Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Right hand control

I have been playing for a few years, but I have an issue that I just cannot seem to overcome. I can play slow or fast, but when I try to play the medium speed, my right hand just doesn’t work. I use the correct right hand technique (you pretty much have to have the loose wrist to play fast), but most people play that medium speed. When I play with a band I am fine, because fast songs are fast and slow songs are slow, but I might as well stick to back up in jam sessions.

I have tried doing right hand exercises increasing speed incrementally, but nothing has worked so far. When I ask other players, they are usually baffled when they hear me play fast tempos but then I am unable to play the medium speed. Anyone on here ever have this issue and been able to overcome it?


That’s interesting. I might have a related issue. I can play eighth notes up to a certain speed, but something different is going on when I play fast tremolo. It’s like a change of gears. I am comfortable playing faster than certain speeds and slower than certain speeds, but playing at certain high speeds is difficult. I am not sure where that break happens, but I’d guess it’s around 220 BPM eighth notes. I can play considerably faster with tremolo (and on a good day it is smooth and even) but I don’t have the kind of control over each note where I could cross strings accurately. I am sure I am not the only person to think, “Man I wish I could accurately pick out individual notes and cross strings at fast tremolo speed.” If I could do that then I’d be pretty decent.

I said it’s like a change of gears, but maybe it’s my brain disconnecting and letting my hand do it’s own thing. Maybe it’s some kind of a mental thing and is self-fulfilling. I know I have done that in many things in life… I convince myself I can’t do something (when I actually could).

Of course, it all depends on what you are calling a medium speed. If you are a blazer that plays 300 BPM+, then your medium speed would probably fall in the range of what I am calling high speed, so maybe it’s the same issue, and you can just control your fast speed better than I. Are you talking about 160 BPM eighths or what approximate range?

I don’t have any sure-fire tips, but here’s my thoughts on a few things to try:

  1. Try playing something very familiar slower than the pace that gives you problems and focus on using your fingers to drive the pick through the strings (more thumb and finger motion). Play slow enough that you can mentally keep control of your right hand. The combination of working on using my fingers more, as well as playing through the strings (like a rest stroke) has led to some really good days where speed comes easy. Once you have played the song for a very long time (30 minutes or more) at the consistent slow pace, try it at a speed that gives you problems.

  2. Maybe shoot some video from several angles of your right hand picking at the slow speed that works for you, the fast speed that works and the medium speeds that do not. If you can use something that does 60 frames per second (like a HeroCam), it might be more useful. Maybe you will see something mechanical going on.

  3. Instead of approaching the problematic medium speeds from below (which you said does not work), try coming at the medium speeds from above. Just to pick some numbers if you can play it fine at 120 BPM or 220 BPM, but can’t play at 160 BPM, try coming down to it from 220 in 3 to 5 BPM increments.

Best of luck and I will say this… I think I’d rather have your problem where you can play fast, but not medium as opposed to the opposite. Easy top end speed is not that common.

I experience the same “gear change”. There is a definite gap between my fastest flatpicking and my slowest tremolo picking. I think it has to do with how I mentally account for the notes I’m playing. With fast flatpicking I’m counting every pick stroke (usually subconsciously), but with tremolo picking I’m counting sets of pick strokes (usually 4’s), and only making note changes in multiples of 4. So, while muscle memory is allowing me to throw out a set of 32nd notes with my right hand, it feels like 8th notes to my left hand.

Thanks Mike,
Those are some great tips.

Thanks Larry,
Yeah, that’s the weird thing. I know it is a mental thing because if I am just letting my hand swing at that speed without a pick, it is fine. Today I tried using a thumb pick that I pushed up my thumb 1/4 inch farther than you would have it if you are picking a banjo. I then closed my other fingers like I would a flat pick, and I was able to play much better at the medium speed. Tomorrow I am going to the store to try and find a thumb pick that is the right thickness and I may use that for awhile to see if I can overcome this mental block.

You know I had this problem in the past with guitar. Slow was good and fast was fine, but put me in 3rd gear and I fought it.

I to this day will “raise” my hand away from the guitar to allow for the proper timing. I mean I literally lift my hand out an
away from the guitar when playing at a medium speed tempo, this lets me keep it in time and not trying to speed it up, it forces me to keep good timing and believe it or not it works for me. Now take that same song and speed it up to over say 180bpm and that hand slinging or casting out my hand away from the guitar goes away.

Interesting that others have had this problem…albeit on a mando, but we are still pickin’

So I find this issue is not that weird. When you play slow your left and right hand can be a bit off, meaning if you pick a bit early or late the chances of the fret finger still being where it should are pretty good or at least above 75% ( I just made that up but it feels right).
Anyway, when playing fast,I have hands moving at top speed and since they share the same beer damaged brain, top speed is… Well the same top speed for both hands and/or roughly equal, and if not any mistakes get glossed over by speed since I am on to the next note in under a sec.
So when you go medium one hand gets there early, without the margin of error you get when slow or the quick pass over of a bad note when going mach 2.
I have this issue as well, and my answer, for me at least, is to concentrate on tone when practicing slow, not just the tune sounds recognizable but does each note sound the way you want. Each pick stroke hits when the fret is pressed, no clicks or muted notes. So yes Medium is harder.

Emory, I’m no teacher, but I’ll tell you what I do. Go to a .tef files of a song that you are used to playing fast and hit “Ctrl K” a window will open where you can slow down the meter to whatever speed you need. Hope this helps. don’t forget to hit apply or you’ll have to Ctrl K every time you restart it.

Thanks 30, I will give that a try. When I play with the rhythm tracks from the lessons. I can play the slow speed fine and the fast speed fine, but put me on that middle speed and my right hand just does not cooperate. My left hand is fine. I will just use my left and at the medium speed without actually picking the strings and no problem. So I have at least isolated the issue to my right hand control at speeds around 180-200. Anything from say 210 to 240 is fine. I wish there were some exercise I could do for my right hand to force it to move at that medium speed. Right now I’m just using the medium speed tracks and trying to make it natural, but it feels horrible and is not fun.

I just realized it has been 4 years since my original post and I am still having the same issue. Maybe there is no hope for my right hand when it comes to the medium speed dilemma.

Make a video and post it to the VideoSwap category, friend!