Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

G lick : hand rested or not?

I’m sure this question has been posted a zillion times before, but here is it once again. I’m new to flatpicking, so each and every day I start my practice with the Picking Accuracy Exercise in the Beginner’s Section. It’s going fairly well, until I reach the very end. All the picking I do is with the palm of the picking hand NOT rested, so it moves freely to play the “BOOM-Chick” pattern. But the exercise ends with a G-lick, and I can’t play that lick with a free hand, so I must rest a piece of my hand on the wood in order to play the lick. Is this wrong, and should I learn to play the lick with a free hand ?
Your insights are welcome !
Erwin - Belgium

Howdy Erwin!
The preferred thing would be to not to rest on the bridge. With that said, many people do many different things (and make great music in many various ways). Resting your hand on the bridge will ultimately limit your speed and tone. The less pressure you can place on the top the better. You can tell how much difference our arms/hands do to tone make by picking open strings while placing your left hand on various parts of the top of the guitar. People spend all kinds of money to get instruments with better tone and volume, but often small changes in technique make a greater difference than a greatly “superior” instrument.

For what it’s worth, although I try not to do so, I do end up brushing on the bridge pins often when I am picking notes out.

Best of luck with it and let us know how it goes!

Hi Mike, thanks for your reply. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that each person has his/her own way of playing and that mine is not necessarily wrong. I rest my hand - not heavily - on the bridge pins, like you, and I don’t notice any change in tone. But maybe my hearing is not refined enough. Anyway, I’ll try to play the G-lick with a free hand, but if I don’t succeed in a week or two, I’ll stick to my hand-resting habit…
Thanks again !
Erwin - Belgium

Don’t get discouraged Erwin, I’ve been playing for nearly thirty years and I can’t go into a G-run or any other lead lick without anchoring something somewhere. With me it’s my pinky on top of the pickguard and the bottom of my wrist is suspended, not touching anything. I don’t plant my pinky though, I let it drag on top of the pickguard in a sweeping or brushing motion keeply it very light, just enough to give me control and it doesn’t mute the sound. If I try to play with my hand in a closed position like Ben, I end up with the bottom of my palm or wrist on top of the bridge pins. And it gets worse the faster I play where it’s harder to keep good control.

Thirty years of playing may be my biggest enemy with this. Since you’re fairly new to flatpicking, you have a good oppurtunity to keep from practicing bad habits with Ben’s lessons and all the material that’s out there today. Work on something very slowly over and over until it becomes natural and then speed it up until that becomes natural and so on and make sure you are keeping good technique at the faster speeds.

If you ask ten different experienced guitar players that same question, you’ll get ten different answers. They may be close, but they’ll all do something a little different. That’s what is so cool about this - no rules, just create music with good tone the best way that suits you.

— Begin quote from "mreisz"

small changes in technique make a greater difference than a greatly “superior” instrument.

— End quote

That’s a great point. Tony Rice/Ovation guitars?

Hope you’re not more confused than before you asked that question.


Let me see if I can muddy the water a little more.

I think learning to play G licks without any anchoring is well worth the effort, and it’s how I play them almost all the time now. Lester Flatt did brace himself for his G licks, though, so I guess there isn’t any one right way.

For a long while after I learned to float my picking hand, I would hook my ring finger on the high E string to gain more leverage when I needed a powerful rest stroke for a G lick (usually for the end of songs or for something like Uncle Pen where the G lick needs to be out in front), but over time I learned how to get enough power without bracing. I just tighten my wrist a little, and push a little harder with my thumb joint. As with most things on guitar, repetition and patience were the solution for me.

— Begin quote from "Erwin"

Anyway, I’ll try to play the G-lick with a free hand, but if I don’t succeed in a week or two, I’ll stick to my hand-resting habit…

— End quote

That sounds like a great plan. The only thing I might change is… instead of sticking to the resting hand, keep coming back and working at it over time. It will get easier over time. Like others said above, it is a progression. Watch videos of great players (like Ben, Bryan Sutton, Steve Kaufman) and try to emulate what they do. Early on, it is impossible to play like a seasoned pro, but as you gain hand control, you can do different things more easily. When I am having a hard time staying motivated towards doing things “better”, what I try to remember is this: the things that will make it easier for me in the future won’t necessarily be what is easiest today.

Take all I say with a chunky grain of salt. The most important thing is that you enjoy it and play a bunch.

Thanks to all ! Don’t worry, Mike, I love every minute that I spend with my guitar (and banjo, for that matter !)

So, I have this question but not just in the context of a G lick.

Is the preferred method of playing bluegrass guitar, no matter what you’re doing, to let your hand float and not touch or rest on any part of the guitar, period?

I have been playing for a few years, and I usually rest my wrist on the bridge to some degree when playing solo stuff, but when playing rhythm my hand is free. How do professionals usually do it, and what’s the “best” way?

Also, does Banjo Ben have any resources on his website that talk about “how to pick” in terms of resting the hand (or not), and so on and so forth? I’m a lifer, so I have access to all the videos and whatnot, but I haven’t run across anything like that yet. If there’s something like that on here, I’d appreciate a point in the right direction.

Howdy Lukeman3000,
I’d say that what you said is generally correct (no anchoring is preferred). With that said, many people do anchor/brush and do it well.
Here’s a link to Ben’s lesson on right hand guitar speed: … son-1-223/

I think you’ll also get some good stuff from this mandolin video: … ition-556/

Ok, as promised a little update after 2 weeks of practicing with a free hand. At first, it felt very uncomfortable and I really needed to give attention to the positioning of the right hand. But after a few days, the hand “knew” where to be, so I could focus on the playing.
There is a tremendous drop in speed and accuracy when you start playing everything (i.e. not only rhythm but also lead) with a free hand. But as a banjo-player, I have experienced this before when I switched from 1 finger to 2 finger anchoring on the banjo head. So, I know it’s only a matter of time and patiently practicing before I’m back up to speed and accuracy (which weren’t that great to start with, being new to flatpicking !)
There’s still a little thing that worries me : when I play the lead with a free hand, the guitar is slightly shaking with every wrist-movement I make. I can imagine that if the speed goes up, this will become a problem. So, my question is : Is this normal behavior, or is there a way to play the lead without shaking the guitar ?
Your answers are welcome !

I’ve been floating my left hand for a couple of years now, and I don’t notice any problem with the guitar shaking, but I can’t remember if it bothered my when I was just starting out. If you aren’t wearing a strap (even when sitting down) that might help stabilize things. Otherwise it’s just practicing enough to get comfortable with it, like you said.

I had a big drop off in speed and accuracy at first with a free hand, too. Now it feels like it slows me down if I anchor. I think free floating changed the sounds I can pull from my guitar, too. I have much more wrist rotation than before, probably more like a mandolin player.

It sounds like you are on the right track. Try to be patient with it and before long it won’t be any more difficult than anchoring was.

What Larry said! A few other thoughts. If your arm is touching the bout and you have alot of arm motion in your pick stroke, I am guessing that might cause some monkey motion with the guitar. Try using more wrist and finger/thumb motion, especially when picking out individual notes. Accuracy will take some time to recover without the tactile reference you used to have. On the flip side, when you get used to it and the speed picks up you should be able to cross strings much easier. If you wanted to shoot a little video of your right hand it might help to have guys like Larry give some feedback. You can post it as private (if desired) on YouTube and it will still be visible if a link is provided.