Y’all, what’s the general consensus on anchoring the right pinkie? It's hard to tell from pictures one way or the other what the early guys did.

As a classical guitarist, I’d have never dreamed of doing that in the past, but I’m sure the way my guitar technique has evolved lately has my teachers doing Whirling Dervish dances in their graves anyway. So with my banjo, I go between anchoring (which I think strains the tendons), lightly resting my palm behind the bridge, resting the base of the thumb on the vellum (a big no-no I’m sure)… Anything but traditional hand-free classical guitar style!

Even the early guitar guys advocated anchoring the little finger, but they played a smaller axe. The bluegrass cats tend to anchor both the ring and little fingers, which makes my right hand go numb just thinking about it!

It occurred to me today that if I could bend my little finger and allow the nail to lightly rest on the skin, that might be an option. I could have that orientation but keep the finger relaxed. 
Have I brought up a contentious subject in the CB world? I admit to being a bit of a troublemaker.... :o)

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Those who anchor a finger use either pinky or ring or both according to the anatomy of their hand. Some lay a finger flat on its side, some use the tip, some of those who use both fingers mix tip and side, some do not. I have played both free and anchored since age 12 and have never felt the slightest strain on tendons or anything else. I turned 69 the day before yesterday so I can safely say that doing this has caused me no harm.  I have also occasionally rested the bass of a thumb on the vellum though not usually. In the bluegrass banjo world there is controversy about 1 finger or 2 and if only 1, then which? But people do what works. One thing for sure: those who use 2 have no numbness or discomfort or bad consequences from it. 

Yes apparently not, considering the zillions of people who've done it (present company included). I should have said "strains MY tendons." I would never be able to do the two finger thing! This is on my mind as I've just had a weekend of gigs on guitar, mandolin (probably the toughest one for me physically, partly because it's new to me) and bass, punctuated with a lot of driving - which I tend to do with white knuckles!  I've been susceptible to numbness and tingling right from the gitgo so I've had to be really conscious of what I can and can't get away with. 

This is really helpful Jody!

Hi Jocko,

As a sometimes-classical guitar player myself, I sympathize with the thoughts of numbness when it comes to planting. I think that the reason we struggle is because as classical guitarists, we were trained to derive most of our power and volume from our first, or "big" knuckle (the one where the finger meets the hand) in terms of right hand attack, and it's really not possible to plant and successfully drive the string from the first knuckle. I think bluegrassers are really relying on the combination of metal fingerpicks and the wire strings to generate most of their volume, so they're free to to use the second/middle knuckle; if you try it just in the air or on a table, you'll see that even when you're planting, you can bend the middle knuckle of the finger with a lot of facility.

That said, there are certainly a lot of great players using both techniques. I would point you to any recordings or Youtube videos of Bill Ball for a great example of a recent player who didn't plant and still achieved tremendous volume and speed.

Best,

Dan

Dan, 

I concur that bluegrass banjoists use the middle knuckle as well as the big one. I use both when not planting as well. I can't be sure in what proportion because I suspect my fingers of behaving differently when "they know they're being watched".   I'm not sure I agree about bluegrassers getting their volume from metal upon metal. It's true that metal strings are made louder by contact with metal fingerpicks. But actually "soft" (nylon, gut etc) strings make more sound than metal strings do on the same banjo.  Almost no one wants to believe this.

A few minutes with a db meter (probably an app for that on my phone) would show which produces more noise. Miz Diane would never believe...she is convinced that steel string, metal-fingerpicked banjos are Satan's spawn. Open up the case on the Stelling and she'll hiss like a cat... ;-)

I suffered for weeks and weeks under a strict two-finger-plant BG teacher. First, he rubber-banded my ring and pinky together and after they started to turn blue, he switched to duct-tape. We discovered that immobilizing my ring finger caused my middle finger to stop working properly. I eventually gave up and went to a pinky-plant.

When I started into classic-banjo, I was told that "floating" was the only way to play. So, I learned to float. Oddly enough, my brain ties method to tunes...so I only float on the tunes I specifically learned using that technique (Berkeley March comes to mind).

