Banjoblogger Spring Break
Sorry about the lack of posts lately, I will be getting back on track this week. With the coming of spring, my focus has shifted to the outdoors and getting my yard cleaned up and ready for summer. I have a large yard ( 3 acres ) and my wife and I are always improving our place, so time can get pretty scarce. The Five String Banjo . . . . . Hmmmmmmm……….
Time crunch or not, I still had some time to play the banjo and I have been working on a few things. I am always trying to improve my playing and this includes my banjo tone as well. The biggest improvements that I have made to my sound have come from changes to my right hand technique. There is no way to overlook the importance of your right hand; how you pick the strings makes a huge difference in the sound of your banjo.
Finger picks and thumb picks can also change your sound too, I have started to bend my finger picks right to the shape of my fingertips. The clarity and strength of each individual note is much better with the picks rounded back against my finger. If you look at the cover of Tony Trischka’s new book, illustrated below, you can see how he bends his picks, that’s what I’m talking about.
The next thing to discuss is how you pick the strings, the thumb is the most important and the picture on Tony’s book shows a typical position for your thumb. As everybody has a different set of circumstances, you should adjust your position to allow you to pick square to the string. Your thumb pick won’t be straight on to the strings, but angled back to give you some room to get between them. Watch out that you don’t let your thumb fly away, this just means to keep your thumb close to the string you are about to pick. If you let your thumb move too much it is hard to pick cleanly. The last thing to mention about the thumb is dynamics, you need to be able to play the fifth string softly at times, but also be able to snap that string and play hammer ons and pull offs. Keep your picking solid and under control, strive to play your best and you’ll be surprised how good you can be.
There are many different types and gauges of picks. I have tried a lot of different ones, but I keep coming back to a few of my favourites. Dunlop Zookies (with a 20 degree angled tip), Nationals and a few other Dunlops are the thumb picks that work for me. As for the fingers I always return to Dunlop stainless steel (.20 – .25) but Propiks are good too.
Of course, the way you pick the strings is important, but equally important is the size and type of string you use. We’ll talk about strings next time.