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Thread: Right Hand Technique

  1. #1
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default Right Hand Technique

    Over my many years of playing & teaching (I'm in my 70's now) I've struggled to find the most effective way to help students develop right hand skills. Truth be told, it's the hardest part of playing any folk stringed instrument. I've always rejected the idea of "strumming patterns" for anything beyond learning the beginning hand to hand coordination & allowing one to participate in jam sessions etc. I've developed what I call The Right Hand Menu around the concept that there are "X number of things" your right hand can do. Not unlike the analogy to say Mexican food, where there are "X number of ingredients" in the numerous different delicious items on the menu, if you catch my drift. If one feels the need to have that explained in depth, I have a book that can be found in Mandolin Cafe's classifieds.

    Apologies to the left-handed players, you'll need to call it The Left Hand Menu, but you're used to those adjustments I suppose?

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    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I did a couple things to help my hand strength and ability to manipulate the pick. One was I use those Chinese balls you roll around in your hand. Two I hold the pick in my hand and practice manipulating its position with just my fingers once I can make a movement I then work on doing it while swinging my hand around. I know it sounds funny but it worked for me.
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Is there a link to more information about the book?

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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    As much as I lust to play really fast, deliberately slowing down is the biggest thing ive found to improve tone. That, and being relaxed. I try to listen to the quality of the notes im playing, and either simplify the break i am playing or try to slow down to make it sound better.
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    Registered User Rickker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by RobP View Post
    As much as I lust to play really fast, deliberately slowing down is the biggest thing ive found to improve tone. That, and being relaxed. I try to listen to the quality of the notes im playing, and either simplify the break i am playing or try to slow down to make it sound better.
    You are 100% right on this, RobP! For me, the faster I play, the worse it gets. I love playing fiddle tunes, and it is a fact that these tunes sound just great when played well at a moderate tempo, when you can hear the notes ring clearly for their time value. A good example is the St. Anne's Reel. I think it sounds better at a moderate tempo than at breakneck speed.

    As for right hand technique, I have studied this for years. It is the first thing I look for when watching videos or players in live performances. The styles are all over the map. Compare Sam Bush's highly energetic style with the subdued smoothness of John Reischman. Two great players making great sounds in a completely different manner. Or the frequently debated planted pinky vs. an unplanted one. Both used very effectively. Is there really a "right" way to use the right hand?

    .....Rickker

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I do wrist curls with a weight to strengthen my forearms,,I used to take a 2,3 or 5 lb. Lifting plate and hold it it in my right hand like a pick and start to fan it like tremelo,no mandolin in hand of course when doing this,I don't need to do this anymore but I still do wrist curls..

  10. #7

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    For anyone interested, here’s a piece on Laban movement analysis along with other discussions at the bottom of the page.
    Interesting that psychology (and Culture, upbringing) plays a large part in how we move our right hands.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laban_movement_analysis

    Question, if you were told to simply walk across a stage with 1000 people watching you, how would you walk? Do you ‘know’?

  11. #8

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    From the link, these are the main areas:
    The categories of BESS are as follows:[5]

    Body - what the body is doing and the interrelationships within the body
    Effort - the qualities of movement
    Shape - how the body is changing shape and what motivates it to do so
    Space - where the body is moving and the harmonic relationships in space

    This is the intellectualisation of what’s happening along with tuition, but of course you can get quite a long way by just letting your body ‘think’ about it, using repetition, relaxation, listening, and the love or joy of moving in space -if that makes any sense

    Strumming exercises are great, especially for kids, clapping, drumming, rhythmic group chanting. All these things to improve body coordination. And especially understanding the factors that can lead to people losing coordination too. (I’m thinking of self conscious teenagers)

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I just got back from a long weekend of jamming, and have firmly decided to change how I hold my pick. This is after having jammed the high first string into the quick under my index fingernail 4 or 5 times while playing tremolo, leaving my index finger bleeding and sore enough that I had to put the mandolin down and play banjo and double bass instead for a while.

