Picking Hand Exercises

There is a big difference between “picking” and “strumming!” Strumming refers to what we do in chord-melody; strum all four strings with down and up-strokes. Picking refers to what we do in single-string technique; pick and tremolo only one string at a time. I use the word “strumolo” to refer to a four-string tremolo. While they seem similar, they are two very different techniques that exercise different muscles.

The most-important implication here is that jazz improv—being a single-string style—naturally requires strong single-string picking technique! As I have slaved away on my scales, arpeggios, and jazz patterns (doesn’t everybody? You should!), I have become increasingly aware of the differences, and the need to approach them differently.

Picking is a much-smaller, tightly-controlled movement pattern; this naturally exercises the “fine motor-movement” muscles. Strumming is a bigger, more free-flowing movement pattern; this naturally exercises the “gross motor-movement” muscles. If all you do is strum or pick, you only exercise one set of muscles! To play all of the great historical styles available for the plectrum banjo (what better way to learn?), you need both; exercise in picking will improve your strumming (and vice versa).

So, while I have been concentrating on picking the last few years in my effort to finally learn jazz improv (the reason for all the harping on scales and arpeggios), I have taken care to balance that with strumming exercises (Peabody strokes especially). It always amazes me at how much easier Peabody-style is after getting that fine motor-movement exercise!

I started on tenor banjo at the age of 12; my Father (Myron Hinkle) was a hot single-string player, so naturally that’s what I started learning. After one year of playing though, I switched to plectrum because I found I could hear and play chord melody really well. Being a lazy teenager (not driven at all), I loved the easiness of it; this made me even lazier!

When I met and heard Buddy Wachter at the age of 28, I was dumb-struck; I had no idea that kind of music could be played on a plectrum banjo! That’s when I restarted the process of learning single-string technique. I learned Duo-style picking so I could copy his recording of Liebestraum, and worked up Perry Bechtel’s Dixie Medley and Harry Reser’s Cat and Dog (actually recorded by him on plectrumnot tenor!); click on the titles for videos. Those were made 14 years ago by the way; I have improved just a bit since then! My prior tenor experience of course helped, but wow, did my tremolo improve! I soon discovered that my chord melody strumming technique took a giant leap forward as well. I hoped that learning those songs would lead me to jazz improv, but it wasn’t quite enough.

Unfortunately, I stalled out at that point due to family, college, and work commitments. About 11 years ago (at the age of 48—as I was getting close to Army retirement), I got back on the horse in a big way; I’m finally now reaping the rewards of the hard work. It’s never too late, folks!

This effort spurred me to write Beyond Chord Melody (click here to download a free copy); I’m the type who learns best by teaching others. The publication of that book led to an offer by the Clifford Essex Music Co. Ltd. to update their huge collection of “classic” plectrum banjo sheet music (link) and their old method book, Plectrum Playing for Modern Banjoists by Emile Grimshaw (I can’t offer that one for free! Click here to buy one).

The Classic style gave me a way to apply all the single-string scale and arpeggio work that I was doing; it has dramatically affected my learning curve! Check out my YouTube videos if you are unfamiliar with this great old style (link); it long-predates Eddie Peabody and Harry Reser! I firmly believe that anyone can learn and benefit from it (try it and see for yourself!).

Anyway, in the process of writing Volume II of Beyond Chord Melody (out by the end of this year hopefully), I have found it necessary to conserve expensive space in the book. I covered the picking-hand pretty well in the original book, but have found new exercises; I will start posting them here on this page. Watch for more in the near future! As always, I offer these lessons for free, but feel free to make a donation through my GoFundMe page or by PayPal (banjoplayer1@yahoo.com) if you like.

First up is this newest lesson:

This one could be considered to be a precursor for my Duo Style lesson: link. And here is the video: link

I am currently updating and improving the Peabody Stroke lesson, and will post a link here (and announce it) when it is done.

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