Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Beginner's question- how not to sound the thumb string

My progress so far has been rather slow going regarding my right hand.  One problem is that when I strike a string and bring my thumb to rest on the 5th string, I can't bring my hand back up without slightly sounding the thumb string.  How do you remove the thumb from the thumb string without it sounding a little bit?

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I'm a new player, too but I think I've managed to get over this hurdle. You might try just repeating hitting the first string with your nail, resting the thumb on the fifth string, getting your hand in position for another nail strike, and just repeating.  When you play the fifth string after a melody note, you may well use your thumb against the 5th string to push off, moving your hand upwards as the 5th string sounds. If you don't want the 5th string to sound, you need to get your hand into position without the forceful thumb push-off.  Do it slowly enough (start with ultra-low motion) that you're able to propel your hand upward with wrist motion, not using your thumb to push off hard enough to sound the string.  Do it slowly and gently enough so that the fifth doesn't sound.  Once you have it at a snail's pace with lots of concentration on not sounding the fifth, then gradually pick up speed on the same exercise, slowing back down if you start to hear the 5th string. 

Once you've got it, repeat -- hitting the second, then third, then fourth string with your nail.  Eventually, your hand will learn what it needs to do.  You also want to make sure that, as you focus on your thumb, you keep the rest of your hand in proper position.  You don't want to learn to control your thumb but at the same time, inadvertently learn a bad habit for the rest of your hand.

As I said, I'm new to this type of playing but I've played several other instruments for longer.  If I've learned anything, it's that new hand movements seem nearly impossible at first but with sufficient repetition, they become second nature.  It doesn't happen instantly but repetition and analyzing what you're doing wrong will go a long way.

I hope this helps and I also hope that, if I've given advice that others who are more experienced disagree with, they'll correct what I've said.

Thanks, that is helpful.  I'm coming from a guitar background, so stroke style banjo is pretty much an entirely new experience for me.  I've never had problems learning a right hand technique in the past, be it finger picking, alternate picking, sweep picking, etc... The right hand stroke style technique is something entirely different and is quite challenging.

The right hand.....feels so foreign at first. I almost gave it up, but I sat for weeks on my couch, letting that hand drop down. Eventually, it feels even better than picking.

Thanks for chiming in, Tim.  I was actually just watching your youtube lesson where you teach Juba.  It looks like when you play the strike and a half, your thumb pulls away slightly towards the top of the rim as you raise your hand so that you don't sound the thumb string.  Is that accurate?

Not really. Just lift it, and do not pull the string.

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