    I had been playing with a somewhat clenched hand where the thumb was holding the pick against the 1st joint in the index finger, and the index fingertip was pointed up toward the strings. In tremolo this position allowed me to shift the pick so a wider area hits the strings, allowing extremely easy double and triple stops. Most of the time when I wasn't playing tremolo this was not a problem but in tremolo the index finger was just naturally dropping and getting mixed in with the strings, and then suddenly OUCH!!! It was literally torture.

    So, now, the right hand is in a relaxed half open position, the thumb and the index fingertip more casually holding the pick, with the fingertip pointing mostly downward, more perpendicular to the string, and protecting the quick and fingernail area.

    This does change the pick angle and it makes the transition from single picking to tremolo very smooth. It also produces a more clear tremolo and it allows more clear fast melody picking within tremolo, which I really like. Double stops are still pretty easy to do, but it does make triple stops more difficult, something I'll be working on for the next few months.

    I think what I like the best about this new right hand picking posture -- aside from not jamming the high #1 string under my fingernail anymore -- is the relaxed posture. It feels much more comfortable and easily sustained, and tension while I'm doing tremolo is pretty much gone.

    Everyone's hands are different and what works for me may not work for other people... It's very possible that this pain driven change is going to be a very good thing for me in the long run. There's a learning curve to making this kind of change, but it's already showing a lot of promise. And my index finger feels much better.
    -- Don

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    Registered User Don Julin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I have put together a set of lessons that will loosen up your right hand, improve your tone, sharpen your timing, and get your right hand in shape.https://www.mandolinshealtheworld.co...ories/20181218

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  16. #11

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Another exercise that helped me at one step was when I saw this Spanish flamenco guitarist who said you should, just as an exercise, have your hand loose and when the metronome strikes, you should literally attack the string with a downbeat and then wait on the other side of the string to do the next upbeat attack. He was saying that it helps some (relaxed) students to really focus on being ON the beat rather than accepting a little error with a half hearted attempt.

    I kind of like some of those rhythms, but I guess I’m still too relaxed to play them!

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    My transition to a different pick hold and posture is working out nicely. I love the smooth fast transition from single-picking to tremolo. And I'm finding all kinds of nuances with pick angle that are available now; little by little I'm trying to catalog in my mind which angles produce which tones and such. Both double and triple stops are starting to come easily again. I'm still not as consistent in tremelo with this new pick hold as I was with the old one, probably because there are more tone related nuances, but I remember the same inconsistencies happened with the old pick hold that I was using, so I'm not worried. It will just take time and practice. And of course there have been no more high-string-under-the-fingernail injuries, which is great.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
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  18. #13

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I could go on and on about this topic, so to spare everyone, here's the essence.

    I've found that the amount of the pick that is exposed is most affected by how tightly the index finger is curled and how far the thumb is advanced relative to the curl. I normally use a "loose" curl with the pad of my thumb positioned roughly over the curl, but lately, I've tightened the curl and advanced my thumb so that my thumb sticks much farther out relative to the curl in my index finger.

    This enables me to significantly reduce the amount of pick that is exposed, which is my goal. (How much pick should be exposed is a whole other subject that I won't get into here, aside from saying that it's my goal to reduce the exposure as much as I can).

    Aside from plainly not being used to that "new" pick grip is what is most challenging for me at the moment, and a secondary challenge is to keep the fleshy part of my thumb and index finger from rubbing the strings, given that so little of the pick is exposed. However, in those moments where I seem to have my "new" pick grip just right, it's obvious that my pick control is improved it's easier to play faster while remaining relaxed.

    A work in progress, for sure.

    P.S. - At one of the mando camps that I attended, Jordan Ramsey related his experience with taking a lesson from Andy Statman, where Andy spent the entire lesson just talking about gripping the pick. I thought that was pretty funny at the time, but I have come to appreciate the higher wisdom in Andy's lesson.


