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Old 02-12-2019, 11:47 AM
Dino Silone Dino Silone is offline
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Default Fingerpicking: Right hand position, Dave Van Ronk, Palm Muting

I first learned thumb and two finger, alternate thumb fingerpicking in the mid-1970s, through a few lessons at Eddie Simonís ďGuitar Study CenterĒ in NYC. Guitar was never my main instrument (until recently), and I worked as a bass-player for a number of years. I donít know whether I picked up a weird technique through those three or four lessons, or whether I translated straight-ahead overhand technique from bass to guitar, but a number of months ago I realized that my right-hand technique is strange.

Iíd heard it said that Dave Van Ronk also had a strange right-hand position, and after looking at a bunch of YouTube videos of him, I can say that itís identical to the one Iíve used for the last 40+ years. Wrist high over the strings, right forearm in the air, pinkie anchored. Thumb closer to the bridge than the two fingers (opposite of ďnormalĒ, where the fingers are closer to the bridge than the thumb.

This technique, at least for me, has some advantages, both for speed and dynamics - but that could just be because Iím used to it. It has two major disadvantages, though: The first is that it has repeatedly led to bouts of painful tendonitis in my right hand and wrist. The second is that you canít palm mute.

Iíve always worked around not palm muting by using my left hand to accomplish the same thing, e.g. when playing in E, I would mute the 6th string by reaching my thumb around, or the A string by using a finger that was already holding down the E on the 4th string against the 5th string, to muffle it. And, when the bass note is not an open string, by just releasing some of the pressure on the bass note after sounding it.

Mostly because of the tendonitis issue, but also because of watching a lot of YouTube, Iíve been trying to relearn to pick using the more common technique. But itís an effort - the relative lengths of my thumb and fingers really seems to favor ďthumb behind the fingersĒ rather than the more common position.

Palm muting in the ďcountry bluesĒ way, i.e. not a steady thud-like mute, but more a selective mute that allows the bass note to sound for an instant, and then be cut short, also isnít coming easily, particularly without a thumb pick.

Anyway - Iím interested in hearing about how others approach the right hand for fingerpicking, and particularly if anyone else uses a more unorthodox technique, and what your experience has been.
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Old 02-12-2019, 12:22 PM
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fazool fazool is offline
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I abhor instructors and "experts" who say there is a right or wrong way to do something.

Anyone who says you MUST do it a certain way is automatically excluded from all consideration in my mind.

There can be suggestions and ideas on things that might help. But every human body is different.

I laugh when I hear self-proclaimed experts argue whether you "must never wrap your thumb" versus "you should always wrap your thumb" and the never-ending "thou must never anchor a pinky" versus "you MUST anchor your pinky".

It goes on and on ad nauseum
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Old 02-12-2019, 12:48 PM
Howard Emerson Howard Emerson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dino Silone View Post
I first learned thumb and two finger, alternate thumb fingerpicking in the mid-1970s, through a few lessons at Eddie Simonís ďGuitar Study CenterĒ in NYC. Guitar was never my main instrument (until recently), and I worked as a bass-player for a number of years. I donít know whether I picked up a weird technique through those three or four lessons, or whether I translated straight-ahead overhand technique from bass to guitar, but a number of months ago I realized that my right-hand technique is strange.

Iíd heard it said that Dave Van Ronk also had a strange right-hand position, and after looking at a bunch of YouTube videos of him, I can say that itís identical to the one Iíve used for the last 40+ years. Wrist high over the strings, right forearm in the air, pinkie anchored. Thumb closer to the bridge than the two fingers (opposite of ďnormalĒ, where the fingers are closer to the bridge than the thumb.

This technique, at least for me, has some advantages, both for speed and dynamics - but that could just be because Iím used to it. It has two major disadvantages, though: The first is that it has repeatedly led to bouts of painful tendonitis in my right hand and wrist. The second is that you canít palm mute.

Iíve always worked around not palm muting by using my left hand to accomplish the same thing, e.g. when playing in E, I would mute the 6th string by reaching my thumb around, or the A string by using a finger that was already holding down the E on the 4th string against the 5th string, to muffle it. And, when the bass note is not an open string, by just releasing some of the pressure on the bass note after sounding it.

