Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Strumming secrets or how do I stop losing my pick?

Howdy fellow pickers, I’m trying like the devil to solve an age old problem for me in 2015 and I’m hoping you guys can assist.

Like all good beginners I found something very challenging and immediately avoided it like the plague, that challenge was strumming on the mandolin. I immediately worked on Irish music that was all melody play, in fact I got so wound up in that that I ended up playing a Tenor Banjo and playing at a local pub rather exclusively for much of 2014.

Well now it’s 2015, and as those of you will remember I’m still trying to backup my Father in law on the guitar. I still remember the major open and closed chords on the mandolin, and can move between them, as silly as it sounds it’s the strumming that befuddles me.

I tried those big chunky picks and in no time they turn and fall right out of my hand.

I’ve watched Ben countless times, trying to see if it’s the angle, the amount of pick, the attack, the bevel, the phase of the moon, solar flares, pixie dust… I’m just so frustrated at what seems like a remarkably simple action. I even pulled out my old Guitar this afternoon and found I cannot strum it either, must be I lost my strum somewhere along the way in life…

I’ve found a few locals that play mandolin, but none have proven that approachable to see if I can get some in person recommendations. I’ve tried Skype but the lag can be a real killer.

My pick grip is “traditional” between the thumb and first finger, pointy end toward the strings. I use a thinish pick (1.1) for the Tenor Banjo and that coupled with the grip give me great control and very high speed. Single strings are fine, flat picking, jig picking, all that craziness I spent 2014 mastering… now it’s just how to use these heavier mandolin picks without losing them.

Bottom line, the picks go in between the strings, I don’t grip too hard, they end up either rotating in between my fingers, or they wobble up and down and end up falling clean out. Otherwise if I hold them too hard I end up getting too much pick on the string and end up with fret buzz or something all together unpleasant sounding. Anyone know of a nice slowed down video that really gets at the heart of the process? Anything to make me feel like less of a klutz :slight_smile:

Thanks guys and gals. This is my last big push at mandolin, if it just doesn’t work I’m buying a banjo and never turning back :slight_smile:


Matt, let not your heart be troubled! If you are dropping your pick, then you have almost the ideal grip tension. It’s a bit of science, a bit of art, and a whole lot of feel. It takes a little time to find the right balance and techniques. There are several mechanical things at play. You’ve covered many of them in your post.

  1. Pick grip technique… if you don’t have much meat on the pick, it will be tough to control and hold it. I think Ben’s intro mando vid covers it quite well (but my memory may be off). Ensure that the pick is coming out nearly perpendicular to your thumb and that your thumb and index finger are pointing in near opposite directions.
    2)Angle of attack on the strings. With a heavy pick, you *don’t *want to keep the pick perpendicular to the pick motion and you really don’t want it going pointy ended first. You want the pick to be able to slide over the strings as opposed to plowing through them. So as you alternate between up and down strokes, you need to rotate your wrist a bit like the motion used to turn a door knob. If you aren’t doing this already (or if you are unsure) start incredibly slow and stay there until you are ready to pull your hair out. Pull your hair out a bit, then stay slow for a bit longer. Wristy (and a bit fingery) movement that is loosey goosey is the goal. When you get a better feel, then the arm can come into play.
  2. Pick angle relative to the strings. This is less critical, but some angle helps it get through the strings easier. Some good players don’t use much angle and many use as much as maybe 45 degrees. Again, it’s less critical, but it can be a factor.
  3. How much you dig in to the strings. If you just barely tickle the strings, it won’t cause much turning or dropping force. If you really dig in, it will want to snag the pick from you. Practice playing very lightly at first. Just barely tickle the strings. As you get enough control to do this, slowly start working towards getting a bit more string. With that said, you really don’t have to try to make a mando loud. It cuts well with even a moderatly light touch.
  4. Pick grip tension. You want to have “just enough” to keep it with you. You can use more when you are really hitting it and less when playing lightly. If hitting a sharp chop on a downstroke, I drive the pick with my thumb. It gives me more power and I automagically get a bit more grip tension.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things but some of the fine mando players can help fill in the gaps. I would encourage you to play lightly and slowly and see how little tension it really takes. Stay with that for over a week, but ensure that your angle of attack is always good (thus the playing slowly). You’ll get some feel and more control, and things will start working for you. Slowly pick up a bit of volume or a bit of speed. Work on some sharp chops and get a feel for the tension needed. Try to analyze what causes the pick to go astray… downstrokes, upstrokes, all strokes. Feel free to post a video and get some free feedback.

