How to wear banjo finger picks

So, you’ve bought some of those metal claws that go on the ends of your fingers, and now you’re wondering what to do with them?

I know, banjo finger picks can be SUPER uncomfortable. OUCHIE!!!!

Yep, banjo finger picks might dig into the cuticles of your fingers and even make them sore for awhile. They take some getting used to, that’s for sure!  Hopefully the instructions below can help you out with getting those metal finger picks to fit correctly.

Here’s a SHORT video I did on it, but a more detailed guide is below:


Basics of wearing banjo finger picks

  1. What direction should the banjo picks face?
  2. Bending the picks up or not?
  3. How to bend them out to adjust to the width of your fingers
  4. How far out should you wear the finger picks?
  5. Twisting or bending them to strike the strings more perpendicular

What direction should the picks face?

1) The banjo finger pick blades should face UPWARD.  They follow the shape and contour of your finger as shown here:

two banjo finger picks on man's fingers
Dunlop banjo picks

Bending them up or not?

2) Not everyone bends the picks up like I do.  This is what works best for me; I find it smooths out the tone as the string grabs the string less.  People like Pat Cloud prefer to wear the finger picks straighter; this allows for a snappier sound.  Basically, you just take the end of the pick and push up on it until it is following the contour of your finger.  When you buy picks, they are almost never at the right angle out of the box.  Experiment with different angles and find what feels and sounds best to your ears.

Adjust the Banjo Picks to the width of your fingers

3) Start by opening up the sides of the pick wide as shown below.  Then place your fingers in the picks and squeeze until they are touching the sides.  This next bit is a personal preference.  I’ve found if I don’t really clamp down on my fingers, they slide off over time (Which annoys me!).  Therefore, I push mine in pretty tight.  However, this isn’t necessary- you don’t have to squeeze them on there so tight.  Do what works for you.

You can see here, mine is pretty out of shape.  This one MIGHT have gotten stepped on or smashed, haha.  This is BEFORE I push it in.

Brass banjo finger pick

How far down on your fingers should they be?

4) This is different for everyone.  Some people like to wear them sticking far out; some people like them all the way down on the finger.  My banjo hero Allen Shelton wore his sticking out a lot.  I tried this for awhile but found it hurt my fingers too much.  Now, I push mine down a good bit as seen in the first photograph above.  This helps me feel like they are securely on there and won’t slide off.

How much they stick out will affect the tone, as more or less pick will hit the string.  My advice is to experiment and find what works for you in regards to comfort and tone.

Twisting or bending the finger picks

5) When you strike the strings, at a natural wrist angle, they won’t hit the strings perpendicular.  One way of increasing the mass of metal hitting the strings (producing a fuller tone) is by bending or twisting the picks.  Unfortunately, they are making the picks better these days.  When I was younger, I could take the picks and bend them very easily.  Now it’s a bit tougher.  You MIGHT have to get some pliers or a tool to aid you with this one.  Make sure you don’t mess them up; be careful where you grab them because you can scratch them up and completely ruin the tone as well.

You can see below that the one on my INDEX finger (The non-brass one) has been twisted.  One good way to check is after you’ve used them for awhile, see where the scratch/scuff marks are happening on the pick.  If the marks are too much on the side, then your picks aren’t hitting flush.

two fingers with metal banjo picks on them.

What type of finger picks should you buy?

Don’t be afraid to try different picks. I personally use Dunlop finger picks in the .0225 gauge. They’re cheap and readily available. For a beginner, these picks are good enough. I do use brass finger picks or sometimes a combination as seen in the picture above. The brass finger picks give a bit warmer sound and are easier to bend.

brass Dunlop brass finger pick
brass Dunlop banjo finger pick

There’s really not a best banjo finger pick. Banjo picks aren’t too expensive unless you buy the top- of-the-line models, so it’s worth trying a few brands to find what suits your fingers best.

I have lots of students that prefer Pro-piks, Sammy Shelors, or something more expensive.

I used Showcase 41’s for a few years. I LOVED the tone of them, but they always hurt my fingers.

Anywhoo, thanks for tuning in. I hope this guide helped you shape your banjo finger picks and now they fit better and you sound better. Feel free to send us a message if you have any questions.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.