Creek Don't Rise

Playing plectrum after a hand injury?
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Author:  paulrace [ Fri Jul 24, 2015 7:01 am ]
Post subject:  Playing plectrum after a hand injury?

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.


Our Answer is below. If you can help this player, please log in and add your own or use our Contact page ( to leave me a message to post or pass on.

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.

Paul Race

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