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Oct 19, 2021 - 5:14:13 PM
8 posts since 8/2/2014

I learned to play many years ago from the Earl Scruggs book and held the neck as it suggested, with my thumb supporting the neck. I've seen others who hold the neck in the palm of their hand. I've been away from playing for quite a while so I'm re-learning at age 70. Because of this, I can make any changes I want. Which method do you find to work best?

Oct 19, 2021 - 6:12:34 PM
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beegee

USA

22513 posts since 7/6/2005

I have never found that holding the neck in your palm is advantageous.

Oct 19, 2021 - 7:10:46 PM

8 posts since 8/2/2014

Thanks, me either. Just wondering if I ought to try it again. I did fine bracing it with my thumb.

Oct 19, 2021 - 7:20:07 PM
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889 posts since 10/4/2018

Watch how Earl holds the neck in a video. His thumb is up top by the 4th string, not poking the middle of the back of the neck like a classical guitar player. My banjo is supported by the strap, the neck rests just on the tip of the second metacarpal, at the front of the arc from your thumb to the index. The thumb rests on top of the banjo. Neither the hand nor the thumb supports the banjo, and the palm (the part with the lines that palm readers read) doesn't touch the neck. That's how I do it, right or wrong. It is comfortable.

Oct 19, 2021 - 7:34:46 PM
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Owen

Canada

9810 posts since 6/5/2011

Fwiw, kinda like this: 

How to Hold the Banjo

.... but nobody mistakes me for a banjo player.

Oct 19, 2021 - 8:00:28 PM

1109 posts since 1/26/2011
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Personally, I’ve always thought hand anatomy had a lot to do with what works for each individual. Everyone’s hand is different. Finding what works for you, within constraints of what you’re trying to accomplish, is key.

Oct 19, 2021 - 8:20:06 PM

8 posts since 8/2/2014

I agree about the banjo being supported by the strap. Mine is WAY too heavy for me to support alone. I guess a better question would have been "Where do you park your thumb?". Since I'm basically re-learning the muscle memory I can try both ways and see what works for me. BTW, I use a 3" Lakota Leather strap. I love it.

Oct 20, 2021 - 3:20:43 AM
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4435 posts since 12/6/2009
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I think the purpose for thumb being placed in the middle at back of neck was so all your fingers had better chance of reaching those stretch chords.....especially that pinky.....but if you have larger hands it doesn’t seem to matter banjo necks are skinny....guitar players use it more than banjo players.......and some like to use that thumb on the fifth.
I’ve used the thumb wrap on many diminish chords on guitar E string....(but don’t tell anyone)

Oct 20, 2021 - 4:48:06 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26533 posts since 8/3/2003

It's according to the size of your hands and fingers as to how you hold the banjo. It's a personal choice, like what type of picks or what brand of strings you use. No "one size fits all" answer. Do what works the best for you.

I've always been one who put the thumb on the back of the neck but that's because I have small hands and short fingers. Those whose hands/fingers are bigger/longer/fatter/thinner may need to adjust the way they hold the neck of the banjo so it suits them best.

Also, as I go up the neck, my hand position changes, it doesn't always stay the same. Sometimes I need to put the neck in the crook of my palm so I can reach the 5th string with my thumb and sometimes I need to change hand positions to get to a certain string or strings. Again, it's not a static position, it's movable, changeable.

Oct 20, 2021 - 5:17:05 AM
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Eric A

USA

1339 posts since 10/15/2019

When this question came up I realized I had no idea. I had to pick up my banjo and look.

I guess it's more or less like the picture Owen posted higher up. At the ends of phrases in G my hand tends to come off entirely, with style. Don't know if I'm channeling Grandpa Jones or what.

Oct 20, 2021 - 10:01:31 AM

530 posts since 2/21/2005

I notice that I change the position of my thumb based on the chords I'm playing and whether I'm playing up or down the neck. I think the whole point is comfort and the flexibility of the fingers to reach all chord positions with ease. You obviously can't fret the 5th string with your thumb if the tip of it is in the center of the neck. I would guess that the rule of keeping the thumb in the middle of the neck comes from the classical guitar world where the necks are considerably wider and the only way to reach the bass strings is to place the thumb there. if you adhere to the same rule while playing the banjo, you'll be at a disadvantage.

