My husband, Red, wrote a wonderful blog on the Eighth of January about the importance of being relaxed when you pick. I couldn’t agree more. I used to drink beer for that very reason. Seriously. I wasn’t quite a tee-totaling Baptist by then, but I wasn’t much of a drinker. So I would be on stage all tense and thinking that everybody could hear every mistake I made and that they cared. A couple of beers cured me of that! Now, of course, I almost never drink before or during a performance. I don’t need to and find that now it actually makes it harder to think. (Ah, the joys of youth!)
So all was good until Marty stepped in with a innocent comment on the response page. He said, “Any suggestions on how to learn to relax before playing will be greatly appreciated.” (I think mine is really good, Marty!) It was then that Red uttered the words “I went back and changed what my right hand was doing. I changed the way I held the pick, the way I held my hand...”
That obviously worked for Red, big time. He is a fabulous mandolin player, one of the best in the world. And I’m sure he had no idea that some of you would read what he wrote and try to change your hand position. But I’m a teacher: I know you will! So I say to you: DON’T DO IT!
I have written several articles for Banjo Newsletter on this very subject because I have seen students totally wreck their playing by trying to change their hand position. If you’ve got my book, And There You Have It, please turn to page 152, paragraph four and read about Wes.
If you look at Red’s answer closely, you’ll see that it took two or three months for him to get back to the playing level he was at before. And I’m pretty sure that he was practicing many, many hours a day every day of the week. And jamming for hours when he wasn’t practicing. And he was also very, very young.
Changing your hand position is not a simple thing. You’re basically asking yourself to relearn to play. Most of you students also play by yourselves. I would venture to say that changing your hand position cannot be done simply by playing alone.
Everyone has a different hand position. If you’ve got something that works—even if it’s not pretty, even if it’s not like Earl or J.D.—stick with it.
Changing your hand position will not make you play faster, it will not make you play cleaner, it will not make it easier to get any of the licks you are having trouble with. IT IS NOT A CURE ALL for what ails you.
As I’ve said many times the answer to most problems is practice more, play slower. Even the problem of relaxing. And of course, play with other people. Lots.
Alright. Rant over. Heading upstairs to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation!