How to use banjo picks

Written by lon quist
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How to use banjo picks
Thumb Picks, Finger Picks, Flat Picks (Photos by Del Lonnquist)

Playing banjo with picks will give your performance more volume. Whether playing bluegrass or country music on a five string banjo or playing Dixieland jazz on a tenor or plectrum banjo, the choice of the right pick can improve your playing. The wrong pick can slow you down. The excitement you get from creating music on the banjo, no matter which style you play, will be enhanced with the right pick choice.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 1 thumb pick
  • 2 finger picks
  • 1 flat pick

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  1. 1

    Playing without picks on your fingers is easier and you may find that the picks slow down your playing at first. Practice will remedy that.

  2. 2

    Choose a good quality plastic thumb pick. Many banjo players use the white Dunlop or National brands. You also have to consider the size and thickness of the pick. In general, a larger thumb calls for a larger and thicker pick, while a smaller thumb will be more comfortable with a smaller pick.

    How to use banjo picks
  3. 3

    Visit your local music centre and try on several thumb picks. If there is a banjo available, put on the picks and try them out. See how tightly it clings to your thumb and how comfortable it feels on your thumb. Some Dunlop picks come with a slight twist. The twist brings the pick into a flatter alignment with the string. These picks all work but it is important that you choose the one that will work best for you.

  4. 4

    Place a metal finger pick on your index or pointer finger. The metal that wraps around your finger should be malleable enough so that it will form itself to the finger above the first knuckle. It should protrude slightly beyond the end of the finger. Place a second finger pick on the middle finger. You will have several choices. Some have slightly rounded ends, while others have a more pointed end. You will hear a slightly different tone from each style.

    How to use banjo picks
    Finger Picks & Thumb Pick
  5. 5

    Play a five-string banjo using the picks. Properly fit, they should become a small extension on your thumb and fingers. The plastic thumb pick will give you the exact sound you are looking for and the metal finger picks will produce the volume and clarity you will need for public performances.

  6. 6

    Play a song on a tenor banjo and the flat pick you choose will make a difference in volume and speed. The size and thickness of the pick will make a difference when playing single strings or a chord on all four strings The flat pick or plectrum comes in several sizes, shapes and thicknesses. You hold the pick between your thumb and finger, and the wrong size and shape will bring fatigue to both when playing for an extended time. Try out the various shapes for the most comfortable feel. Notice the slight difference in tone from the different sizes. The selection of the right flat pick for both tenor and plectrum banjo styles will have a direct effect on speed and control.

    How to use banjo picks
    Midwst Banjo Club Flat Pick

Tips and warnings

  • Try several picks before you choose.
  • Talk to other banjo players for suggestions
  • Be sure your banjo is set up properly for ease of playing.
  • Don't loan your picks to other players. They must be formed to fit your fingers.

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