Oct 22, 2021 - 6:28:34 PM

2670 posts since 4/5/2006

The only good reason I can come up with to justify the closed (neck in the palm) position, is to enable fretting the 5th string with the thumb. And I might add, doing so immobilizes the hand. (Earl did this to roll on 6th & 7th chords) All other times, it's thumb on the back of the neck. My preference is to fret the 5th string with whatever finger is available, & only long enough to pick the note, ala: John Hickman.

Oct 22, 2021 - 9:14:09 PM

241 posts since 3/2/2013

For me holding it like Earl with thumb peeking over top of the neck arranges my slide finger (usually middle) in such away as to add power for the slides on the 3rd string slides. Power that just isn't there for me if i were to maintain a thumb on back of neck like classical guitar. I could be wrong but i don't think they use slides much in classical and probably don't need powerful ones like you sometimes need on the banjos 4th string. I think for most people doing the 4th string slide from 2 to 5 thumb on back of neck would greatly impede this movement, certainly if you planted the thumb and maybe not quite as much if you allowed it to drag along on the neck but friction would be you enemy there as well. Totally different feel for me anyway when doing any slide either way. Feels more efficient leaving thumb off the back of neck when playing down the neck. Now up the neck is a whole nother story and if you need your thumb to wrap around for 5th string its a very simple quick movement to go from thumb pressure on neck to grabbing 5th string. Earl did things for a reason. You need to play more on the tips of your fingers the higher up you go so you gotta have your thumb tip applying pressure to back of neck to play up there cleanly especially playing licks.

Edited by - brententz on 10/22/2021 21:22:38

Oct 23, 2021 - 6:18:28 AM

241 posts since 3/2/2013

I meant to say 3rd AND 4th string slides at the very beginning.

Oct 23, 2021 - 6:21:08 AM

747 posts since 5/22/2021

Trust me, you will find a correct holding position after watching a lot of other players in live action. I had the same issue a while back!

Russ A.

Oct 23, 2021 - 6:49:29 AM

241 posts since 3/2/2013

quote:
Originally posted by brententz

For me holding it like Earl with thumb peeking over top of the neck arranges my slide finger (usually middle) in such away as to add power for the slides on the 3rd string slides. Power that just isn't there for me if i were to maintain a thumb on back of neck like classical guitar. I could be wrong but i don't think they use slides much in classical and probably don't need powerful ones like you sometimes need on the banjos 4th string. I think for most people doing the 4th string slide from 2 to 5 thumb on back of neck would greatly impede this movement, certainly if you planted the thumb and maybe not quite as much if you allowed it to drag along on the neck but friction would be you enemy there as well. Totally different feel for me anyway when doing any slide either way. Feels more efficient leaving thumb off the back of neck when playing down the neck. Now up the neck is a whole nother story and if you need your thumb to wrap around for 5th string its a very simple quick movement to go from thumb pressure on neck to grabbing 5th string. Earl did things for a reason. You need to play more on the tips of your fingers the higher up you go so you gotta have your thumb tip applying pressure to back of neck to play up there cleanly especially playing licks.


Wow I need to totally revamp what I wrote about playing up the neck!  I sat down this morning with the banjo and realized I don't go classical guitar style up there as much as I thought. More of the cradleing position. Where you are on the neck definately seems to dictate hand position at least for me. 

Oct 23, 2021 - 7:04:14 AM
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1253 posts since 1/25/2017

Position your fretting hand however and wherever you need to play the notes clearly and smoothly. The neck should not need vertical support.

You should be able to put both arms around lovely young ladies without altering the position of the neck relative to the banjo and your torso.


