With regards to playing the banjo, you will quickly find that several accessories come with it. Just like the guitar and other stringed instruments, the banjo comes with picks as well. It can easily be said that with the banjo, the essential accessories include thumb picks and fingerpicks.
Many banjo players have an entire pick collection, and they enjoy exploring the various types of picks available. But it’s also a good idea to learn what the experts have to say about them because some choose not to play with picks – and they have valid reasons, too. So on to the big question: should you play banjo with picks or without? Here’s what you need to know.
Why should you play the banjo using picks?
Indeed, you don’t need picks to play the banjo, and there are, in fact, certain styles of playing that don’t require them or encourage their use. For example, clawhammer playing is inviting and warm, and most banjo players specializing in clawhammer banjo say that the style is best played with only the fingers.
The same is true with minstrel-style and classical players, who prefer playing without any picks whatsoever. Some artists even have the nails on their thumb, middle, and index fingers artificially coated to make them stronger! But if you’re interested in bluegrass playing, you can most certainly utilize thumb picks and fingerpicks on your dominant or primary hand. With banjo picks, you can play better, with more consistency in tone and a better volume. Playing with picks also allows for enhanced dynamics and a stronger, more forceful sound. The reason for this is simple: you are striking metal with metal, which offers a cleaner, crisper connection without absorbing energy, unlike fingertips, which are more likely to absorb the energy produced rather than letting it resonate. With picks, you can regulate your banjo’s sound to suit your taste, whether you like hard-driving sounds or a sweeter tone.
Their appearance and how you should wear them
Banjo fingerpicks can be either plastic or metal, and they have different sizes. You can adjust them as well. However, it’s a good idea to opt for metal that you can easily adjust to your finger size to give you an idea and more flexible fit. The fingerpick also consists of a ‘striking’ surface shaped like a blade. It is joined to a piece that looks like a collar, with this piece going around your fingertip’s fleshy portion. The hard, ‘striking’ surface should be on your fingernail’s opposite side.
Some banjo fingerpicks feature tiny holes on their blade component or collars, and these can give you a firmer grip. In addition, the flesh can indent into the tiny holes to provide enhanced stability and ‘seating’ once you insert the fingerpick onto your finger. You can also adjust the collar, but to wear it correctly, place it directly above your finger’s first joint, which is just at your fingernail’s base or right above your cuticle.
Thumb picks also feature a flat surface for striking along with a bent portion that can go around your picking hand’s thumb. Many thumb picks are plastic, but some have collars made of metal which you can adjust. Your thumbpick should have a snug fit, so it doesn’t slip, and the blade should face the inside portion of the fingers you use for picking.
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