Oh yeah, one more thing… don’t forget to liberally apply pixie dust to the mandolin before putting it to bed at night.

That’s great advice Mike gave and I can’t really add anything technical. What I can add are two ways to improve getting a better grip that I use:

1: Make sure the pick you are using is polished (or glossy). This will actually make the pick stick better in your fingers. V-Picks, Red Bear and Blue Chip all have a polished finish and this helps with the grip. I love Wegen and Dunlop Ultex picks, but I have to sand and polish them to get that same grip as the others mentioned. The Gator Grip picks are useless to me, They slide all over, but some players like them.

2: This is the part that helps alot in the winter since our hands dry out so much causing picks to slip more. Dip your fingers in the vaseline jar or better yet for you dairy farmers, good old fashioned bag balm. Work it in thoroughly until the greasy, slipperyness (is that a word?) is gone and your hands and fingers feel a bit sticky. Then see if that helps. I know it sounds silly, but it works for me.

Good Luck


Bag balm and pixie dust… I like this thread already!

This is all capital advice. As soon as I can get over this head cold I’ll try to record a few “strums” and share it with you guys. I’m confident we can get this resolved. However, if the arthritis in my hand acts up again I’m now the proud owner of a 5 String Gold Tone (ebay auction steal). It’s good to have options. :slight_smile:

Bag balm, pixie dust, and don’t forget Gorilla Snot! :laughing: I’ve never used it but know guys that do.

I fought pick dropping on guitar for a long time. I tried a bunch of different fixes (grip pressure, pick shape, rosin, etc.) but I finally figured out my problem was caused by #1 on mreiz list. While I was starting out with lots of meat on the pick, I would sometimes alter my grip while playing to the point where the pick wasn’t lying flat against my index finger.

I figured out I was allowing my thumb to roll forward a little (toward the point of the pick) which caused the back of the pick to lift slightly off my index finger and greatly reduced my contact with the pick.

I’m too the point now where I rarely let my pick slip, but if it does, my thumb position is the first thing I correct.

The best pick for grip I have found is Dunlop Max Grip,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.83339334,d.eXY&tch=1&ech=1&psi=-v-zVMyOBsijgwStvYSABg.1421082619299.7&prds=paur:ClkAsKraX5A4i_K570tZWtH4PFMvWB_QiUR04REMktwRpPJ4xliJ0tjQOKDNGRoNJoWPwOItAM-PJP_UcevbZNxy6ee_baNGT0xtNoUYHnlOtAcoFT0WPELl-BIZAFPVH73fa2SInYjlvfcJEaku2XJZlvQjsg&ei=AgC0VNDJDMyVNo_vgLAN&ved=0CJgCEKYrMAo

Hi, I’m Harvey.
Delighted to be here.
I’ve played guitar for 40 years. Always used fingerpicks. One challenge I’ve had is keeping a grip on a flatpick.
3 strums and the pick is gone. I absolutely love Banjo Bens style so am determined to overcome the pick issue.
One thing I’m trying is a clip I found at Fred Meyers to attach to a tarp.

I clamped a pick in its jaws and find it quite serviceable.
If I discover refinements, I’ll post them here.

All the best,

All things work together for good.
User avatar

Posts: 3
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 1:40 am

Hi Harvey,

Welcome to the forums. It takes some time to gain right hand control with a pick, but it does improve over time. If the tarp clamp works well for you, fantastic. My concern if I were trying to use something similar would be that it might limit how much one can improve. I have a friend who glued closed cell foam on the grippy part of a pick. He can’t pick like Tony Rice with it, but I doubt he would be picking like Tony without the foam either :smiley:

Hi Mike,
Delighted to get aquointed! Thank you for the tips!!!

I noticed you are a pilot. Always thought that would be amazing to try, but the good Lord knows I’m a klutz.


All the best,