Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Hi all,

Please could you tell me if, when beginning to play banjo, you had a sore wrist or hand? Or rather a weak aching?

Did this go away the more you played (I’ve only played less than 40 times), or did your teacher suggest you adopted some sort of exercise of some sort?

Any advice greatly appreciated
Thanks

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Sorry for my english hope you’ll understand though… I think what I’ll say is obvious but its my experience and who knows, it could help you… When I started playing guitar, and had to play fast, I had muscular sore in the right hand, because I tightened too much the plectrum, at the point that I couldn’t hold the plectrum properly no more, it was like a big cramp. I didn’t change the way of handing it but with practice, I managed to relax the right hand with better precision, and the sore never hapened again. It reminds me when I went to ski for the first time, too much tension and energy the first days, and big muscular exertion; then you go relaxing and using less energy making more precise, soft and effective movements. In my little experience, on different instruments, trying to focus on playing relax was always very beneficial, easy to say quite hard to do…

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Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

The first thing to determine is whether you’re tensing up too much. Your right hand movement should come from your wrist, and not from your elbow or arm, and the movement should be relaxed. That’s the thing I remember most about first starting to play was that our natural inclination is to tense up to try to keep the unfamiliar movements under control. Same thing goes with the left hand, gripping the neck and pressing too hard on the strings. If you watch experienced players playing banjo, you’ll see that they don’t exert much energy. Every movement is relaxed. I would recommend taking a few lessons if you can, just to make sure that you’re doing things in a way that won’t cause repetitive stress injuries, etc. If it hurts, then there’s something wrong.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

I’ve played guitar for over 30 years (banjo/mandolin slightly shorter than that), I can play reasonably fast and I have good stamina (can play for hours) - BUT when I started doing plain exercises (spiders, string skipping etc.) a few weeks ago (for the first time), wow, it was difficult in the beginning. There’s always room for improvement. Take it easy.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

with time you will play more relaxed with both hands, your speed will increase, and your hands will not be sore. One thing you can do is make sure you have your banjo in a position that you’re not holding the neck up with your left had and that your right hand can pick in a relaxed state. I play an open back Vega and have to use a strap with it all the time, if I don’t (i.e. rest on my leg) it’s a bit low and my left and right hands are no longer relaxed, and it will hurt after awhile.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

We tend to hold an instrument close to, and straight across our body. However, if you push the neck away from you a bit so that the instrument is angled at perhaps twenty degrees both wrists will be at straighter angles and more comfortable.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Excellent advice above. I occasionally have a similar issue. The three things I found most useful in reducing the frequency of my wrist issue when playing the banjo were:

1. Relax - this is the single most important thing, IMO (on any instrument). I also found this the most difficult advice to follow (years of digging in on the guitar playing rock were hard to undo!). The harder you grip (with either hand), the more tension there’ll be, the more difficult it’ll be to make fast/smooth/fluid movements and the more it’ll exacerbate aches and pains. Make a tight fist with your picking hand and try and shake your wrist, then make a loose, relaxed fist and do the same thing and see how much more easily and comfortably it moves. I still catch myself tensing up sometimes and have to remind myself to relax - as soon as I do, everything feels better.

2. Swing the banjo out so that your picking wrist is in as straight a line with the banjo as you can, rather than bent in towards it.

3. Use a light plectrum. When I started I used a pretty stiff plectrum, thinking that was what’s needed. My mum’s cousin (who also plays) saw it and told me, "That’s no good Michael, it’ll be fighting back at you!". I switched to a much lighter one, which felt far too floppy at first, but I soon realised that he was absolutely right. I find that a lighter plectrum also helps with the relaxing part, as the lack of resistance on it discourages a firm grip.

Enda Scahill’s Banjo Tutor is worth a look, I found it invaluable in developing my technique and getting rid of bad habits.

HTH,

Michael

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Only after following all of the advice above, you may want to try using a thumb pick rather than a plectrum.
You can use it the same way as the plectrum (held between thumb and index finger) but there are several advantages:
1. You don’t need as much pressure (between thumb and index finger) to hold it secure
2. It is far less likely to shift position as you are holding it
3. It is far less likely to drop out of your fingers

It also allows you to shift to finger style playing using the thumb pick as it was designed to be used.
I do this all the time. I found that after practice, I could shift from strumming, to finger picking, to flat picking anytime in a tune. This is especially good for guitar players doing accompaniment because it expands your styles to find the individual tunes. In a tune like ‘The Bus Stop’, I finger pick the first measure and fifth measure of the A part and strum the rest. You could do the same thing flat picking, but it is more difficult flat picking an arpeggio across five strings. But you can still flat pick with a thumb pick if you desire.

Disadvantages:
1. Thumb picks cost more
2. Thumb picks come in many many designs. It may be difficult to find one that you like.

This site has some interesting varieties of picks.
http://fredkellypicks.com/
NOTE: If you want some Fred Kelly picks; several companies sell individual and small counts of Fred Kelly pick on Amazon. But check Fred Kelly’s site for prices. You may be able to get them cheaper there.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

It’s also worth looking at what else you do using your wrist which might be irritating it cumulatively. Computer keyboards and mice, screwdrivers, writing, knitting… they all use the same muscles, joints and tendons and you can only take so much.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Regarding Steve Wiley’s recommendation to the OP re: Thumb picks - they would be too heavy for my liking, as generally speaking tenor banjo players favour lighter gauge picks. Not saying it can’t be done, just wouldn’t be my cuppa tea.

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

I sorted it out - starting using lighter picks, and adopted the right hand grip of Stevie Dunne - ty muchly for all advice, particularly tension-wisenjoyed. But my pinkie keeps on scraping the head when I’m playing - does this matter? Nb. The head on this banjo is not like the plastic ones on Tom Cussen’s, it’s like a grainy synthetic skin, so wondering if this might affect the situation?

Thanks

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

*tension-wise. Blimmin auto correct!

Re: Banjo Sore Right Wrist

Ed, good to hear you sorted it. I wouldn’t think having your pinkie scraping on the head is a huge deal as long as it’s not affecting the tone/volume or causing you irritation. Better to avoid it if you can though - I find resting the heel of my hand lightly against the tailpiece cover helps to keep my hand in a comfortable picking position and away from the head and bridge.

Michael