Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Is my technique viable?

So when I first picked up the banjo I was switching between Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, and Saxophone on a song by song basis. Applying and removing finger picks felt like it added too much downtime between songs, so I just eliminated them. So I have learned to play three finger style but without the picks. Are there professional players out there that employ this style or will the extra friction of my finger plucking the strings hinder my development of speed in the longer run? I know sometimes doing things your own way just makes your sound unique, but if this style has been tried and shown to be bad form for identifiable reasons then I want to try and change the habit now. If it is a viable and proven style then I will keep moving forward as I am likely continue to be a utility player rather than a banjo player in the future.

Do you play with a band, or solo? I think picks are used primarily (or originally) for volume, and feel was secondary. I personally can’t play as fast without them, but it might be possible with practice. Also, if you play clawhammer, no-one uses picks for that

I don’t know that I play clawhammer as I haven’t explored it much and am not sure what defines it. I play three finger style playing slow rolls through the chords with a few hammer ons or pull off with my left hand between plucking and I sometime strum as well. I do play in a band and am amplified when I do that, so I have not had issues with volume. I am just not very fast with the rolls yet and want to try and get my banjo playing up to the level of my other instruments. Before I dig in and put in the hours of practice I want to make sure I’m not carrying a really bad habit forward that will hinder my growth.

It’s a lot easier for a beginner to play without picks but I am in the camp of learning the rules before breaking them.

You will not be as loud without picks so if you play with another banjo, you’ll be drowned out. In the long run, I think you can play a lot faster with picks because of the way they slide over the strings but you won’t notice this for a long while. Your tone will be different with and without picks. If you want a dry, cracking tone, you’ll almost surely need to play with picks but again, it will take a long time to get to this point.

Playing with picks was probably the hardest part for me, a flat picking guitar player, to learn with the banjo. Once you get over that hump, everything else is pretty easy by comparison.

It wasnt using the picks that was a challenge as much as situating them on my fingers in addition to switching instruments causing too much downtime between songs.

Clawhammer is a completely different technique. I would say it would be best to go ahead and use the picks. It only adds a couple seconds between songs, and they do help with speed and tone also. I don’t know if you fingerpick guitar, but I wouldn’t even consider playing three finger banjo without picks unless I had nails (slightly longer finger nails a la classical guitar) as @bluenote231 said, after getting used to them, they will improve your playing

I guess based on both of your input I will go ahead and start using the picks. I’ll just have to learn to be faster about getting situated.

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You should be able to get acclimated within a week

@dangarrett123, I recommend getting used to the picks. You will get faster at changing. I played 4-5 instruments with most every band I played with and had to do some really fast pick changes. It was a challenge, but it got easier! One trick is to obviously mark which one goes with which finger. You can take a notch out of one so that you can feel which pick is which even without looking.

Thanks! That’s a great idea about notching one.

Doyle Dykes uses a speed pick on his thumb, and grows his right hand fingernails out. I’ve heard of pickers who actually glue ping pong balls to their fingers in case a quick fix is needed.

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I’ve got one of those. It is easy for a non-thumb-pick-user like me to get used to, but they don’t have the power of some more substantial picks.