Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Fretting about my left hand!

I’m a right handed picker. Who does this left hand belong to? Certainly not me or it would be much more obedient.

I read the forums and watched the videos but I could not find more information on how to place my hand on the neck of the banjo. I’m pressing the strings too hard, I’m too far away from the frets, and I can’t seem to get my fingers to where they need to be. I anticipated it feeling awkward but I could use some pointers because I can only practice for about 5 minutes and my shoulder starts burning so bad I have to stop. I have a good non-slip strap too. What am I doing wrong?! Is this how it is for everyone in the beginning? I tried taking a private lesson locally but the guy started to unravel all of Ben’s clear instruction so it actually did more harm than good. HELP!

Thank you!


It’s hard to tell anything from a written description.
I’d suggest posting a video or picture (video is best) for Ben to look at when he returns.

Most of what you mention can be due to being new to playing, but the sore shoulder could be a different problem like where you’re holding your elbow or how much tension you are under…

also how you are wearing your strap would be something to include in the video/pictures…If you have a heavier banjo your shoulders may not be ready for more than five minutes at a time of holding the instrument up, and may require some conditioning for longer periods of playing with the instrument supported only by the strap…


Hi Vanessa

Welcome to Banjo Bens Forum. First off let me just say I know exactly what your experiencing right now. The good news is your here and Banjo Ben has lot’s of video lessons to help get you on track. once your done reading this jump over to the beginners learning track and work your way through Ben’s leaning track. In that lesson plan Ben explains where to place your fingers how to make chord shapes and a whole bunch of other stuff to set you on your journey. At this time Ben is currently in Israel but I am sure when he gets back he will want to address your queries in person.

Lets take a look at the point’s you raise.

Are you pressing the strings too hard ? Probably yes, I did at first, one of the first things you’ve got to endure is the pain. Until your fingers have grown calluses (hard skin pads) on your finger tips you will experience pain in your finger tips.

Are your fingers too far from the frets ? Ben covers this on one of his videos in the learning track.

I can’t get my fingers where they need to be. For this one Patents, Perseverance and Practice is what’s needed Lot’s of it. Work at it and things will start to fall into place

Feels awkward and I can only play for about 5 minutes and my shoulder starts burning. Sounds about right, you need to build up your shoulder muscles this takes time, Play for five minutes, rest for five minutes and repeats infinitum. The more you practice the longer you will be able to support the neck. Make sure your strap is fitted correctly and supporting the weight of the banjo.

On the topic of teacher advice, In my personal experience (ten years) I have yet to come across two teachers who agree on how to teach banjo. The Banjo Hangout is full of wannabe teachers constantly arguing about who is top dog. I have listened to all their opinions and grown tired listening to their rhetoric and settled on Ben’s approach. The best teachers don’t debate they get on with the job of teaching. Ben is a great teacher who was taught by a great teacher. I trust him to deliver on his promises so much so I signed up as a life member. Learning to play the banjo takes time, learn to enjoy the learning process. Don’t be impatient or your will soon become frustrated.


Thank you so much for your advice. Uploading a video is a great idea! I got a suede strap and fit it to the banjo exactly like Ben instructed. I think I just need to be patient until my muscles and callouses develop. I guess if it were easy everyone would be playing!

1 Like

Whew! I’m happy to learn that I’m not hopeless and others can relate. I really appreciate your guidance. Thank you so very much for your thoughtful advice.

Vanessa, Let me just say, loose all thought’s of hopelessness and negativity. Learning to play the banjo is not easy the journey is full of highs and lows. One day you can do no wrong next day you can do nothing right. It’s like an emotional roller coaster. On the bad day’s I just set the banjo aside and watch a movie. Next day I pick it up I pick up where I left off.

If you sit down and think about it, your learning multiple skills right from the outset. What you do with the right hand is different to what your doing with your left hand. Your ears are performing a different function to your eyes whilst your body supports the weight of your instrument. Your brain, body and toes are counting the beat whilst the fingers the right hand pick the strings as you fumble to play ornamentations with the fingers on your left hand.

The brain has to process all that information whist still maintaining bodily functions. So rest day’s are just as important to the learning process.

1 Like

Thank you Archie! What a supportive community this is. It truly does help so much to hear your words of encouragement. When you list out each task the body is asked to perform, it’s pretty astonishing that we’re capable of actually playing. I think the underlying theme in the responses to my original posting is… PATIENCE (and a bit a self-compassion as well) :slight_smile:


Vanessa, I don’t know what it is but for some reason Banjo Players seem to have a habit of beating themselves up if they play a wrong note myself included.

The advice I have shared with you is advice I have accumulated over a ten year period from reading the posts of thousands of other frustrated banjo players over on the Banjo Hangout.