Tag Archives: right hand position

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Back on January 11th Murphy blogged about the dangers of changing your right hand position. The quote below appeared in the comments on that post, but Murphy thought it was important enough to give it its own post. (It’s been edited slightly.):

I would have to agree with you on that one Murphy. I’ve been learning now for two years (back again after 25 years) and just last year I changed my right hand position, which was a big mistake. (Every thing was woking fine til then.) After that I got caught up in all the hype on the Banjo Hangout and thought it would be good to try and have “PROPER HAND POSITION”, it would help me to play better. Well I can tell ya it put me right back to the first year. I had to just about learn everything all over again. I’m just now getting back to where I was before I changed. And let me tell ya once you change it is stuck in your mind and there is no going back. The relaxing part is hard as well…So like Murphy said “DON’T DO IT”. It will set ya way back. –Dave in Savanna, Il.

Players’ right hands look all sorts of different ways. There are three common elements necessary in right hand position:

1. Finger(s) anchored on the head. You don’t have to have both, but you do have to have at least one, either pinky or ring, to play bluegrass.

2. Forearm resting on the armrest.

3. Wrist arched. This is where you’ll see the most variation. Some players, like J.D. Crowe, have a very arched wrist. Others, like Blake Williams, have a nearly flat wrist. (I personally don’t see how he can play like that, but he does. And it works for HIM, which is the important thing.)

And, overall, your hand must be relaxed. If you’re holding any tension in your setup, it will translate to your playing and hold you back, or maybe even cause injury in the long run.

You, as a student, may not be in the best position to judge whether your right hand position is alright. Trust what your teacher says and be very wary about making changes!

To hear Murphy's explanation of right hand setup, consult your Beginning Banjo Vol. 1 introductory lesson.

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

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!