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Banjo Lessons: Right Hand Position

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[MUSIC]
Okay.
We're almost ready to start playing some
bluegrass, but
I want to just talk about right hand
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.
And, so let me just say that a lot of
people might have heard that,
well Earl Scrubs 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 Juney had run into
a guy in, who was coming down from
Virginia, a wonderful banjo player.
And Junie was saying to this guy, oh, you
gotta 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 gentlemen from
Virginia to, Virginia together and
the guy from Virginia started playing and
Earl noticed that his ring finger started
kind of flying up like this and along with
the middle finger.
But the guy sounded great.
Because a lot of people they have a, 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
just flopped his hand over and
it just happened naturally that he had two
fingers on the head.
Sometimes when I play I'll just have the,
just the ring finger down with the pinky
up.
I just, I kinda 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, bring your just hand over in
a very natural way, whatever comes
naturally for you.
And in playing bluegrass you want to be
kinda close to the bridge
[MUSIC]
So you get that punchy
[MUSIC]
Sound cuz bluegrass was created in
the inferno of a five piece band really
chugging along with a lot of power and
energy.
So you wanna really have that strong
sound, 'cuz.
And if you're just playing around 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 in
bluegrass comes from 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 back side of
the bridge like this.
[MUSIC]
I could play okay, but
my tone wasn't that good.
And a friend of mine,
who just had two fingers on the head in
front of the bridge had much better tone.
And I realized, oh yeah, I gotta stop
touching the bridge.
So you really don't want to stop, you,
you really don't want to hit the bridge
because that's a, a vibrating surface.
When you hit the string, then the vi-,
the bridge vibrates, the head vibrates,
that's where you're getting your sound.
If you're touching the bridge.
[MUSIC]
It's like you're muting it.
So you really do not wanna 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.
[MUSIC]
But it's really up to you.
Listen for the tone.
Decide where you want you're hand to be.
[MUSIC]
You might wanna get a little farther away,
or a little bit closer.
Ralph Stanley, when he would play, he
would go.
[MUSIC]
And he was really close to the bridge.
And, it just was part of his hard
scrabble, South West Virginia sound.
It was a wonderful sound.
[MUSIC]
And, but
decide the kind of sound you wanna go for.
[MUSIC]
But anyway, so
another thing that I find to be important.
I'm just gonna 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, it's down on the,
the video here.
If you're having a flat wrist like this,
you're not getting as much sound.
[MUSIC]
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 kinda natural.
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 wanna play the
music.
So, okay we're just about set to go.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Okay
another aspect of righthand position is
the way your hand hits the strings.
The way I do it, my thumb is hitting out
in front of my other fingers.
It's hitting a little farther away from
the bridge here.
[MUSIC]
The way your hand might naturally fall,
maybe your hand will be back a little more
like this and
you might be hitting evenly with the other
picks.
So you have an even distance from the
strings, like this.
I am not saying that you should do either
of these, I am just telling you,
don't worry if your hand doesn't look
exactly like mine,
because everybody's hand falls a little
differently.
An amazing banjo player named Alan Munde.
[SOUND] From out Texas way these days.
He likes to play with his hands in a line
like this, so that he's,
he can, he gets a very even tone.
Cuz he's
[MUSIC]
equal distant from
the bridge with each finger.
You might even find your thumbs hitting a
little behind the index finger.
Like I say these are all various
possibilities.
Some people you might be having yourself
hitting it a little farther ahead of
the the index and middle fingers than the
way I have mine.
So, the bottom line is don't worry,
whatever feels
comfortable to you, i'd say that's the
best way to go.
[MUSIC]