Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Picking on the correct strings

Hi everyone, I’m new to the forum, and this is my first post.
I’m having a problem picking the correct string while playing. For instance, when I need to pick the low D string, I will pick the fifth string instead. I can’t seem to the the picks on the right strings. I try to keep my ring and pinky fingers anchored on the head, but still have a problem. Is this something that will clear up with more practice? or is there something I need to be doing different. I would appreciate any advice. Thanks

Markrocka already hit the nail on the head with all his good advice, such as keeping things slow and steady enough that you ‘can’ hit the correct strings. If you try going too fast and striking the wrong string continually, it may become a bad habit that’s hard to break. Speed will come with time.
Only thing I’ll add is that you may also want to experiment with some various Thumb picks. Most are fairly cheap, but designed with slight differences as to shape and blade lengths etc. Try some different ones until you find one that feels the most comfortable and gives you the best accuracy.

Before banjo, I played classical guitar all my life. Anchoring the pinky is hard at first but will get easier all the time. There is no reason you need to anchor both and generally people do it because they learned that way, which is fine. Regarding the d string, I agree with checking the pick but ALWAYS slow the process way down and get that “feel”. Its just a matter of to e and practice resulting in good muscle memory. You will get it!

I agree with all of the above. More practice will always improve your skills and flexibility.
Also adding some exercises focussed on picking the right strings in your practice will help. And can serve as an active break between practicing songs as well. I often take breaks from learning a tune by doing a specific (read: dull) exercise or just practice a difficult lick from another song that needs more time and practice to sink in. For me it releases build up tension (and replaces it with different tension, to keep you entertained!) in my fingers from focusing too long on one movement or tempo.


  • Play triplets using all three fingers (T I M) from the first to the fourth string and back, so hit the same string 3 times with a different finger. It will improve the feeling how to move your hand in order to reach a certain string with a certain finger. When you want to upgrade in difficulty level or make it more interesting, combine it with a pattern on the left hand, just choose a nice sounding sequence of notes, that will improve the coordination between your left and right hand, but best to start with open strings
  • Play the strings from low to high, so 4-3-2-1 using the pattern T I T M, this will (eventually :wink: ) increase the freedom of movement of your thumb and from there accuracy of placement will improve --> you will find this lick in songs, for sure in the 2nd part of the tab for John Henry in this site
  • Practice the Foggy Mountain Breakdown lick separately using the picking pattern I M T M where your thumb has to go down to the 2nd string (look for the tab in this site and you can start practicing this tune, making the exercise more fun)
  • Practice the general rolls but deliberately change the strings you are picking, e.g. for the alternate thumb roll you can switch between 3-2-5-1 and 4-2-5-1 or play 3-2-1-5-1-2-4-1 instead of 3-2-1-5-1-2-3-1 for the forward reversed rolled roll --> make up your own patterns or add chord shapes with left hand, just fool around
    ALL best practiced using a metronome :smiley: and for max a few minutes

It’s already been said several times, but I’ll add it one more time for emphasis: start slow.

It doesn’t matter if you’re learning to dribble a basketball, tie your shoes, or pick a banjo, all methods of learning start with a slow emphasis on the basics and then speeding it up from there. We expect this from our kids and our kids are cool with it, but we adults seem to get a little embarrassed that we have to slow things down in order to learn them.

Also, instead of going out and buying a lot of different thumb picks, I just took the one I had that I thought was too long and started filing it down until it was at the depth that I was comfortable with. Saved me a few bucks.

I appreciate all the great advise. I’m keeping it slow, and things are improving.

I agree with everyone, keep it slow. Enjoy the learning