Mostly because of the tendonitis issue, but also because of watching a lot of YouTube, Iíve been trying to relearn to pick using the more common technique. But itís an effort - the relative lengths of my thumb and fingers really seems to favor ďthumb behind the fingersĒ rather than the more common position.

Palm muting in the ďcountry bluesĒ way, i.e. not a steady thud-like mute, but more a selective mute that allows the bass note to sound for an instant, and then be cut short, also isnít coming easily, particularly without a thumb pick.

Anyway - Iím interested in hearing about how others approach the right hand for fingerpicking, and particularly if anyone else uses a more unorthodox technique, and what your experience has been.
Hi Dino,
I watched a live video of Dave playing St.James Infirmiry, and yeah.....that's a tecchnique that is just fraught with issues, but it didn't hold Dave back.

You, on the other hand (so to speak), have issues, and they can be dealt with.

The first one is the tendonitis. There's a really good chance that pressing your pinky down for an anchor is the culprit. I've had several students over the years that had the same pain in their forearm, and when I told them to stop anchoring for a little bit, the pain went away.

After that? It was their choice. I just made the observation, but their body was screaming something that their minds just couldn't decipher.

So the next thing: Muting. First of all it's not done with the palm, but it's been referred to as palm muting forever, and always will be. It's really done with the side of hand down from the pinky, but there's are myriad variations because nobody it built the same.

In any case.......

Not being able to see you physically playing guitar, I can't begin to help you sort our some possibilities. Guitar size vs your physicality, your guitar posture as it relates to how you hold the guitar, sitting or standing, etc........all those things affect the proceedings.

The good thing is that YOU know what you're trying to get in terms of a sound, and you realize that your current posture is precluding your progress.

If you'd like to post a video, or even Facetime with me I'd be happy to observe and make some suggestions.

If you'd like to text or call I'm at 631-988-8920, and this is a gratis offer.

Best regards,
Howard Emerson
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Old 02-12-2019, 12:54 PM
Ed66 Ed66 is online now
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Very true. Guidance is fine, but in something that is so subjective and expressive as music to insist on absolute adherence to any methodology is counterintuitive.
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Old 02-12-2019, 12:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dino Silone View Post
Iím interested in hearing about how others approach the right hand for fingerpicking, and particularly if anyone else uses a more unorthodox technique, and what your experience has been.
I use what works with what I'm playing. There is no single technique or position.
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Old 02-12-2019, 01:33 PM
Dino Silone Dino Silone is offline
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Originally Posted by Howard Emerson View Post
Hi Dino,
I watched a live video of Dave playing St.James Infirmiry, and yeah.....that's a tecchnique that is just fraught with issues, but it didn't hold Dave back.

You, on the other hand (so to speak), have issues, and they can be dealt with.

The first one is the tendonitis. There's a really good chance that pressing your pinky down for an anchor is the culprit. I've had several students over the years that had the same pain in their forearm, and when I told them to stop anchoring for a little bit, the pain went away.

After that? It was their choice. I just made the observation, but their body was screaming something that their minds just couldn't decipher.

So the next thing: Muting. First of all it's not done with the palm, but it's been referred to as palm muting forever, and always will be. It's really done with the side of hand down from the pinky, but there's are myriad variations because nobody it built the same.

In any case.......

Not being able to see you physically playing guitar, I can't begin to help you sort our some possibilities. Guitar size vs your physicality, your guitar posture as it relates to how you hold the guitar, sitting or standing, etc........all those things affect the proceedings.

The good thing is that YOU know what you're trying to get in terms of a sound, and you realize that your current posture is precluding your progress.

If you'd like to post a video, or even Facetime with me I'd be happy to observe and make some suggestions.

If you'd like to text or call I'm at 631-988-8920, and this is a gratis offer.

Best regards,
Howard Emerson
Thanks, Howard, for the detailed reply and your generosity! Iíve actually figured out how to make the guitar SOUND pretty much the way I want with my technique - the only real issue was the tendonitis. The way Iíve been dealing with that it to do as you suggested, and not push down so hard with my pinkie, and also to change my position while playing.

