I teach banjo lessons on the side, but I am by no means a professional banjo teacher. I have a student who is really struggling to create a D chord. We have a tried a few exercises, but it is still very challenging for her. Part of the problem is that she has small hands, so it is hard to stretch her fingers into the shape. She holds her hand at the correct angle, but still has a hard time. I'm wondering if anyone has any advice or finger exercises that I can give her to help make this chord.
I prefer a partial chord. I'll leave the first and fourth strings open, thus creating an almost-D5 chord composed of gD(AD)D.
So I'll only be using two fingers and it works for both major and minor. If I want that strong major quality then I'll fret the first string too.
However, I almost never fret anything on the fourth string unless I'm playing a G run to get back to the tonic.
Another simple D chord is barring only the first two or three strings at the seventh fret. I'm sure you already know but it's serves its purpose well playing melodically.
I can't think of anything else that might make it easier
... aside from rote memorization and practice.
Let her use the D7th chord instead. Works most of time anyway and it is much easier to grab.
Can she make a full G chord with the F shape? 5435. If so, start from there. Have her make the F shape, then move the index and middle fingers back and forth.
The actual chord/notes don't matter for this exercise. It's about going back and forth between 5435 and 5345. Once that's possible she can shift the shapes anywhere to make whatever chord she needs.
Also when you're playing a song, remember that you only need to fret the notes you're actually playing. If you don't need to play an F#, you don't need to fret an F#.
Edited by - KCJones on 03/30/2023 20:23:10
Is she a young person whose hands are still growing? If so, maybe she could play with a capo on which makes the stretch easier. After a while her hand strength and flexibility will increase and she’ll be able to take the capo off. Worth a try.
I vote for the two finger versions of D plus the 7th bar fret. Some people have the fingers and neuro-wiring to play the D chord out of G tuning up to speed but I am not one of them. I haven't found the full D chord that necessary for either tunes or songs, just figure out a go around. banjered
Make sure she’s using the pinky on the first string and leaving the ring finger to bounce off the 3 and 4 strings as needed. The 4th can be left open,as stated above.
That should give enough stretch.
I'm assuming you're teaching her clawhammer.
In trad CH it's usual to play over a drone and so chords are less important.
Personally I nearly never finger a full D Major chord. On the four long strings low to high it's DADD.
With the 3rd of the scale omitted it's neutral.
Not really what you asked I realize.
Perhaps have her adopt a more classical guitar sort of hold and get up on her finger tips.
Having small hands perhaps a short-scale banjo would be a good fit ( 23-24" scale).
In the meantime she could use a capo to shorten the scale and tune down to compensate.
Edited by - R.D. Lunceford on 03/31/2023 08:20:40
If you play in G: tune down two steps to an open F (fCFAC) and put a capo on second fret (and adjust the fifth string by fifth-string capo, spike or tuning to G. Then the chord shapes will be a little narrower. If the key doesn't play any matter, just put a capo on fourth or fifth fret (and adjust the fifth string), The the student can learn the chord shapes easier and should later be able to play the chords on the full length neck (but remember there are a lot of clawhammer music without chords, as R.D. Lunceford wrote above).
clawhammer she will only need a 2 finger d7 or a 2 finger power d or a bar on 7th fret
Well, I'm in my 70s and I can't do the four-finger D chord. I broke all ten fingers. For whatever reason, when I try to do a 4 finger D chord, something about the way the fingers cross causes extreme pain in my hand due to nerve damage. So I just use a D5: DADD and drop the F#. Since the D5 has no third, it's neither major or minor so it works everywhere when I need a D chord. Also you could just have her do the 3 finger version, I use it occasionally: DADF#-4th string open, 3 string 2nd fret, 2nd string 3rd fret, 1st string 4th fret. That's no stretching and in my cases doesn't stress my nerve damage.
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