Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Thumb Technique

So, I was practicing today, and was getting quite frustrated with the way my thumb was striking the strings.

When playing “Boil Dem Cabbage”, you are constantly striking the 5th G, and it was droning with much more volume than the other strings. (Not a good sound).

I realized, that I strike with my thumb not curled in at all. The result is, my thumb pick lands flat on the strings. This is how I’ve struck with my thumb from the beginning. Now, I’m thinking this is not a good technique.

When playing guitar with a pick, I always tilt it a bit.

I tried curling my thumb, and I think I’m now getting better control, even though it feels a bit awkward. It also seems to nudge me toward anchoring with my ring finger rather than with my pinky. Not only that, but I think my brushes sound better now.

So, my questions are, am I supposed to curl my thumb so that the thumbpick strikes the string a bit tilted? Is tilting your pick a given with all stringed instruments? Has anyone else experienced the annoying droning when striking straight on, or something similar?

Any insight is greatly appreciated.

One last note…When watching Ben, he appears to keep the first knuckle on his thumb straight while really bending at his thumb joint. I do the exact opposite. Almost like forming a claw.


My fifth string drones annoyingly, due mostly to a bad nut. I do pick with my thumb straight (slightly bent back?) I’m also curious about this and whether I should fix my technique

Kanon, or Gunnar.

Thank you. Your response re-enforces that I’m not imagining this.

I’d say give it a try and see how it works for you. I’m liking it, but I know it’s going to take some time to get used to.


@Treblemaker IMHO, I am pretty sure you want to keep your thumb as straight as possible when playing. You want your thumb pick to “hit” the string(s) as flat as possible, giving you better solid sound. What exactly do you mean by “droning”? I also discovered that the way you angle the banjo neck has a lot to do with how your fingers and thumb strike the strings. I know Ben says to try and keep it at a 45 deg. angle. So IMHO, again, I would say whatever works for you, but Ben and others are waaay above on the Banjo what works level, I just wouldn’t want to try and ingrain any bad habits will be difficult to break as your experience and speed pick up later on.

Hi Jack

Sounds as though your hitting the fifth strung with more force. The thumb does pack more punch.

Might help to post a video and get some feedback from @BanjoBen. I have studied a lot of pickers vid’s over the years and I can’t say I have saw two people’s thumb action being the same.


Thank you for the response. I was thinking I was on to something but maybe not.

So now, I’m asking the question, can changing a technique to a less than proper method, (for lack of a better word), ever improve a person’s playing?

Hmm, maybe I’m over-analyzing.



Good idea. I’m going to post one this evening.


I’ve found the main goal for even right hand finger picking is your hand needs to be relaxed. If there is any muscle tension it will effect how each finger including your thumb hits the string. I find the more I can relax my hand, the more even the rolls become. I’m not there yet myself, but as soon as I feel tension. I stop rest and start again.

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Thanks Jono. I noticed that curling my thumb does cause my wrist to tighten a bit.

No wrist pain as of yet though.

Coincidentally, I’m on antibiotic now (Cipro) that is notorious for causing severe joint damage. So, if pain crops up, I won’t be sure what caused it. :thinking:

@Treblemaker You actually had me go and check how my thumb strikes the strings. So I played for about a 1 1/2hrs. I noticed that my thumb is straight against the strings with the pick hitting them flush. Now, my fingers are a subject for another time and place…

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Thumb Technique

This video is very exaggerated. First Part is with thumb straight trying to hit straight on. Second part is with thumb curled and pick tilting.

When viewing, I think it looks awkward, and it is likely straying from the fundamentals, but I’m still liking the results. At least so far.


@Treblemaker I guess its kind of like keeping your ring finger down on your right hand. I have NEVER been able to do that, it has to be my pinky but it still plays ok and I have seen a lot of players playing with just pinky finger down. So I guess the bottom line is if it works and you can do it up to speed, then should it really matter?.

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I’m Gunnar, Kanon almost never reads this forum and I have considered changing the username, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I just tried bending my thumb knuckle forward, and found that, because of the way I hold my hand, bending it makes my thumbpick strike perpendicular to the string. I think the others have given some good input, and I would also suggest checking whether it only sounds bad on the 5th string. (Like, try droning the low d instead) if the string is the problem, it will sound good on the d. If your thumb is, it won’t. If it’s
The string, try capoing up two and see if the problem goes away. If it does, then your fifth string nut is bad (like mine) and probably can be replaced. If bending your thumb helps, and doesn’t cost you speed or accuracy, the do it.

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Hi Jack.

Sorry my mistake I should have said can you play a forward roll pattern several times through. Position the camera so that its in front of the pot pointing towards the bridge. That will allow us to see your fingers and thumb picking the strings.

See this video at 2.50 for the camera angle.

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Yes, please create a vid with the camera the other angle. However, from what this video shows, you need to move the thumb more as a single unit then try to “claw” it by bending the last thumb joint.

Ben, if I can have your take on one question. When your banjo thumb pick lands on high G, does it land flat, or tilted at a bit of an angle?


I understand Ben. That answers my question.