Part of my style involves very fast syncopated rolls, which I find much easier to do with my palm up away from the guitar. But, when I donít need to do that, I find that making a real effort to lower my wrist at the moment I start to feel that pulling sensation that used to lead to trouble, has helped me to avoid further trouble. This has worked for a few months now.

For me, right hand muting works sometimes, and Iíve been trying to learn to incorporate it. But the geometry of my hand often makes this really forced, whereas accomplishing this with my left hand comes naturally. So I usually wind up falling back to what Iíve done for years.

Iím interested in hearing what other folks who may have unconventional styles do.
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Old 02-12-2019, 06:26 PM
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The pain would probably get me experimenting for a different placement of arm/hand/wrist that didn't aggravate it. I don't have any discomfort when I play. Nor do I anchor my picking hand in any manner.

I'm self-taught. By that I mean I bought book of chords, a guitar and complemented them with buckets of ambition and enthusiasm. I never consulted any printed tutorials or consulted with anyone. I held the guitar in a manner and with a posture that was comfortable for me and went about learning. Nothing has changed.

The guitar sits on the right (spelled w-r-o-n-g) thigh and both feet are flat on the ground. My picking hand is loosely held floating above the strings and at an angle to the strings rather than perpendicular. I always use a thumb pick and grow my nails just long enough to get dirty.

I like to think of my playing as successful, in the objective sense, rather than in some arbitrary or vague notion of subjective. It gets the music out and so far no one has excused himself to race a Lemming because of it.

One thing I will admit is that I agree I could benefit from better form. Old dogs take pride in their journeys and I'm no different. But, if pain was advising me to swallow my pride I'd give it a fair go.
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Old 02-12-2019, 08:13 PM
G-Money G-Money is offline
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Yeah, OP and Van Ronk's right hand fingerstyle position is what I have, and I've long wondered why it's hard to even find discussion of it. One source I saw online in a classical guitar site said the "thumb inside" technique is what they teach and enourage in lute playing. Van Ronk has the thumb even more inside than I do for sure. The concern they talk about on the few sites I've seen have to do with fingers colliding with the thumb, something I get a little of but it's manageable. I don't have any hint of tendonitus but guess I should watch out for that.

I've wondered how much I should try to force myself to unlearn the "wrong" technique I have and move to that awful and awkward "thumb out" technique. It's too hard as a proposition versus sticking to my serviceable thumb and three fingers inside/right below form. Open to hearing from those that might recommend it being worth it however. For one thing, I can't even contemplate growing my thumbnail long enough to get it involved moving the thumb so parallel to the strings the way they seem to teach ("make a fist, point your thumb towards the headstock..."). Anyway thanks OP for the thread.
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Old 02-12-2019, 09:25 PM
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rick-slo rick-slo is offline
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Yep, Dave Van Ronk's hand position is pretty bad sound wise and limits a lot of what you could play. That said whatever floats one's boat.

Classical guitarists generally play with the knuckles more parallel to the strings and the thumb out further from the bridge than the other fingers.
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Old 02-12-2019, 09:51 PM
JAMKC JAMKC is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Howard Emerson View Post
Hi Dino,

I watched a live video of Dave playing St.James Infirmiry, and yeah.....that's a tecchnique that is just fraught with issues, but it didn't hold Dave back.



You, on the other hand (so to speak), have issues, and they can be dealt with.



The first one is the tendonitis. There's a really good chance that pressing your pinky down for an anchor is the culprit. I've had several students over the years that had the same pain in their forearm, and when I told them to stop anchoring for a little bit, the pain went away.



After that? It was their choice. I just made the observation, but their body was screaming something that their minds just couldn't decipher.



So the next thing: Muting. First of all it's not done with the palm, but it's been referred to as palm muting forever, and always will be. It's really done with the side of hand down from the pinky, but there's are myriad variations because nobody it built the same.



In any case.......



Not being able to see you physically playing guitar, I can't begin to help you sort our some possibilities. Guitar size vs your physicality, your guitar posture as it relates to how you hold the guitar, sitting or standing, etc........all those things affect the proceedings.