    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    I just got back from a long weekend of jamming, and have firmly decided to change how I hold my pick. This is after having jammed the high first string into the quick under my index fingernail 4 or 5 times while playing tremolo, leaving my index finger bleeding and sore enough that I had to put the mandolin down and play banjo and double bass instead for a while.

    I had been playing with a somewhat clenched hand where the thumb was holding the pick against the 1st joint in the index finger, and the index fingertip was pointed up toward the strings. In tremolo this position allowed me to shift the pick so a wider area hits the strings, allowing extremely easy double and triple stops. Most of the time when I wasn't playing tremolo this was not a problem but in tremolo the index finger was just naturally dropping and getting mixed in with the strings, and then suddenly OUCH!!! It was literally torture.

    So, now, the right hand is in a relaxed half open position, the thumb and the index fingertip more casually holding the pick, with the fingertip pointing mostly downward, more perpendicular to the string, and protecting the quick and fingernail area.

    This does change the pick angle and it makes the transition from single picking to tremolo very smooth. It also produces a more clear tremolo and it allows more clear fast melody picking within tremolo, which I really like. Double stops are still pretty easy to do, but it does make triple stops more difficult, something I'll be working on for the next few months.

    I think what I like the best about this new right hand picking posture -- aside from not jamming the high #1 string under my fingernail anymore -- is the relaxed posture. It feels much more comfortable and easily sustained, and tension while I'm doing tremolo is pretty much gone.

    Everyone's hands are different and what works for me may not work for other people... It's very possible that this pain driven change is going to be a very good thing for me in the long run. There's a learning curve to making this kind of change, but it's already showing a lot of promise. And my index finger feels much better.

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  20. #14
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Look at Jill’s right hand technique in the songs these.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...A-Week-Project
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    Look at Jillís right hand technique in the songs these.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...A-Week-Project
    Hmmm, that works very nicely for Jill...

    Unfortunately for me, it's almost exactly the posture I was using in tremolo when I jammed the high string under my index fingernail multiple times...

    I had to go with a more relaxed, open hand, index finger pointing down to the strings, thumb holding the pick against the outer edge of the index finger just touching the first joint. This is the same posture I have been using all along for standard single picking, so the transition to and from tremolo is just a mental decision now.

    As mentioned earlier, I'm still working out the new pick angle tone and volume related nuances, but this posture is coming along nicely for me.

    It's sort of exciting to change something so fundamental; it's like it freshens the air.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Here's a video i've posted over and over (and probalby watched a hundred times myself), Bush/McCoury/ Skehan/Joliff, Hoffman. You don't really want to coyp anybody, it's more getting ideas to try and see if they work for you ergonomically and tonewise, adn yes, I think pick choice makes a big difference, pointiness, thickness, shape.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTJJdlswFPE

    Also there's lots of variation in forearm angle to the strings, Apollon and the guy from the Dillards played w/ forearm almost parallel to strings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6aYDprqwbM
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  24. #17
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Hmmm, that works very nicely for Jill...

    Unfortunately for me, it's almost exactly the posture I was using in tremolo when I jammed the high string under my index fingernail multiple times...

    I had to go with a more relaxed, open hand, index finger pointing down to the strings, thumb holding the pick against the outer edge of the index finger just touching the first joint. This is the same posture I have been using all along for standard single picking, so the transition to and from tremolo is just a mental decision now.

    As mentioned earlier, I'm still working out the new pick angle tone and volume related nuances, but this posture is coming along nicely for me.

    It's sort of exciting to change something so fundamental; it's like it freshens the air.
    That has to hurt but how did you jam it under your fingernail if you were keeping it parallel to the strings? When I hold the pick up close like that my index is curled up inside my thumb lightly not clenched. I seem to move the pick around a lot sometimes I have it by my nail sometimes a bit higher on the first tip joint and sometimes right on the middle section of the index finger as it looks in Jill's vid. I find that to be the most challenging style if I want to keep all my other fingers not holding the pick curled in. I asked about her thumb movement as well and am told it is a habit carried over from banjo but in experimenting it seems to give me a bit quicker reaction time in some cases but is anything but second nature.

