Creek Don't Rise

Classic guitar player wants to know if she needs picks
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Author:  paulrace [ Wed Jul 05, 2017 2:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Classic guitar player wants to know if she needs picks

A reader writes:

Am just beginning with 5-string banjo. No money to pay for lessons so have bought a few printed instruction books, a CD, download information and songs for "dummies" like me :-)

I played a little classical-style guitar back in the latter 60s but life intervened and, although still somewhat interested, I can't generate enough enthusiasm to pick it up again.

I love the sound of a 5-string banjo, liking bluegrass quite a bit. I find the picks to be like wearing armor on my fingers (as someone described)--no tactile feedback. If I don't keep my eyes on the playing area, it sounds really bad because I'm not hitting the right strings. Perhaps at some time, I might be able to afford a lesson or two via Skype but even my internet access is piggybacking on my daughter's out west. :-(

Good thing I bought this banjo back in the mid 2000s. Be kind of hard to afford one now.
You've got some good stuff on your site; I look forward to exploring more.

------Paul's Reply--------

Thanks for getting in touch. Here's a confession, I don't wear picks when I play banjo either. I actually learned a little bit of classical guitar at the same time I was learning banjo way back in the 1960s before nobody but Earl Scruggs and Don Reno were playing anything like Bluegrass banjo.

Technically I should be using my fingernails to pick at least, but my nails never stay strong enough or long enough. When I play a lot I build callouses up on the tips of the fingers of my right hand, and that gets me close enough. BTW, I usually play a backless banjo with a Tone Ring when I play "out," and I'm asked to play more quietly a lot more than I'm asked to play louder. To me the picks are a throwback to the days before amplification, when the banjo picker had to keep up in volume with a dozen other instruments. Since I usually play solo or in small acoustic ensembles, I'm plenty loud. And if I need to be REALLY loud, I have banjos with resonators and pickups, and I STILL don't use picks.

I also use my ringer finger when I pick, something that I learned on guitar and which Bluegrass players think is anathema. Too bad, I can play parts they can't, and I see no reason to abandon that to make them feel better about how they play the banjo. :-)

In other words, the important thing is that you enjoy what you're doing and you're making music that the average non-banjo picker enjoys hearing. When someone in the audience tells me I'm "doing it wrong," I remind them that I'm on the stage and they're in the audience so I must be doing something right.

Sorry, long answer to a short comment. Enjoy your banjo and don't let other people make you feel guilty if you don't play it exactly the same way Earl did. Where would Bela Fleck be if he felt obligated to play banjo only the way other people already have?

Have a great summer, let me know if I can be of help with anything specific help,

- Paul

Author:  paulrace [ Wed Jul 05, 2017 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classic guitar player wants to know if she needs picks

The reader replies:

I loved your thoughtful and interesting message.

My banjo is nothing special—a Rover that I bought back around 2006-7. Open back but I’ve regretted not springing for the resonator back, just to have the choice. I am so tempted to just set the picks aside and just use the fingers BUT I really would like to be able to play that way. I presume that my old fingers/brain will get with the program and use the picks well. Interesting comment regarding using your ring finger. I am just enough of a rebel that I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind what people thought if I played successfully and even had more options using that finger.

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