A reader writes:
I am writing in the hope that you help me. I play 4 string plectrum banjo, Emile Grimshaw stuff and 20's and 30's music, just love it all.
Unfortunately I have had an accident with a wood working machine (machine won!!!!) and I have had the first two sections of my left pinkie amputated leaving the last small section of the digit.
I can't make any of the chords or melody note requiring the pinkie and my only option, as I see it, is to play left handed. So that is what I have started to do, very difficult for me.
I am doing very basic plectrum work and can just about get a 'C' Scale down pat. At this moment there is 'No light at the end of the tunnel'
I am hoping there is someone/thing that can help me get back to a being a 'Reasonable' player. The last thing I want to do is sell my 1926 Epiphone Recording 'A' and my 1928 Bacon Day Peerless, both 22 fret banjos.
ANY suggestions would be appreciated.
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Thank you for getting in touch.
All my life, I have been paranoid about hand injuries for this sort of reason. I've known pianists and guitarists who have lost a finger, but Jazz banjo makes unusual demands on the left hand, so I can only imagine how distressing this must be.
Starting in 2010, I have had nerve damage in my left hand that especially affects my ring and pinky finger, so there are certain parts I play more by "muscle memory" than anything else, and that's bad enough.
I wish I had a good answer for you. I haven't played Jazz on a plectrum long enough to know any shortcuts. Most of the Jazz banjo players I know use tenor tuning (ADGC) on 19 or even 17 fret banjos. Here's a confession - the last time I needed to play "Dixieland" banjo for anything, I learned that the score I was to read was actually written for 6-string banjo in guitar tuning. So I did that. Which means I haven't played 4-string banjo in a very long time.
I play my 5-string on DBGD or DBGC tuning, but I'm a Folk singer, so I use a lot of open chords, which don't work in Jazz.
Here's a thought -
The French Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reindhardt had been a banjo player until he suffered an injury to his left hand that left his pinky and ring finger more or less paralyzed. He went to guitar and invented a style of lead guitar that he could play using only his first two fingers. I understand that it's not the same as Jazz banjo, and you might have to tune your banjo to EBGD (like the first four strings of a guitar) to copy his technique, but if you could track down materials and recordings to get a sense of his technique, it might be worth exploring.
I don't have many 4-string readers, but I could put your message (without your name) on my discussion page and copy it to my Tenor Banjo and Tenor Guitar-playing friends and see if they have any suggestions.