    I have small hands for a guy and shorter fingers so I can see finger length playing a significant role in how someone approaches holding the pick. Length, and how big the fingers are, skinny one fats ones all make a difference.
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  26. #18
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    That has to hurt but how did you jam it under your fingernail if you were keeping it parallel to the strings? ...
    It was at a good jam so there was a degree of excitement going on, plus it was a loud jam so I was very concerned about mandolin volume; I probably wasn't paying attention to posture as well as I do when practicing at home. I also keep my nails extremely short to prevent damage to instruments, so there's not much contact space there before the quick gets hit. And lastly, my hands were changing a bit due to seasonal weather combined with arthritis; I don't let the arthritis stop me, but those finger joints were probably swollen. Long and the short of it, the end of my index finger just wouldn't stay put.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    ... When I hold the pick up close like that my index is curled up inside my thumb lightly not clenched. I seem to move the pick around a lot sometimes I have it by my nail sometimes a bit higher on the first tip joint and sometimes right on the middle section of the index finger as it looks in Jill's vid. I find that to be the most challenging style if I want to keep all my other fingers not holding the pick curled in. I asked about her thumb movement as well and am told it is a habit carried over from banjo but in experimenting it seems to give me a bit quicker reaction time in some cases but is anything but second nature. ...
    This all sounds very familiar. I did like the clenched hold for tremolo, it provided a very consistent foundation, double and triple stops were easy, and having used it for about 8 years, i was getting along well with it. But, I use a relaxed posture for single picking, which meant a lot of transitions going from one posture to the other.

    I'm really glad to have those transitions gone. And as mentioned earlier, the other things I like about the relaxed posture during tremolo are lower tension and all the available pick angle nuances. The tremolo double and triple stops are back in good shape at this time, so I'm good with that. It's just going to take some time, probably in months, to get use of the pick angle nuances polished and smooth; they really govern tone, which is important to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    ... I have small hands for a guy and shorter fingers so I can see finger length playing a significant role in how someone approaches holding the pick. Length, and how big the fingers are, skinny one fats ones all make a difference.
    Yup, small hands for me too. And during the winter, fat joints which slightly change the angle of the fingers.

    While the string under the fingernail was an extremely painful experience, at this time I'm glad it happened because if forced me into a new mode that is already showing great promise!

    Thank you for your interest in this!
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  27. #19

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    I’ve just tried this... and it works.
    I had a tune that I always had problems with, even slowly. Now I understand, I was looking at the wrong hand.
    It should be easy, playing a well known tune ONLY using the right hand, after all there are only four strings to choose from, and two picking directions... but no, not so easy.

    Also cool to see the student practice fast even after the instructor tells him to slow down, three times. It could have been easier for him.

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  29. #20

    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    ... Long and the short of it, the end of my index finger just wouldn't stay put.....

    While the string under the fingernail was an extremely painful experience, at this time I'm glad it happened because if forced me into a new mode that is already showing great promise!

    Thank you for your interest in this!
    I too have suffered catching the index finger under a string while playing from the closed hand position. For me it was happening if I relaxed the curl of my hand and the index finger would drift and catch a string, just enough to be torture. I work on this to keep from drifting by keeping my thumb a bit more forward and the pick point more perpendicular to the strings while trying to maintain a relaxed hand. A bit hard to have 'focused relaxation' but worth the effort
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Right Hand Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I too have suffered catching the index finger under a string while playing from the closed hand position. ...
    Sorry to hear it happens to you too, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one... I get what you say about "focused relaxation", for the first time in 8 years I'm double checking my posture while playing again. I think the closed hand posture is at least somewhat natural at least for me, as sometimes I catch myself moving that direction again. Once I'm completely out of that habit, it'll be the relaxed open hand posture all the time for me.

    One good sign, I've been working on Little Drummer Boy for a December gig we're doing, and my beard is wet, which means I was drooling. And that's on mandolin, not banjo, so something must be right.

    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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