The good thing is that YOU know what you're trying to get in terms of a sound, and you realize that your current posture is precluding your progress.



If you'd like to post a video, or even Facetime with me I'd be happy to observe and make some suggestions.



If you'd like to text or call I'm at 631-988-8920, and this is a gratis offer.



Best regards,

Howard Emerson


Howard, that is a really kind offer. The forum is fortunate to have you (and many other great folks) providing such good input and support. Now if you could turn a 64 year old newbie into a fingerstyle player youíd go down in history!
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Old 02-13-2019, 12:30 AM
godfreydaniel godfreydaniel is offline
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I also took classes at the Guitar Study Center (mostly with Woody Mann, and Howard Morgen later on) - that was a great place. I also took lessons with Dave Van Ronk. I donít hold my picking hand like Dave did, but he did say that the motion to move the picking fingers should be at the big knuckles where the fingers meet the hand, and also that the fingers should be very relaxed. I think he may have planted both the pinky and ring finger, but Iím not sure. And as the OP pointed out, he did not mute strings with his picking hand.
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Old 02-13-2019, 10:25 AM
G-Money G-Money is offline
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One other thing I'll mention that might bear on wrist tension and tendonitus -- I started fingerstyle with my pinky bracing my right hand, extended and straight. But now my hand has settled into what I think is a less stressed position resting on the uppermost knuckle of my pinky. Seems a more relaxed position that also allows a little more range of small adjustments to the wrist angle. Clearly it's crappy form but could offer a doable minor adjustment if OP is looking for ways to get stress off a certain tendon or nerve.
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Old 02-13-2019, 11:34 AM
Dino Silone Dino Silone is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by G-Money View Post
One other thing I'll mention that might bear on wrist tension and tendonitus -- I started fingerstyle with my pinky bracing my right hand, extended and straight. But now my hand has settled into what I think is a less stressed position resting on the uppermost knuckle of my pinky. Seems a more relaxed position that also allows a little more range of small adjustments to the wrist angle. Clearly it's crappy form but could offer a doable minor adjustment if OP is looking for ways to get stress off a certain tendon or nerve.
I also used to do the equivalent of a death-grip pinkie anchor, which contributed to pain. I donít know if I made it clear, but I no longer have any pain - a combination of changing the tension when anchoring, and also changing my wrist position depending on what iím doing have made me pain free for months now.

I have made a concerted effort to use the more standard right hand position when I can, but I typically vary the position during a song - this is the best strategy Iíve found for avoiding fatigue and pain.
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Old 02-13-2019, 11:42 AM
G-Money G-Money is offline
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That's great Dino. And, in a case of nice timing, there's a fingerstyle lesson post that's right now just below this thread, in which the poster/instructor has the thumb-inside technique. Not overly pronounced, but you can see his index if not middle finger as well interacting with the thumb. I know I'm obsessing but the combination of that post and your finding a way to keep your style while eliminating pain is a real encouragement for me...
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Old 02-13-2019, 01:53 PM
Dino Silone Dino Silone is offline
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Originally Posted by G-Money View Post
That's great Dino. And, in a case of nice timing, there's a fingerstyle lesson post that's right now just below this thread, in which the poster/instructor has the thumb-inside technique. Not overly pronounced, but you can see his index if not middle finger as well interacting with the thumb. I know I'm obsessing but the combination of that post and your finding a way to keep your style while eliminating pain is a real encouragement for me...
Iím glad. I still find that the thumb-inside position, at least for the geometry of my hand, allows me to be faster, and lets me use my thumb nail when I want to, without having to grow it to the point where itís interfering with stuff like typing. Using multiple positions is also really cool because each one is good for something else, and gives a different sound - realizing that, and starting to do that, was a breakthrough for me. Only happened a few months ago.

But, regardless of the position, I have NEVER had my thumb get tangled up with or interfere with my fingers. They all sort of know how to stay out of one anotherís way...

As far as Dave Van Ronkís right hand position giving bad sound and limiting what you can do is concerned, Iím still working on sounding as bad and being as limited as he was...
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