Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Question about picks

This is gonna seem mighty dumb probably. But I’m a woman. I want my acrylic nails… I’ve sacrificed (happily and willingly) my left hand’s nails down to almost the nail bed. I still got the acrylic on but I can hold down the strings just fine. But is it okay if I just use a thumb pick and pick with the nails on my right hand? The nails are about as long as what the finger picks would come out to be and in fact peek out a little over the pick. I’m pickin just fine but I’m a beginner so my beginner’s ear may not know what I’m hearing! Acrylics help me to NOT bite my fingernails (nasty habit I know and this is how I break it) so I don’t want to lose them even if I have to walk around with one hand with short nails and another hand with long. A friend told me to paint on my left hand with the short nails each letter of the word banjo on each fingernail to let people know why haha.

Just got my banjo about a week ago for part of my Christmas :slight_smile: Oscar Schmidt. Working on the rolls and cripple creek videos tonight. Sat down at 12:30 am and looked up thinking it’d only be 1:30 and danged if it wasn’t almost 4 am. Time flies when you’re having fine. I have a background in piano since I was five and guitar since I was 11 (I never used picks for guitar either except for a thumb pick). Ain’t played guitar in years though so I’m getting the callouses back!

Hi Holly and welcome to the site. There’s nothing wrong with combining a thumbpick with fingernails. I’m not sure if you’d get the “bluegrass” tone or the volume that way on a banjo though, but with guitar that would be fine. Many classical guitarists grow their picking hand nails long on purpose and keep them perfectly manicured to achieve proper technique and tone. Seems kinda sissified to me but whatever works I suppose. They look like they forgot to cut their fingernails on one hand :laughing: I shouldn’t make fun, classical guitar is amazingly hard and I respect what they do. I’ve tried it and it takes great patience and can be very frustating, for me anyway.

What was the question again? Oh yeah, the acrylic nails. I believe if it works for you and you’re getting good tone and technique then keep doing it. But at the same time, it’s always good to try new things and when you do, give it a good chance even if it doesn’t feel comfortable at first.

I’m kind of a stickler on tone. I’m constantly trying different things to get good tone and believe it or not good tone comes more from technique, types and thickness of picks, pick angle, bevels, where you strike the strings and the attack than the instrument itself.

Since you got your guitar out, you may want to give flatpicking a try. You’ll have a blast and Ben has alot of great lessons on flatpicking at all levels.

Hope this helps, J.W.

I would suggest your playing may come out more balanced if you are sans thumb-pick also. Clawhammer/frailing & other style players don’t use picks as a rule.

You will find that a pick gives a far stronger and quicker response than a finger/nail. Using one on one finger and not on the others would create a volume and response problem you would have to overcome, and might slow down your learning curve toward an overall balanced volume and tone on your instrument.

Good Luck!

Hi guys! Thanks for the tips. I’ve decided to go ahead and cut them down to the nailbed as far as I can on the pickin hand too… (I can’t pry these suckers off until the acrylic wears off or I get a hold of some acetone!) I noticed last night I was having a difficult time anchoring my right index and pinky finger because the nails are so long I had to flex my hand in awkward positions just to keep one finger anchored down.

So to prevent lookin like a DOOFUS with only three long nails… I’m just going to cut them all down and if I keep having them done (since it’s how I keep from biting em) I’ll just have to ask them to do them very very short or go behind them and cut down more which is fine.

I had completely forgot that my friend himself keeps his nails extremely long on one hand to play guitar though I can’t really tell you what style he plays. He just plays. Its a mash up of classical and metal on a classical guitar I think. But he’s amazing.

My fingertips on my left hand especially on my index finger are on FIRE from last night. Can’t wait for these callouses to come back! LOL

Are you pushing too hard to get the notes? Might try concentrating on not pushing down with the left hand any harder than absolutely necessary to get a clean note.

This can really help the speed of your left hand as well.

I might have been! I have a bad habit of wanting to tense up when I play piano so maybe it’s carrying over into banjo too since it’s new. I’ll try to relax more. Took a day off from playing/practicin yesterday (was busy working anyways) so my fingers are still sore but it doesn’t feel like someone just lit them on fire with a lighter no more! :slight_smile:

You know I realized two things…

A. Did not have the picks tight enough on my index and middle finger… finally got em tight enough (small fingers are a curse). Playing just fine now even though I still got my nails now that they are in tight and holding in place… and I do notice a difference. Sounds much better and even and I’m not having to pick as hard with my index and middle finger to get a good sound…

B. I was watching the videos and noticed that a lot of times when using my index finger on the left hand I should have been using my middle finger so I was using my index TOO much going by his BB’s fingering. Which helps because sliding with my index finger right now makes me wanna shout!


Yay! Good deal for progress! When I briefly played banjo (pre-BanjoBen website), I didn’t do enough to adjust the finger picks to suit me and I think that is a pretty significant factor.

It totally was a significant factor!!! Though I kind of almost cut the circulation to my finger tip off the other day because I had them too tight (They weren’t going nowhere though!!!)… but progress is being made. I’ve went through some of the techniques (like how to hold etc and rolls) and threw myself into a song. Not sure how good that is for learning but that’s just how I do it. Been working on I’ll fly away with the .tef file and then transitioning to a metronome so I’m not just blindly following the .tef file. I’ve sped it up to about 70% of the intended tempo which I’m very excited about!!! I gotta stop playing banjo till 4 am though. Super tired in the morning when the 2 year old wakes up! Gotta figure out how to pick n practice around him without him wanting to beat on my banjo that way I don’t have to wait until he goes to bed LOL.

Wow! It sounds like you are making quick progress. Way to go!

I have a three year old and a two year old, and when my banjo comes out, it’s the same as your plight: they want to bang away on my banjo, too. I let them do it some (because I want them to learn to play the banjo when they get older, shh! don’t tell their mama), but I also like my own time with The Bomber (my banjo’s name).

So here’s how you fix that: … ds+ukulele

The quality of his ukulele isn’t worth feeding it to your dog as a chew toy, but it sure makes a dandy of a distraction for the kiddos. And it’s only $15! Well worth the money to get a little time for my own pickin’ and grinnin’. If you wanted a ukulele that they could actually play on as they grow, it’s about $15 more (still money well spent). When I pull mine out I just tell the kids, “Go grab your instrument and we’ll play some music together.” They last a few minutes and then it’s on to something else.

+1 on the ukulele recommendation for kids. Last Thanksgiving I bought my nieces some concert ukes and within a few minutes we were playing music together. I hear they are playing them regularly, so I look forward to hearing how they progress.

Here’s the ones I bought (the nieces are a bit older, 6 & 8):