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Oct 22, 2021 - 9:50:36 AM
157 posts since 6/15/2021


I just started learning to play banjo a couple months ago. I am trying to learn clawhammer style.

As I'm learning chords, I have noticed that any chord (or even individual fret) that I finger on pretty much any string but #1, the little fleshy pad just below my index finger touches string #1. Sometimes enough to completely mute it, sometimes just enough to make it buzz very annoyingly.

Several years ago, I had surgery on that finger so there is a scar perpendicular to the finger and there's probably a little residual scar tissue under the skin. I compared my hand to my wife's hand last night and mine looks a bit plumper in that spot, but that's just one datapoint.

Does anyone else have kinda soft, fleshy hands? Has anyone had this same problem? Does anyone have any suggestions for how to work around it?

I can kinda slide my hand around the neck to squish the soft bit down, but as soon as I move, everything is back in the usual place and I'm blocking the first string again. It's really bad if I'm trying to slide from fret 2 to fret 4 on the third string, then strum, or a pull off from fret 2 on the third string, then strum. The first string just goes to heck on the strum.



Oct 22, 2021 - 10:01:53 AM

3991 posts since 5/29/2011

Find out where you hold your hand when the string is clear and work on getting your hand in that position more easily. With time and practice it will start to become more natural to you. There is no short cut. Time and practice create muscle memory which is what you will ultimately achieve.

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:03:01 AM



178 posts since 5/24/2016

That happened with me when I switched from a grip that was similar to what I used to use on the bass guitar (thumb on the back of the neck) to a grip like the one you are using.

It went away with time because I just naturally avoided it after awhile.

You have three options a that I can think of, maybe others can chime in with more.
You can switch to a more classical guitar-style grip: pad of the thumb resting on the middle-back of the neck.
You can get your banjo adjusted so that the string is farther away from the edge.
Or you can wait to see if you naturally adjust your hand position to get what you want to hear (this means do nothing and see if the problem corrects itself, i.e. maybe you still have a death grip and you just need to relax or something like that).

Oct 22, 2021 - 10:54:57 AM



971 posts since 2/17/2006

When I was first learning how to play the banjo, my left hand would actually get a kind of "road burn" as I played because the palm of my hand was sticking to the glossy lacquer finish as I moved it up and down the neck. My hand would actually get hot from the friction.

I was about to scrape the finish off to make a "speed neck", but then I realized that the real problem was that I had a Death Grip on the neck. The fault was not in the banjo neck, but in my technique.

I now play while just barely touching the neck. I hold my hand in the air and dance just the tips of my fingers on the finger board. My hand is moving around the neck in the air, not cradling the neck in my palm. It took some time to learn how to do that, but it was worth it. I do end up touching the neck in order to get the leverage between the thumb and fingers to fret the strings, but that is a touch and go. I am not gripping the neck.

The glossy lacquer finish is still on the banjo, but I no longer get a road burn from it.

Perhaps you should try to relearn your left hand technique so you can let go of the neck. If your hand is farther away from the neck, it will not be muting the first string.

Also, learning how to play without cradling the neck in your left hand presupposes learning how to hold the banjo without having the neck drop. A good strap helps immensely with that chore.

Oct 22, 2021 - 12:49:13 PM

251 posts since 8/25/2009

It's a little late to suggest a wider neck for your banjo, but you can increase the spacing between the strings somewhat by turning the nut over and cutting a new set of slots with wider spacing. Or, you could even get a new nut blank. Or, your friendly neighborhood luthier can do it for you; for this job they don't even have to be banjo mechanics smiley If it's only the first string, a quick workaround might be tto increase the distance between the 1st and 2nd strings on the nut, but I fear for when you start making chords with the first finger on the 3rd or even 4th strings (If there are any suchsmiley

Oct 22, 2021 - 1:10:10 PM

183 posts since 6/5/2006

I've never thought much about hand position ... just experimented until something worked but here's what I think might help or at least get you started experimenting.
Make sure the banjo is well supported with a strap and against your side/hip rather than loose in your lap.
Start with the neck cradled in the web of your hand between your thumb and index finger; then, without moving the big buckle of your index finger, rotate your wrist away from your body under the neck until the neck rests somewhere between the two knuckles of your thumb. Learn to move between those two positions as needed to reach strings.
Here is a video of my friend Riley Baugus doing something like what I described. Notice how relaxed his hand is, how strong his fingering is and how well supported the banjo is.[0]=AZW6lOO8V8okWVCss_JKUTpbM3Qx6CiggKirMZEKk8q23kLBu242oq3L0Bn9o_NEQfmVaUg4pRmnsNJgLveS-e_OVO8Wp1GIO2sF75tteU5Ftpv1LtjMDkdLr2O1DY5ixhtrcoPYWM0TGxL3hn3H3-Ex2VVO0Dn4B0rX4abfhFl-29nSNqqUC-kycLcco6j6OO2oBvQhH3rZt5sJNKZfgN16

(You might need to turn the sound on)

Edited by - restreet on 10/22/2021 13:20:16

Oct 22, 2021 - 1:49:37 PM

183 posts since 6/5/2006

The neck at the nut of the banjos Riley builds is 1 1/4" wide and the distance between the top and bottom strings is 15/16" which is narrow compared to something like a Ramsey or a Romero.

