Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Fast Rhythm

I thought I’d solved all my pick grip problems, but last weekend I had a chance to pick with a couple of fellows who liked playing everything at top speed and I kept beating the pick out of my fingers.

In an effort to solve this problem, I’ve been working on playing simple rhythms at 300+ bpm this week, but I don’t know if I need to focus on a tighter grip or if my pick angle needs to change at high speeds. Do you guys change anything with your grip when things get fast?

I am doing a non-bluegrass song this week (Build Your kingdom here by the Rend Collective). It’s got a kind of a Mumford & Sons kind of flavor to it. I am doing BG strumming during the chorus, but the rest of it is more full strums. I was working it at just over 300 BPM, and I was not happy with my progress. I was uneven and periodically my pick was moving on me. I dropped to a medium pick and went as “wristy” as I could get my motion. That combination made life alot easier. Of course if you are gonna be flatpicking melodies the thinner pick might bug you. If I was going to be picking out melodies, I think I might compromise and go with a half-way pick. I have a Wegen BG 1.00 that has some give to it.

I might be willing to make the trade off and use a thinner pick, but then again, I’m pretty stubborn. I do like the tone I get with my current pick, so I think I’ll work on my speed rhythm exercises for a couple of weeks before I make a pick change.

I wasn’t familiar with Build Your Kingdom Here, so I gave it a listen. Definitely reminds me of Mumford, but unlike Mumford it appears to be done in standard tuning. What’s that weird little percussive instrument that keeps getting banged on the ground?

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What’s that weird little percussive instrument that keeps getting banged on the ground?

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That is called many things… by that player, it is called a “Jingling Johnny”. Others call it a “Turkish Crescent.” I call it “my next home-made musical instrument project.” I was on a business trip last week and described the instrument to a friend/co worker from Wisconsin. He said, “Oh yeah… we call them ‘Stump Fiddles.’ My mother-in-law plays one to accompany my father-in-law on accordian.” That led me to some of the best web hits. Apparently, “Stumpf Fiddle” is also used.

Wifey thinks I am nuts, but I have been plotting making one for a few weeks. Of course it won’t be ready for this weekend, so one of the band members will play a little stick with jingling bells on it (which sounds similar to a tambourine) in order to get some jingling rhythm. I was going to setup the kick drum where I could stomp it, but I have decided against it… I’d hate to have a train wreck. I’ll just stomp on the floor a bit.

I hadn’t thought of it earlier, but one other thing to consider is the pick edge. If it’s nicked up, that can cause me to tighten up. Maybe a fresh smooth and polish on the business edges would help.

I tried looking at my hand to see if the angle was different. I can’t tell anything at speed. I think that maybe by getting more wrist rotation the pick contacts the strings a bit more angled. That would help it get through the strings.

I’ve been trying a combination of a firmer grip and a more angled pick while practicing this week and it seems to help but I need to test it out in a jam situation.

Stump fiddle! I like that name. I also saw it called a pogo cello when googled it.

Pogo Cello!!! That is a great name for it :laughing:

I don’t know what kind of pick you use Larry, But I’ve found that polishing not only the edges, but the whole pick will allow a better grip. The more shine you can get the better. Stew-Mac makes a small sanding pad kit that starts with 1500 grit & goes to 12000 grit for a fine polish. I lay the pick flat on the sanding pad & use my first & second fingers to push down on the pick & move in a fast circular motion, then flip it over & do the other side. I usually have to lick my fingers to keep the pick from slipping, but it’s my pick. When you get to the last pad, you’ll have a really nice shine & it will cling to your fingers better.

If you don’t have sanding pads, you can use rubbing compound on a rag or sponge.

Blue Chip, Red Bear & V-Picks already have a nice polish, but the Wegens to me, are too dull & polishing them makes a world of difference. Works pretty good on the Ultex picks too.

You may already do or know all this, but just in case, I hope it helps.



I hold the pick slightly different when strumming. I guess you could call it a “rock and roll” type grip on the pick where instead of the 1st finger running parallel with my thumb (last inch from nuckle) I instead position the 1st finger so that the pick is more towards the Tip of the finger…so in essence I have “extended” my first finger vs having it bent at the first two knuckles.

Confused yet? I may take a picture or tw0 and post them.

