Crisis of confidence #2 (the “extra” pick-hand fingers)

I was cutting up some food for the dog yesterday (not Brown, the fat dog in the previous pictures, but our other dog Tolo, who is scandalously skinny because of a liver problem and needs to be tempted to eat). Here is Tolo a few days ago on Epiphany morning:

Tolo on Epiphany morning

Anyway … I cut right into my left thumb. It was not a deep cut, rather more like taking a slice off my fingerprint. (No, I’m not going to post a picture. Yuck.)

Luckily, it didn’t get completely sliced off, and I was able to patch it back in place, where it should heal nicely. (Reminds me of a book about the FBI that I read when I was a kid, in which one crook changed his fingerprints.) Even more luckily, it is not directly where the thumb touches the neck of the banjo for most chords. But it is close enough, so I am taking a couple of days off to let it knit.

Yesterday I limited myself to some right-hand picking practice. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the great advice I’d received regarding how to hold the pick. (I described my doubts both here on this blog two days ago, and also posted on banjohangout.org, whose members are very helpful — click here see the banjohangout thread.) I also looked at a few tenor banjo sites around the Web. (Really enjoyed banjoseen.us.)

Today I did more picking practice and dared to work on some chords, holding them down and then moving one, two or three fingers off and onto the string. I’m sure there’s a name for this sort of exercise, but I don’t know it….

Anyway, it’s a good time to blog! Here’s my next “crisis of confidence” — another doubt about my right-hand technique:

Obviously I am going to use the thumb and forefinger to hold the pick. So … what do I do with the OTHER THREE FINGERS?

I have bought and watched (many times) the Buddy Wachter video from HomespunTapes.com, and I love it! He distinguishes between two types of playing:

  • FINGERS UP (Eddie Peabody) style, with the four fingers curled under. It is intended for strumming, chord-melody playing, etc. I think I understand this style, at least in theory. No problem here.
  • FINGERS DOWN (precise-playing) style, with the last three fingers in contact with the head. It is intended for single melody lines, single-string tremulos, etc. I tried it, and found it marvelously helpful. (Until I saw the video, nobody had told me that it was okay to touch the head!) But … I have one question about this style:

So, I have three fingers in contact with the head. When I switch strings, say from the first to the fourth, should those three fingers (a) flex back and forth (curling more or less), or (b) just move with my hand, maintaining the same arc? Here’s what I mean:

(a)  If those three fingers extend or curl up, according to the string I’m playing on, the fingertips maintain the same distance from the first string, but change their distance from the pick:

2015-01-12a first string - fingers curled      2015-01-12b fourth string- fingers extended

(b)  If the fingers maintain the same arc, the fingertips change their distance from the first string, but maintain the same distance from the pick:

2015-01-12c first string - fingers extended      2015-01-12d fourth string - fingers extended

Neither of them feels entirely natural to me. Which is better? (Or, perhaps, what other options do I have?) If you have an opinion about this, I’d love to hear it!

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