Looking at your photos again, I suspect a Ramsey or a similar wide neck banjo would help.

Edited by - restreet on 10/22/2021 13:59:08

Oct 22, 2021 - 3:06:46 PM

157 posts since 6/15/2021

Thank you, all.

"Death grip" is probably pretty accurate. I am not the least bit comfortable holding the banjo yet. And I'm a fairly non-relaxed person when it comes to music. My piano teacher always yelled at me to RELAX!!! and sometimes smacked me upside the head to reinforce the message (okay, she wasn't really like that, but she did constantly tell me to relax).

My banjo teacher has also pointed out that I tend to grip the banjo with my right forearm pretty tightly, as well.

I will practice the things you've mentioned. I hope it is still early enough in my learning that I haven't cemented too much in. I've been drilling my right hand a lot more than my left.

I've never played a fretted instrument before. I played cello when I was a kid. My thumb was in the middle of the back of the neck. But you almost never play more than one string at a time, so if I was touching the highest string while playing and fingering another one, it didn't matter. I assume violin/fiddle is about the same. (I never understood how Itzhak Perlman could play the violin... his fingers are very pudgy.)

I do have a strap. I think I need to adjust it a bit, and maybe have a non-slip patch on the back of it where it meets my neck to help hold it up. I have old injuries in both shoulders -- the right one is pretty bad. The strap helps immensely.  I've seen videos of String Bean and others where they gesture with their left hand off the neck completely while playing.  So, clearly, a properly fitted strap should hold up the banjo.

I also tried wrapping masking tape around my hand. It doesn't stay on long.

I've thought about adding something to the side of the next next to the first string. I think learning a good hand position is a healthier approach. I think modifying the banjo would be a crutch or a last resort.

Thanks again. Let me know if you have any other thoughts.


Edited by - pianojuggler on 10/22/2021 15:08:45

Oct 22, 2021 - 3:56:21 PM
like this

1649 posts since 2/9/2007

get that palm away from the back of the neck. you don't want the thumb all the way behind it like on a cello, but resting lightly somewhere on the upper side.

first thing, though, is to figure out how to hold the banjo so you don't need to support it with the left hand at all. a strap is usually the easiest way to do that, but it does take some experimenting to get the length and positioning right.

you are not alone!

I've taught a lot of beginners, and can't think of one who hasn't had to overcome some tendency towards "death grip". I'd say the majority experience at least one period where it presents a major roadblock to progress, and demands some concentrated attention and practice. it is, however, an ongoing struggle-- eliminating unnecessary tension is an important and continuing part of playing any instrument.

Oct 23, 2021 - 5:49:33 PM

John Yerxa


28 posts since 9/13/2021

Reading this thread caused me to think about and analyze what I do with my left hand, so last night I payed attention. I realized that my thumb was only actually in contact with the back of the neck (mostly on the upper side) for the instant my fingers are fretting a note or a chord, almost like a "pinching " motion. This involves a lot of movement of the thumb (muscle memory), but allows for easy movement up and down the neck. I lightly support the neck on the other side with the lateral side of my hand between the thumb an forefinger. my palm never touches the neck.

Oct 24, 2021 - 3:23:22 AM

360 posts since 12/9/2010

Having a background in cello should technically help. When I'm teaching my students to stretch for notes at the 5th fret, and they're struggling to get the pinky to reach, I tell them to look at the hand position of cello players (thumb on back of neck, index finger reaching up a bit and pinky reaching down a bit relative to the plane of the thumb.
Obviously you can't get quite as much of a natural hand position as on cello because the neck it's not parallel to the plane of your arm, but generally the closer to 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock you can get it, the easier it is on the fingers both for stretching up and down and for reaching across the neck.
Let you arm hang neutral by your side and then bring it up to meet the neck without twisting your wrist. Then slowly twist your wrist until you are in fretting position, and notice how you are introducing excess tension. The less you have to twist, the less strain you're introducing into your hand before you even start trying to fret.

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