advice from someone else. It's your banjo, hold it any way you want.

Jan 16, 2021 - 4:59:28 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)


25466 posts since 8/3/2003

There's no banjo law that says you HAVE to hold your banjo at that angle. I've seen people hold it at a horizontal angle and I've seen people hold it at a 20 to 35% angle. It's according to your size, the length of your arm, length of your fingers and what's comfortable to you.

I think the rationale behind the 45% angle is because for most people that's the best and most comfortable position to allow them to fret and pick. At that angle your fingers should be able to 3-finger pick easily, striking the strings and follow through is easy.

Jan 16, 2021 - 5:13:52 AM
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22179 posts since 7/6/2005

It's what we're inclined to do.

Jan 16, 2021 - 5:24:50 AM

567 posts since 3/9/2013

I started like that but it caused a lot of shoulder pain in my fretting arm. Dan Levinston showed me a different way. Banjo on my right lap and basically flat across. Much more comfortable.

Jan 16, 2021 - 6:21:11 AM

Bill H


1526 posts since 11/7/2010

I never knew there was a rule about that. Posture is important so that your left hand is positioned to comfortably move around the fret board and fret the notes or chords you are after cleanly. I think one adjusts one's posture to accomplish that. I find if I slouch I don't play well.

Jan 16, 2021 - 6:36:44 AM

3452 posts since 4/27/2004

No rule, but holding the banjo neck as parallel to the ground (if you're standing) as possible, allows your right hand to be positioned in such a way to allow you to strike the strings at the optimum angle for good tone. This was another of the many lessons taught to me by Jimmy Martin, and it works.

Jan 16, 2021 - 6:42:34 AM

2503 posts since 2/10/2013

Holding your banjo parallel to the floor means all your fingers will be the same distance from the bridge. So tonal qualities for all strings should be more consistent. I don't hear a banjo sounding better when played standing up, so I play sitting down with the banjo in my lap.
It is not completely level, but it is not slanted a lot either. Playing sitting down reduces changes of physical problems as well.

Jan 16, 2021 - 6:43:33 AM
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650 posts since 2/15/2015

Guitar positioning pedagogy

45° or so...seated
A foot raised by a small stool
position the guitar in the raised thigh.

Which puts both wrists in a straight line. No tension on the wrists.

Pianists have similar wrist alignment procedures to their instrument

It's all about NOT adding tension to the ligaments and tendons in the wrist facilitating finger movement.

Banjo wise, this relaxed positioning helps to achieve the same goal.

Golfers don't put a death grip on their golf clubs for the same reason, it relaxes the tendons allowing the wrist and fingers more flexibility.

Edited by - geoB on 01/16/2021 06:48:45

Jan 16, 2021 - 7:14:15 AM

Banjo Lefty


2110 posts since 6/19/2014

Holding the neck at around 45 degrees puts your fretting hand closer to your body, which means less fatigue in that arm. It allow your elbow, or at least part of your upper arm, to rest against your ribs. It's also easier to see what you're doing, should you need to look.

Jan 16, 2021 - 7:33:39 AM

613 posts since 8/14/2018

I find that angling the neck allows me to hold my fingers at a better angle relative to the strings. Since everybody’s hand and wrists are a little bit different, you might have to play around to find your sweet spot. Maybe on guitar, esp. with flat picking, it’s going to be a little different because your technique is a little different. I think classical guitar players use a steeper angle.

Jan 16, 2021 - 7:53:16 AM
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650 posts since 2/15/2015

This image shows "proper" wrist alignment.

Can this be achieved with a banjo? Sure, only there's no waist on a banjo so I imagine that positioning it between your legs to achieve that angle would be a close representation.

"Proper" doesn't mean anything other than what's comfortable, without stressing your tendons and ligaments. Most beginning music books after the table of contents discusses the features of your instrument, and the proper positioning for playing your instrument. This comes out of the pedagogue and it's not mandatory but it is a general recommendation given and in most cases and in most beginning music instrument books it's rarely ever explained why.


Edited by - geoB on 01/16/2021 07:59:08

Jan 16, 2021 - 7:54:02 AM

4245 posts since 6/15/2005

And then there's Benji Flaming, formerly with Monroe Crossing:

Jan 16, 2021 - 8:20:56 AM

14 posts since 4/10/2008

This is a bit different and may not work for 5 string. I play plectrum and I recently found my fingering hand cramping up. My fingering positions had to stretch and cause cramps when trying reach long throws, particularly near the nut.

Then I saw that a world class banjoist played with the neck almost vertical, with the banjo in his lap. The left elbow needs to stick up a bit but this allows the hand/fingers to be positioned very naturally. No more cramps. Of course, the pick angle is more severe but it wasn't difficult to overcome this minor problem.

The banjoist who inspired me added another position element, by the way - he turned the banjo at an angle so it doesn't lie flat against the body. The fretboard/head is facing at a 45 degree angle to the front. That has the benefit of positioning the strumming hand straighter in line with the arm and not at such a wrist angle that causes out-of-balance fatigue.

These fixes might sound extreme, but I was on the verge of giving up the banjo (after 50 years). These adjustments were a small price to keep playing.

Jan 16, 2021 - 8:47:08 AM



929 posts since 4/12/2004
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I would add this to what MacCruiskeen offered.

I think that the primary intent is to make it as easy as possible to position your picking hand so that the face of the blades of the finger picks are normal to the strings when the strings are plucked. The intended result is improved tone.

Jan 16, 2021 - 8:54:16 AM

1384 posts since 2/9/2007

What works best for classical guitar does not (IMO) work well at all for banjo, (or steel-string guitar!).

Generally, my approach to any plucked instrument (flatpicked, fingerpicked, strummed, or clawhammer) is to have my right forearm (roughly) parallel to and right over the strings. That naturally puts the neck in a horizontal position. I do keep the neck angled as much as 45 degrees-- from the plane of the front of my body, so that my left hand is comfortably forward. Playing seated, a banjo usually winds up tucked well under my right arm, with my left hand (in "first position") not far from my left knee.

Jan 16, 2021 - 9:15:17 AM

13717 posts since 10/30/2008

Banjo angle is entirely a matter of personal choice. Personally, I don't like to see banjos held at a high angle from horizontal -- it bugs me. Go figure. It makes me think the picker has a closed-off body position, body language that suggests defensiveness. Again, that's just me.

The late Big Kenny Ingram famously held his banjo like a machine gun, just abut horizontal. Aggressive!

For bands around a single mike, it's not good to hold the banjo too high because the peghead might obscure a bandmates face. Earl usually lowered his banjo neck a little when he came into to sing. Ralph also. I think in general, in the older days with the Foggies and Flatt, Earl held his banjo a little lower than 45 deg. when taking breaks.

Even more than banjo players, I hate to see a bluegrass guitar neck held up at a high angle. I liked how Flatt, Stanley, Smiley, Martin, Rice held their guitar necks closer to horizontal.

Jan 16, 2021 - 10:38:51 AM

1243 posts since 5/19/2018

90 and 180 are pretty difficult. 45 is a good average to work with.

Jan 16, 2021 - 11:51:54 AM
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7742 posts since 6/5/2011
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..... oh, to have the talent so that a few degrees this way or that was of some consequence.   crying

Jan 16, 2021 - 12:06:06 PM



55447 posts since 10/5/2013
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I figure to avoid injury as one ages it’s best to have the neck at an angle that’s easiest for the left (fretting) hand to work the neck without undo finger and wrist bending.

Jan 16, 2021 - 12:51:13 PM

650 posts since 2/15/2015

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

What works best for classical guitar does not (IMO) work well at all for banjo, (or steel-string guitar!).

I somewhat agree as I usually strap a banjo up but the neck is still angled.

As far as  steel-string dreadnaughts, archies, and jumbo's, those body sizes and the reach of the neck due to the body size (and neck joint to fretboard relationship) wouldn't work seated in the classical position.

Edited by - geoB on 01/16/2021 12:59:38

Jan 17, 2021 - 3:32:25 AM
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17 posts since 11/22/2020

Thanks for everybody's advice and comments - much appreciated.

On reflection and after some experimentation, what makes most sense to me is a 45 degree angle allows the picking fingers to operate near-perpendicular to the strings with a good alignment of the right arm and wrist. More than 45 seems a bit awkward.

Jan 17, 2021 - 8:31:35 AM
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1150 posts since 1/25/2017

Why not position it, and yourself, so that you are most comfortable and relaxed?

Jan 17, 2021 - 1:42:05 PM



1518 posts since 11/3/2016

It's the "angle of the dangle"

Jan 18, 2021 - 9:30:18 AM
Players Union Member



778 posts since 6/29/2007

I saw a pro on stage last year who held the banjo almost straight up and down. The band leader joked that when he was growing up the family hated the banjo so he learned how to play in a small closet. ;-)
I found out later that he actually had a bad back and it hurt to stick his arm out.


Jan 19, 2021 - 10:45:13 AM

6401 posts since 9/5/2006

the duke says flat is fine

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