I apologize for starting two threads in a row, but once I have an answer to this question I should be set for a while.

What are the best resources for learning how to choose which fingers to use for any given sequence of notes? What advice can you give me for building good habits right from the start?

At the moment, I'm simply trying to alternate in whatever way seems comfortable but I don't feel very confident about my choices.

Thanks in advance for any tips you can share!

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Hi Cynthia,

I am pretty new to playing classic banjo and I struggled a bit with the same question ... so here is my two cents worth. I play a zither banjo so that has some inherent techniques of it's own to do with finger choices on the first and second strings ... but the idea I eventually ended up with was that their didn't seem to be a universal method so it was best to pick a particular tutor book that I felt comfortable with and that matched the style of music I wanted to play - In my case it was the Emile Grimshaw's book- and then learn that system.

For instance, the majority of alternate finger runs between thumb and first finger in Emile's book start with the first finger and he uses the first and second finger on the first string (which suits the zither technique nicely) ... when I was looking at other tutor books I noticed that many started with thumb first and used the first finger and thumb on the first string.

I am still fumbling my way through so I am not sure if this helps at all :)


No need to apologize for starting threads here! It's not like there are so many conversations going on here that another will cause chaos. Keep em coming !

The best answer I can come up with is "it depends".   What finger I begin with in a phrase depends on what finger I want to end with and on which string and whether the phrase begins on a downbeat or an off beat and on which string I begin the phrase.

Ian (aka The Really Nice Man) has a video presentation on this site for right hand fingering. More than half works for me. I am a multi-instumentalist and am used to beginning a phrase that starts on a downbeat with a down bow on a violin or a downstroke with a plectrum on other instruments  so beginning a phrase that starts on a downbeat with the index finger as sometimes recommended by Ian and  his teachers (and Emile Grimshaw)  feels peculiar and disorienting to me because the index stroke is like an upstroke with a pick or bow.  Some very good classic banjo players do not have that problem. But I feel like I'm playing backwards when I do that.

This is what works for me: For anything shorter than a quarter note I avoid using the same finger (or thumb ) twice in succession.  I play the fifth string with the thumb and nothing else. I do not use the (right) middle finger on the fourth string. It is unusual for me to bring the middle finger to the third string. Thumb and index are my choices for strings 4 and 3. On string 2 anything goes but "it all depends".  I use the middle finger and index on the first string more than I use the thumb. Some phrases are can sound good on the first string Morley -style, alternating thumb and index. For staccato sharp clear playing alternating fingering on the same string works well. For a flowing harp-like effect I find it more effective to get each note on a different string, with each string assigned its own finger.  

I appreciate both of the replies. I feel like I'm reassured and ready to move forward. Worked hard on Kaloola today! All but the last part almost memorized and then the hard work begins, right? :)


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