After a while, I simply gave up on worrying about it and now I pay zero attention to what my RH is doing in regards to stabilization. As long as it isn't interfering with the strings or damping when it shouldn't be, I let it decide what to do.

I believe you Jody, now that I've been able to compare the two types on the same banjo. In my experience it's the same with guitars - I find a nylon strung axe cuts is better for "strolling" type acoustic gigs than a steel string.



Jody Stecher said:

Dan, 

I concur that bluegrass banjoists use the middle knuckle as well as the big one. I use both when not planting as well. I can't be sure in what proportion because I suspect my fingers of behaving differently when "they know they're being watched".   I'm not sure I agree about bluegrassers getting their volume from metal upon metal. It's true that metal strings are made louder by contact with metal fingerpicks. But actually "soft" (nylon, gut etc) strings make more sound than metal strings do on the same banjo.  Almost no one wants to believe this.

I think legend has it that Schubert wrecked his hand by immobilizing his fingers the same way!  Yeah I'm sort of at the point where, if it's working, I'll look down and see what I'm doing, and just keep doing that! :o)

Trapdoor2 said:

A few minutes with a db meter (probably an app for that on my phone) would show which produces more noise. Miz Diane would never believe...she is convinced that steel string, metal-fingerpicked banjos are Satan's spawn. Open up the case on the Stelling and she'll hiss like a cat... ;-)

I suffered for weeks and weeks under a strict two-finger-plant BG teacher. First, he rubber-banded my ring and pinky together and after they started to turn blue, he switched to duct-tape. We discovered that immobilizing my ring finger caused my middle finger to stop working properly. I eventually gave up and went to a pinky-plant.

When I started into classic-banjo, I was told that "floating" was the only way to play. So, I learned to float. Oddly enough, my brain ties method to tunes...so I only float on the tunes I specifically learned using that technique (Berkeley March comes to mind).

After a while, I simply gave up on worrying about it and now I pay zero attention to what my RH is doing in regards to stabilization. As long as it isn't interfering with the strings or damping when it shouldn't be, I let it decide what to do.

I think it's very much horses for courses.i.e. the anatomy of your right hand will be the ultimate arbiter. I have very large hands and long fingers and find that  anchoring my fourth finger leaves too little room between the rest of my fingers and the strings to be able to play comfortably so I use a floating right hand to overcome this. Bill Ball always used a floating right hand and it didn't do him any harm.  My suggestion is not to become overly hidebound on what is considered to be 'the right technique' and experiment until you find the method that best suits you...Steve.

Hi Jody,

Certainly, a nylon-strung banjo played with finger tips can be just as loud as a steel string / picks combination, but I feel that it requires more work and consideration of technique to get the equivalent volume from a nylon string. I remember when I used to play bluegrass, I could play for days and days without my right hand getting tired, but after an hour of hard playing on classic style, I'm in need of a break. Could just be individual differences, as Mr. Harrison described above, but I still think any schlub can get volume out of a bluegrass rig.

Dan

Jody Stecher said:

Dan, 

I concur that bluegrass banjoists use the middle knuckle as well as the big one. I use both when not planting as well. I can't be sure in what proportion because I suspect my fingers of behaving differently when "they know they're being watched".   I'm not sure I agree about bluegrassers getting their volume from metal upon metal. It's true that metal strings are made louder by contact with metal fingerpicks. But actually "soft" (nylon, gut etc) strings make more sound than metal strings do on the same banjo.  Almost no one wants to believe this.

"Hidebound" is a wonderful pun for a finger planted on the vellum.

Steve Harrison said:

I think it's very much horses for courses.i.e. the anatomy of your right hand will be the ultimate arbiter. I have very large hands and long fingers and find that  anchoring my fourth finger leaves too little room between the rest of my fingers and the strings to be able to play comfortably so I use a floating right hand to overcome this. Bill Ball always used a floating right hand and it didn't do him any harm.  My suggestion is not to become overly hidebound on what is considered to be 'the right technique' and experiment until you find the method that best suits you...Steve.

"Hidebound" is going to be the name of my first C-B album...

(rimshot!) :o)



Trapdoor2 said:

"Hidebound" is going to be the name of my first C-B album...

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