Mississippi's Sunny Mountain Boy
Larry is currently teaching two of his own banjo courses in workshops and online:
The Physics Of The Five-String Banjo and The Science Of The Solid Right Hand
Here are some examples of Larry's very detailed information included in his two most important concepts of bluegrass banjo playing - understanding how the banjo physically projects the best sound and exactly how the right hand should play to achieve the best sound. Larry strongly feels these two subjects are the most crucial in playing the banjo correctly and accurately. During his workshop sessions and also online, Larry discusses each of these crucial details in great depth, enabling the student to progress correctly.
Includes discussions of arm, wrist, and hand positions.
Index and Little Finger
Index finger down or little finger down? Or both?
Keeping Your Hand Still
Make sure you understand the true meaning of the word "still".
Each string is basically a different diameter with 5 different tensions. Those tensions are resistance. Each string possesses its own individual resistance. The center of each string at the twelfth fret is where the least resistance is present. If you play too close to the bridge the sound will be real thin and the strings will feel too tight to your right hand with too much resistance for easy playing. Somewhere between the center of the vibrating string and the bridge is your optimum spot to meet the resistance of the string correctly to get the best tone and volume. When you strike the strings at the best resistance location you will get the best tone and also the best volume. If the strings are played at the best resistance spot the volume will be there. You do not have to play physically harder to get volume. If you are meeting the resistance of the strings correctly you are not playing very hard at all.
How To Play Each String
Determine exactly "how" to hit / strike / play each string. Your right hand plays the notes accurately, but also must play the notes with a desirable correct attack. You've got to understand the mechanics of the banjo. The tone ring is there to help create more sustain. Head tightness and the tension of each string transfers sound through the bridge to the head and to the sound chamber.
Include your picks in your thinking. Adjust picks to be comfortable on your fingers by using needle-nose pliers. Pick angle - is debatable. It depends on you / your hand / your finger position, etc. If your picks are not placed on your fingers correctly one or more things could happen.
Snagging or bogging down can occur with picks that are basically straight with no bend. This can make you play too loud and out of control and makes it physically too hard to play correctly and accurately. Sliding can occur across the strings with picks that are bent back too far. The strings will be too easy to play and you will be out of control with what you are trying to do. Sliding picks at too much of an angle across the strings will result in faster playing but you will not achieve a desirable tone.
Your pick angle has to be somewhere between those two extremes. You have to find the right pick angle. "Right" is not the snagging sound or the sliding sound. It's where you are getting the clearest notes, with the best tone, with the best volume, at the correct tempo, and no missed notes.
Fly-Away Fingers of the Right Hand
If your fingers get too far "out of position" away from the strings, two things are likely to happen. It will take a longer amount of time to get back to a next string. And, your string accuracy will probably suffer. It's very possible you may play an incorrect string the next time you play a note with that finger.
Fly-away fingers cause you to be "out of control" and "noisy". Your fingers are not kept close enough to the strings to be very accurate. This type of player plays "loud and fast" in an undesirable manner. Someone possibly told them or they may think that banjo playing is supposed to be loud and fast. Overall, you can play loud and fast and at the same time, play smooth, clear, and clean. If your playing has all of these qualities included, you sound good. It sounds "musical". My grandpa used to say, "Now, you're playing music." How you strike the strings determines how you sound.
I have been told many times, "Your right hand doesn't even look like it is moving." True: At twenty feet my right hand doesn't look like it is moving. My fingers stay very close to the strings. I remember someone asking me, "You play real hard, don't you?" I answered, "Well, not too hard." My real answer is: I don't play hard at all. I play correctly.
You must understand what your right hand should be doing. Every note should be very clean and clear and smooth and loud enough. Some notes are played louder than others. The melody notes are louder than the accompaniment notes. Melody notes should be played louder. You should strive for good tone with good timing with good control.
Ask yourself at all times, "How am I sounding?" If you think about that often, you will get better. If you are meeting the resistance of each string with a good and solid pick stroke - it's easy. Earl Scruggs didn't play real hard - he played right. You've got to have this frame of mind at all times when you play. You've got to think about the resistance of all of the strings. If something is slowing you down or you're missing something every time on a certain tune, something is wrong.
Overall, these right hand thoughts and techniques, including your picks and your understanding of the string resistances, will make your playing better, more accurate, cleaner, smoother, and easier. Your right hand will become to be in better control of the volume, the tone, and also the projection of a good and desirable sound.
The key to becoming a good and accurate banjo player is learning how to master meeting the resistance of the strings correctly.
Mississippi's Sunny Mountain Boy
For more information about private lessons with Larry click here.