This lesson focuses on building your understanding and technique in the right hand. Banjo playing is very reliant on good right hand technique and Tony will help you find the best posture to play in comfort and build speed. Learning good posture and technique early on in the process of developing as a player will pay off over time.
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- Okay, we're almost ready to start playing some bluegrass. But I want to just talk about righthand position. This is extremely important, the way you hold your right hand. And that's where your tone comes from, that's where your timing comes from. So let me just say that a lot of people might have heard that, well, Earl Scruggs keeps two fingers down on the head and, because of that, I should have two fingers down on the head. Well, I had a chance to interview Earl a few years ago and what he told me was that when he was growing up, his brother Junie had run into a guy who was coming down from Virginia, wonderful banjo player, and Junie was saying to this guy, oh you've got to hear my brother Earl.
I don't know how old Earl was, probably in his early teens or something. He's a really good picker. So Junie got Earl and this gentleman from Virginia together and the guy from Virginia started playing and Earl noticed that his ring finger started kind of flying up like this, along with the middle finger, but the guy sounded great. Because a lot of people, they have a connection with their tendons and their muscles between the ring and the middle finger, so if your ring just automatically goes with the middle finger, don't worry about it. That's fine.
Because Earl, when he started playing, he'd just flap his hand over and it just happened naturally that he had two fingers on the head. Sometimes when I play, I'll just have just the ring finger down with a pinky up. I kind of go back and forth between two fingers down on the head and just one finger down on the head, and it really doesn't matter. But to get into position, I just really suggest bringing your hand over in a very natural way, whatever comes naturally for you. And, in playing bluegrass, you want to be kind of close to the bridge. (strums banjo) So you get that punchy (strums banjo) sound.
Because bluegrass was created in the inferno of a five-piece band really chugging along with a lot of power and energy. So you want to really have that strong sound, because... (strums banjo) And if you're just playing around at the house and your loved ones are saying quiet down, then you can move a little bit away. But just know that the real power of bluegrass comes from (strums banjo) being really close to the bridge without touching it. When I first started playing, the first five years I played, I had my ring finger down on the head and I rested my pinky against the backside of the bridge like this.
(strums banjo) And I could play okay, but my tone wasn't that good. And a friend of mine who had just two fingers on the head in front of the bridge had much better tone, and I realized, oh yeah, I've got to stop touching the bridge. So you really don't want to hit the bridge because that's a vibrating surface. When you hit the string, then the bridge vibrates, the head vibrates, and that's where you're getting your sound. If you're touching the bridge (strums banjo) it's like you're muting it. So you really do not want to touch the bridge. And again, what I do is I get right in front of the bridge.
So if I lean over a little bit, I'm just barely touching it, and then move just back a little bit so I'm not touching it. But it's really up to you. Listen for the tone. Decide where you want your hand to be. You might want to be a little farther away or a little bit closer. Ralph Stanley, when he would play, he would go... (strums banjo) He was really close to the bridge, and it just was part of his hard scrabbled southwest Virginia sound. It was a wonderful sound.
But decide the kind of sound you want to go for. But anyway, so another thing that I find to be important -- I'm just going to roll up my sleeve just a hair here -- is to have a little bit of arch in your wrist. And again don't worry about this right now. We just want you playing music, but I'm just saying it so it's down on the video here. If you're having a flat wrist like this, you're not getting as much sound. (strums banjo) The sound opens up when you move your wrist up like this a little bit. And I'm not saying like this so you have to go to the chiropractor.
But just something that's kind of natural, with just maybe a little bit of arch in the wrist. And like I say, if that's problematic for you, don't worry about it. The main thing is you want to play the music. So, okay, we're just about set to go.
Note: This course was recorded and produced by ArtistWorks. We are honored to host this training in our library.
- Holding the banjo
- Tuning a banjo
- Positioning the right and left hands
- Reading tablature
- Finger picking
- Thumb rolling
- Practicing rolls and chords
- Playing classic bluegrass tunes