Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Right hand question

I’ve only been flatpicking a short time. One thing I’ve noticed about myself, personally, is…I’m faster (both rhythm and picking melodies) when my right hand is not “open” (think of open as my fingers not holding the pick being out-stretched).

I’ve also noticed that I’m more precise in picking melodies when my hand IS open.

I’ve watched the usual suspects (top pickers), and their styles are somewhat across the spectrum. But, it seems the truly great speed pickers have more of a closed right hand. I’m certain they’re doing this with extremely low amounts of tension in the hand. But, I notice it puts a little more tension in MY right hand, when I’m trying to pick melodies. When I’m playing rhythm, it feels great (and, like I said, I’m able to play rhythm, faster, this way).

Would you experienced pickers weigh in on this? What’s your style? Is there room for a hybrid approach, or…being as how I’m so new to this style of playing…AND I know I’m faster with the last three fingers curled in…would you focus on working on picking melodies this way, exclusively?

I just joined as a gold member, and I’m looking forward to learning from you guys.


Hey Jeff,
Welcome! The forum is a neat place where we can help each other with issues we have with playing. I have tried various right hand positions and my opinion is: within reason, do what works for you.
Things that I think are pretty universally good are:

  1. Get alot of contact area with the pick.
  2. The pick should generally be seen coming out the side of the thumb, perpendicular to it.
  3. The above two items should help allow you to play with relaxed grip. You don’t have to have a death grip to hang on to the pick.
  4. Don’t get the wrist bent too far in one direction or the other. Most “good” pickers seem to have it bent slightly inward, in a natural relaxed position.
    For me the closed position allows me to put more power into a stroke and speed seems to come easier. My biggest problem with a closed hand is that I have a hard time keeping it loose enough to get the tone I like.
    A more open position is what I naturally developed. I like the tone better and it seems more expressive, but I don’t seem to play as evenly at higher speeds (I am not a particularly fast guitarist). A more open hand allows me some additional right hand muting options as well.
    I certainly think there is room for a hybrid style. I see many great guitarists vary the way they use their right hand depending on what they want to get out of the guitar.

There is a very good player here (drGuitar) that revamped his entire right hand technique to get more power and tone out of the guitar. After going down a long road to rebuild what he was doing, he liked the results. However, he said that he probably would have been better off just sticking with what he originally had. My point is, if your technique is reasonably good and it is natural for you then you may already have the “right” thing going, and minor tweaks are all you need worry about. If you try something new, you should be able to see some glimmer of hope of improvement within a few days. After a major change in technique, it might take weeks or months to master it.

Mike is being very kind in his description of me, I’m just a Bozo on this bus and everyday I am learning more and more.

The one thing I am pretty sure of (and only “pretty” sure) is that whatever you decide to do, practice relaxing as you play. And practice a lot. A person who can perform with relaxed hands, arms, shoulders…etc, will play faster, cleaner and better lines than a person who is tight and struggling to play.

As Mike said above, find what works for you and stick with it. Be your own worst critic when it comes to finding problems in your playing and work to correct those problems.

RELAX. Practice scales like Julian does in his video (How I practice scales topic). Learn to keep your hands close to the strings. Shoulders down and relaxed. Smile. Practice slowly and accurately always. Slowly practice faster only when you can do so without any mistakes or tightening of your muscles. RELAX. Breathe. Practice crosspicking. Relax your grip on the pick. Practice both loud and soft picking. Practice double picking notes, then triplets of each note. RELAX. Accuracy is everything. Clean and slow. Breathe. Repeat.

Your hands should never get tired is you are playing correctly; in fact, after an hour or so of playing, they should feel loose and warmed up.

Welcome to the forum. :slight_smile:

Howdy Doc! Good to hear from you. I can attest to what Doc said… work slow, work relaxed and work on quality. Once we get over the initial learning period, speed for most of us mortals is something that slowly comes over time. I wasted months or more banging up against my upper speed limits trying to squeak a little more out of it. By stopping that and instead worrying about the quality of what I was playing, I was able to make better music. As time goes by, the speed has come along as well. I may never be a blistering speed guy, but to be honest, I’d rather play 3 good notes as opposed to 6 that aren’t good. As obvious as that seems, quite often I still have to remind myself of that.

Welcome to the site Jeff.

What Mike & DR said is great advice & is what any good professional musician will most likely tell you as well. The only thing I can add would be to keep your mind focused on relaxing while playing & practicing. Relaxing is probably more mental than physical & I have to constantly remind myself to relax as I will start out relaxed & then shortly will tense up (especially on faster playing). When you’re not relaxed, you simply can’t play as well & it gets sloppy.

To me it’s kinda like reading & your mind starts drifting off & before you know it, you’ve read two or three pages & don’t have a clue what you just read. Your mind has to stay on it & be focused at all times & eventually it will come natural & you won’t have try so hard to stay relaxed. I still struggle with this …alot as I’m sure others do too. Hope this helps.

Mike, I’m still working on getting an interface to record with. If someone else wants that B part to Lonesome Fiddle Blues, they’re more than welcome. When I do get one, I don’t know how long it will take to learn how to use it. Hopefully I’ll get something posted on here soon.


Howdy JW. It’s true for me too… I have to actively try to relax.
I am really looking forward to hearing your B part. If you need help with the equipment, post a message or shoot me a PM or email.
Sorry for the thread creep… back to our regularly scheduled program :slight_smile:

No problem Mike,

i appreciate the help. I’ll probably need it when I do get the equipment.

                Thanks,     J.W.