Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi all,

Another novice question...

I have a couple of the recommended resources and I've been trying to get in a little practice every day (some days are better than others, but on a lot of days it almost sounds musical).  I've observed the various illustrations showing correct posture and hand positioning, and apart from not having a proper frock coat, I think I'm doing that part right.  After about 20-30 minutes, though, I can really feel it in my left shoulder and upper arm!  Like I've been pounding nails or digging.  It eases up right after I finish, though.  Anything to worry about, or just new muscles being used?

I'm right handed, shovel electrons for a living, and have never played any kind of necked instrument before now (standard disclaimer).



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some folks say to hold the banjo with the peg head up at an angle toward the ceiling.

That causes me pain like you mention .  I hold it with the peg head parallel to the floor and things work better for me. It isn't supposed to hurt when you play. You might try different angles and see what works for you.

Tony, bring the neck down. Do what you can to stop the pain. If you're playing with the banjo between your legs, get used to playing it on your right leg. This shortens your left arm's reach of course. Before you play, grab your right shoulder with your left hand, rest your left elbow on your chest. Take your right hand and gently pull your left elbow to your right, feeling a stretch in your left shoulder. Do it for 30 seconds. Don't pull hard. Harder is not better. Above all, when you feel pain playing - Stop. You could be 'shredding' your shoulder muscles, like pulling an old sock apart when the cloth is old. Playing in pain only prolongs healing. How do I know this stuff? I had to do it.

You likely are unconsciously tensing the muscles in your shoulder, neck and upper arm while playing. I have caught myself doing this from time to time too, it can creep up on you when you are playing difficult passages that require a lot of concentration. Next time you sit down to play, pay attention to how your shoulder feels; if it's tense, take a deep breath, drop your arm and wiggle it, relax those muscles; check yourself regularly. Hold the neck in whatever position works for you that requires minimal arm strength to keep it where you want it. Good luck!

What is the scale length of your instrument?

What you are feeling is natural and will go away with time and practice. When I took up banjo and mandolin I was sore like you but now I can play any length of time without the slightest pain and very little fatigue. Try it with steel strings and you will find out what pain is.

You should have someone watch your angles.

I began with a longer instrument...27" scale. The particular angle required to play it irritated the shoulder, and I actually ended up with frozen shoulder. I switched to a shorter scale length ( 25.5" ) for several years, and  my angle changed. It was subtle, but significant. So, just beware....it may not all be normal. Just keep an eye on it.  I would also add that I played too long without breaks.


Sorry for the delay in responding, and thanks for all the replies!

It occurred to me after the fact that I had been outdoors digging post holes and push mowing for the first time this year, and that might have added something to the mix!

Ron and Terry, I tried lowering the angle, and that did feel a bit better.  Dean, yes, I do tend to clamp down on it, and seeing that along with lowering the angle seems to be helping.  Thanks for the warm up tip, Terry!

Bart, my wife took guitar back in college and recalled that she had a similar sensation, and that it eased with continued practice, fingers crossed!  Steel strings!  Hmmm.  Not ready for those, I think, heheh.

Tim, my scale is 26".  I will definitely keep any eye on how this progresses.  At the moment I'm having more trouble finding a little time to practice than I'd like, so no worries there (though I will have the place to myself for a few days coming up soon, so...).  I'll try to put up a short clip when I can get through just a bit more "Juba" without butchering it too badly!  Worst case, if it's just too long a scale, I might have to build another one :D.

Anyway, thanks again, everyone, I greatly appreciate it!


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