Oct 23, 2021 - 9:36:12 AM

251 posts since 8/25/2009

Many years ago, I learned to hold the neck of my banjo with my thumb braced against the back of the neck, This was partly due to previous guitar lessons, but mostly because my first banjo (identified as Dobson Student banjo by my teacher) had a V-shaped neck, so that when my hand tried to wrap itself around the neck it applied (painful) pressure to the web between my thumb and forefinger. The "student model" was designed to discipline its students when they tried to hold the banjo other than the way Mr. Dobson wanted them to. I had no complaint, and I even thought bracing the thumb made picking off and hammering on easier. I even continued to brace my thumb after I got a banjo with a more rounded neck.


Then I retired and decided to really learn the banjo. Except, with the passing of years, I had acquired rheumatism of the thumb :( It was very dependent on the angle of the force applied to the thumb. Fortunately, it did not affect my right hand motions: frailing or up-picking was painless, But, bracing the left thumb against the back of the neck to fret the banjo was agony. I am now faced with retraining my left hand, when I really want to be learning new picking patterns sad

The takeaway is: Don't brace your thumb against the back of the neck if you expect to get rheumatism of the thumb. (Note: when my doctor gave me a (useless) shot he informed me that rheumatism of the thumb is much more common in women than in men (and he also informed me he had rheumatism of the thumb himself.)
 

Oct 24, 2021 - 4:16:01 PM

2670 posts since 4/5/2006

It's a musical instrument, not a sledge hammer. wink

Oct 24, 2021 - 7:34:40 PM

8 posts since 8/2/2014

Mine is about as heavy as one!!

Oct 27, 2021 - 1:08:32 PM

4435 posts since 12/6/2009
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Over on the “Favorite Sonny Memories thread J Albert posted photo of Sonny showing how it doesn’t matter how you hold it, it’s what you do do right that counts.
and its one of the best photos of Sonny also.

Edited by - overhere on 10/27/2021 13:09:16

Oct 27, 2021 - 2:17:53 PM

1436 posts since 7/12/2004

For me it changes depending on where I am on the neck. I rest it on the palm of my thumb when I'm at near the nut, and rotate so the ball of the thumb is near the center of the neck as I move up toward the pot. My experience with students is that the ones that start playing without a strap get in the bad habit of supporting the neck in the crook between thumb and index so the weight of the neck doesn't rotate the pot. Once you've gotten in that habit, someone has to tell you it's a bad idea before you realize how much it forces you to over-flex your fingers to reach the frets.

A related issue to the right way to hold the neck is addressing the contact between thumb and neck when moving up and down to different fret positions. Necks are gloss finished for a reason, I think. Put your thumb on a glossy surface and it locks in place, You can move your fingers and form different chords, and you know your hand hasn't moved up or down the neck. Pick it up and your fingers slide along the strings almost frictionless till you drop your thumb and it comes to a screeching halt.

I work all the time with students who don't lift their thumbs when they move around the neck. Mostly it just slows them down, but it also contributes to inaccurate left hand positioning. I try to get people early on to get used to lifting their thumb, moving and then putting it down.

Some people fix this problem with a speed neck, but to me that's the worst of both worlds. The friction between thumb and wood still slows you down, if only a little, and when you get in position you have to consciously keep your thumb from sliding around. They make sense on a violin because you're constantly adjusting your left hand position for intonation and you need pressure for fretless slides. Mandolins are similar - not fretless, but the distances are much smaller than on a banjo. But banjos are different because you tend to play in one part of the neck for a while, then move to a different part and play there for a while, and there's very little need to micro-adjust your thumb position. I've played other people's speed necks, and I've never felt they gave me the precise control of a good gloss finished neck.

Oct 28, 2021 - 2:00:21 AM

phb

Germany

3047 posts since 11/8/2010

How do I hold the neck or rather how do I position my hand relatively to the neck? I don't known but I'm afraid I will spoil my technique if I check...

Edited by - phb on 10/28/2021 02:00:57

Oct 28, 2021 - 8:20:58 AM
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2864 posts since 2/10/2013

How a person holds their fretting hand depends on various things. Players have different size hands and fingers. We possess different levels of playing ability. And, we play tunes of varying levels of complexity. For some tunes, "Farewell Blues" for instance, time has taught me that I have to focus more on maintaining a hand position that works best. So basically, for most tunes I don't think about it, and for others my mind sends out a mental reminder before I play the tune.

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