Also, on the down stroke there is “no give” on the pick. On the “up stroke” however the angle changes…almost to the same angle as one would use on a “rake” and is more or a looser grip, which the 1st finger provides support so I don’t loose the pick.

I also “flip” my hand with a loose wrist. Don’t get me wrong, the bass notes on the down beat are hit just as hard “driving through the string” as I would when flat picking, but the up strokes are a lot less severe.

Only problem or issue I have is switching from flat picking to rhythm and from rhythm to flat picking…it takes a conscious effort on my part during the last measure to start changing the pick/finger position in order to make a smooth transition.

On thinner picks…sure that would help you, but man oh man I hate that “clicking noise” in rhythm guys that use a thinner pick gets…drives me nuts! I use a real tortoise pick and I guess it’s about a 1.4 and pretty damn stiff (I’ve never felt it “give”) If I drop down to a 1mm then there is some “give” but it starts clicking like those African tribes that click to each other to communicate.


Also at say 220 bpm -300 bpm I do not hit “all the strings” in my strumming. I am more or less concentrating on 3 or 4 strings and making a “cross picking” type motion for the up and down strokes…I focus mainly on the bass note of beat 1 and do a cross picking type move after that.

JW and Mike, I’ve not previously tried sanding my picks, but I’m using inexpensive Golden Gate Mandolin picks so I don’t mind experimenting on them. I believe I’ll give it a try.

If I understand what you’re saying about your grip, oldhat, it’s how I grip the pick, too. Instead of having my thumb and index finger pointing in opposite directions, I make more of an X with my index finger running pretty close to the tip of the pick. What you said about repositioning the pick got me to thinking, though. I believe at slower tempos, I reposition the pick out of habit without really thinking about it, but when things get fast I don’t have time to do that and the pick slowly rotates out of position.

I got to say, I was skeptical that sanding was going to make much of a difference for me, but I gave it a try and it made a huge difference. I didn’t have a grit nearly as fine as you recommended, JW, so the pick isn’t real smooth, but I must have knocked off the oxidation/body oil/grime that built up on it. It’s not nearly so slippery now. I added a piece of sandpaper to my guitar case tonight. Thanks for the tip, guys.

Larry sounds like we hold the pick exactly the same.

On sanding:

I usually only sand the bevel(s) on mine. I use my wife’s set of finger nail buffers/polishers or whatever you call those things. I pretty much go at it on the bevels as if I am sharpening a knife on a whetstone. To polish the surface area I simply rub it back and forth until it gets hot on my shirt (typically on my shoulder area where my shirt is tight, typically I wear a cotton shirt). Since I use a tortoise pick all you have to do is get it heated up a bit and it will polish pretty easily.

What pick style do you use? I find it so much easier to control the TAD style of pick as their is a lot of surface area:

If you are using a mandolin style pick (Jazz pick) then I could see how that little fellow would flail around.

Glad the sanding works for you. You can get high tech and get a micro-mesh kit for sanding/polishing. Alternately you can use a nail tool like Jesse describes. I did a review on one widely available here:

I dug through my wife’s stuff and found one of those 7 way nail files just like you described, Mike! Got my pick all smoothed out now, and just in time for tonight’s jam.

Here’s the pick I’m using, except I’ve got 4 holes drilled in mine.
[attachment=0]gg pick.jpg[/attachment]
Seems similar in shape to the TAD, but a little more rounded.

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Pogo Cello!!! That is a great name for it :laughing:

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I watched a few on youtube and it is nothing more or less than a noise maker , now in the hands of a real pro it might sound ok but as for stump fiddles I believe I will pass . Not my cup of teat , coffee booze what ever

— Begin quote from "welder4"

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

Pogo Cello!!! That is a great name for it :laughing:

— End quote

I watched a few on youtube and it is nothing more or less than a noise maker , now in the hands of a real pro it might sound ok but as for stump fiddles I believe I will pass . Not my cup of teat , coffee booze what ever

— End quote

oops tea tea tea dangit it[/URL]

I love that cup of teat!

— Begin quote from "welder4"

now in the hands of a real pro it might sound ok

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Check out this demo, starting around 1:10…

HaHa! That’s funny, oldhat. It doesn’t pay to make a typo around here.

Earlier, I mentioned we were doing “Build Your kingdom here” this weekend. At the run-through this morning, I had something happen I hadn’t done since last century… I broke a pick! Thankfully it was a cheapie. :smiley: