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Jul 28, 2021 - 6:20:13 AM
16 posts since 12/2/2017

Hi, I'm having problems keeping my right hand in the claw shape and not flicking my fingers out as I reach for the lower strings or while drop thumbing. I have damaged the nerves on my middle finger many years ago but apart from some loss or sensation it functions (up to now) perfectly well, however while playing I struggle to keep this finger and the lower two from flicking out which in turn makes it harder to know where my fingers are but also they catch on the strings now and then. Has anyone else had this issue and what did you do to improve it? I have tried holding a credit card and clamping one finger on top of another with limited success.

Jul 28, 2021 - 8:29:50 AM

476 posts since 2/4/2006

I've played for 50 years using my index finger curled and leaving my other fingers extended. At that time in the UK there was no one to copy and that felt right to me. Check my profile pic to see what I mean.

I curl my other fingers if I want to 'cluck' but otherwise I still stick with what works for me.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:38:34 AM

17 posts since 7/5/2021

I'd say play around with it and figure out what works for you. Maybe try what Phil is talking about, using your index and leaving the rest extended. It certainly seems that if you have nerve damage in your middle finger, using your index might be the way to go.

Edited by - robertplaysbanjo on 07/28/2021 09:39:49

Jul 28, 2021 - 11:39:20 AM
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banjo bill-e


11515 posts since 2/22/2007
Online Now

Cliff, I'm not a teacher and not an expert but you mentioned "reaching for the lower strings" which gives me a clue that your hand position might need an adjustment. Maybe this will help. So, see if your hand is comfortable in your "claw" with your frailing finger on first string and thumb on fifth. Make sure that you can play that 1-5 comfortably.
Then, without moving your frailing finger, bring your thumb down to any other string. So play a 1-5 over and over, then a 1-4, 1-3, and 1-2. Your finger position on the 1, has not changed, only your thumb.
If this does not help then maybe take some lessons because you really do not want to be "flicking" at all, it must be a loose wrist action and not your hand muscles. If you find yourself flicking the 1-5 then stop and get knowledgeable instruction, which is available online.

Jul 28, 2021 - 7:28:10 PM



606 posts since 8/13/2015

David Holt recommends holding an old credit card.

Jul 29, 2021 - 1:02:28 AM

3807 posts since 4/29/2012

Originally posted by Cliff Surridge

... I have tried holding a credit card and clamping one finger on top of another with limited success.

Swan Vesta box works better than a credit card.
You don't say whether you are an index or middle player, and it's not clear if your striking finger is remaining clawed. If it is then it doesn't matter if your non-striking fingers stay straight.

Jul 29, 2021 - 2:15:45 AM

1808 posts since 7/4/2009

I was also going to suggest holding a credit card.

Trying to make sure your whole forearm is moving in a sort of 'knocking on the door' motion might also help eliminate the tendency to flick your fingers.

Aug 4, 2021 - 12:51:28 PM

137 posts since 8/30/2015

There are popularly accepted techniques for the clawhammer motion, but there are also many variations and rules broken about it. Practicing holding a credit card or such will help in getting that sort of fulcrum movement between thumb and claw. Of course, you don't want to be playing and practicing always holding something, it's just to help you catch the feeling of that motion.

There are some people who play with their thumb bent. That seems to work best for people with longer fingers. Mine are short so I don't. Some good players I've seen do flick their fingers, but as a general rule it's better to avoid that. I think the interaction of thumb hitting while lifting your claw and landing on the 5th string as you strike the strings is the most crucial part of all of this. There are loads of other right and left hand moves, but that motion is everything.

The other factor behind this is wrist vs arm motion. You can play very efficiently using just a bit of wrist motion without stress. Others believe in keeping the wrist relatively straight and propelling it with the forearm. I prefer the former myself. I think Richie Stearns teaches using more arm which fits with his style of playing. Again, these are things that become more about style than absolute rules.

Aug 6, 2021 - 8:59:13 AM

76 posts since 2/14/2021

Boy I read through all the advice on proper hand position for clawhammer and I think it all good advice. Now, since I've been trying to play the banjo for about 50 years, I've heard most of it before. Therefore I suspect, any advice I can offer would just be more of the same. However, I can relate my experience learning clawhammer even though nothing I say may apply. I've had benign essential tremor all my life (i.e. my hands shake sometimes a lot). I also burned my right hand severely when I was in the US Army. Both things affect my right hand coordination. I think how one plays the banjo is controlled largely by your limitations. I know my style is the product of embracing my limitations. So my two cents is to recognize and accept your limitations and work from there. It's surprising to me how well I play. And it is a constant source of fun and pleasure.

Edited by - Professor Jive on 08/06/2021 09:00:48

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