Anchor Fingers To Head
If you can learn comfortably to play with both fingers
"anchored," your playing will be the better for it. Over the years, I've
had students who took to it with no trouble whatsoever, some who managed
after some trial, and some who fought valiantly but could never do it.
Use some prudence.... don't start hating the banjo just in an effort to
reach some ideal.
That having been said... the best solution I have ever found for
learning to anchor both fingers is double-sided tape. You can find it in
any hardware store, often known as carpet tape. If you buy the very thin
stuff and place a small square on the head where you want to anchor, I
think you will find that it really helps keep your fingers in place. It
won't hold them down like super glue, but will provide just enough
resistance to the tendency to 'fly away' to give you time to develop the
muscle memory to overcome it.
As a rule, by the time the tape has lost its stick, you can remove it and
correct the extraneous movement on your own. If another fresh piece of
tape is required, so be it.
While I no doubt have not caught all the posts on the
recent thread of one finger vs. two (and which one?), here's one piece of
advice that I've found useful in working with players who encounter this
If your goal is to have both fingers planted, but your ring finger tends to
move (especially when your middle finger hits a string -- I think that
there is a physiological reason for this by the way), try putting *only*
your ring finger down on the head for a while -- maybe two to four weeks.
Play every song you've ever played to get the brain to hand connection
going. Then, once your ring finger is staying down, (and of course your
wrist is arched, your playing is relaxed and you're getting good volume and
good tone), try placing your pinky finger down. Chances are, once your ring
finger is trained, the pinky will follow and you'll have two fingers
anchoring the right hand on the head.
This has worked with many students who have come to me with this problem
and hope it helps some of you who are concerned with this issue. Like John
and many others have indicated, this is not something to get totally bent
out of shape about, as some great players play with only the ring or pinky
In my own playing adventures, I find that the instrument itself will
sometimes determine where one falls on this issue. When I acquired my
Gibson RB 1 a couple of years back, I found that the banjo had noticeably
more bottom end if I kept just one finger down (which turned out to be my
ring finger -- the pinky alone wouldn't have given me enough support). The
reason for this I suppose is that in this case the banjo head has less
contact with other objects (meaning fingers and bridge, and possibly
tailpiece if you *really* wanted to crank it down!). With one finger down
instead of two, it sounded slightly "larger" (you wouldn't think it
would've made that much of a difference, but it did). This position also
allowed my right hand to get a little closer to the bridge for lead
playing, which also helped the overall sound of this particular instrument.
So, I switched to this right hand position.
Back in the early 80s both Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck experimented with a
right hand position in which only the ring finger anchors the hand for much
the same reasons.
I'm now using a 1937 Gibson 75 model on stage that seems to sound just fine
with two fingers down and a lead position that is slightly further from the
bridge -- so I've adjusted back.
Moral: experiment and go for that which sounds good...always stay relaxed
and keep the wrist arched, and at least *one* finger anchored on the head
(unless you're playing two finger back-up like J. D., but that's another