|THE BANJOIST'S VADE-MECUM|
From Banjo World July 1899
QUESTION. Can you account for one's hands becoming hot and moist when playing before an audience ?
Answer. It may arise from several causes: (1) the temperature of the room; (2) a naturally nervous temperament; (3) nervousness arising from an imperfect knowledge of the matter about to be played.
Q. Can you suggest any remedies?
A. Where it is merely a question of the temperature of the auditorium being high, it is a good plan (where possible) to plunge both hands up to the wrist in cold water, and keep them there for some minutes. Dry them carefully, and powder the palms with some ordinary violet powder, or powdered starch. Then take the instrument, and run over two or three pieces to keep the mental balance until the moment arrives for appearing. The effects of the cooling process will be found to last sufficiently long for an appearance upon the stage. It is best not to wet the hands just before appearing, or the finger-tips will not have regained sufficient hardness for good tone production. Where time presses, use only the powder.
Q. Supposing it is induced by nervousness, how can that be remedied?
A. That is not so easy a matter. Nervousness is probably felt by nine out of every ten performers, whether amateur or professional, in more or less degree. Some are better able to conceal the fact from their audience than others. It may be increased by the health of the performer not being at the moment up to the mark. A "pick-me-up" (which any chemist will supply) will often brace and balance the nerves in such a way as to very much reduce the mental anxiety. Many players would do much better to associate themselves with another of about equal ability, and for a time work duets in preference to solos. In this way self-confidence would be gradually gained, and a solo turn would lose much of its terror. Joining a band is also an excellent plan.
Q. Where it arises from the third cause, your remedy is sufficiently obvious?
A. Yes, more diligent practice. Among amateurs, one might paraphrase a well-known saying: they "rush in where professionals fear to tread!" You can afford to give no chances away; consequently, when starting to play a piece, where, it is more or less a question of luck whether it "comes off or not", it must not be wondered at if nervous anxiety as to the result induces that well-known moist heat, so destructive alike of tone and execution. The same solo in three months' time would probably be played without "turning a hair".
Q. Then you think that nervousness may to a great extent be overcome?
A. Yes; and the greatest factor to that end is undoubtedly practice, which will in time create a consciousness of power and ability to carry out intention. The proof lies in the fact, which, more or less, every player will admit, viz., that he has selections in his repertoire which he could render to his own and an audience's satisfaction under almost any circumstances, while others would require all the conditions to be favourable.
Q. So your advice is——?
A. Play those selections in public which you have at your finger-ends, in preference to those which, though possibly newer, you are not so intimately acquainted with. You will give and derive far more pleasure in the end.
Q. How can the finger-tips be hardened ?
A. No artificial means can ever equal the natural hardness that daily practice gives. One reads of alum and other chemicals being recommended, but never let the finger-
tips get soft is the best advice. Keep the callous skin which forms on the tips smoothed down (with one of the little emery-boards used in manicuring), otherwise it becomes rough, and catches in the strings.
Q. Is it a good plan to play with the nails?
A. For zither-banjo playing the nail of the first and second finger produces a very clear tone undoubtedly, but the nail of the thumb should not be used.
Q. Will the nails stand the strain without breaking?
A. Of course some people's nails are naturally stronger than others but nails can be much strengthened by more attention being paid to them.
Q. How is that done?
A. Nails that are very brittle and thin can be strengthened by regularly filing them with a very fine nail-file (used by manicurists), and by rubbing some softening substance into them at night.
Q. Can you give me a recipe, as many of my friends will be glad to know of one?
A. Wash the hands in very warm water at night, push back the skin gently at the base of the nail, and rub the following preparation well into them: lanoline, one ounce; vaseline, half an ounce; olive oil, ten drops. It is a good plan while trying this remedy to wear sleeping-gloves, but it is not absolutely necessary, of course.
Q. Should the nails be kept very long?
A. No; just point the first and second finger-nail of the right hand, and then hold the hand so that the strings can be just picked with them without the skin touching them,
Q. Can you play in this way upon the banjo as well as you can upon the zither-banjo?
A. Yes, but you cannot produce so loud a tone in this way, and marches, etc., are apt to sound a little thin. Still, where a hand is by nature always moist and clammy, the nails will produce a clearer tone than such fingertips.
Q. Is there anything specially to be attended to about the fingers of the left hand?
A. No, except that the nails should not be too long, otherwise they will prevent the tips of the fingers from having that firm hold upon the string so necessary for producing a clear ringing tone. Again, they will rattle all up the frets when long slides are made.
Q. You seem to be very particular about the hands and nails?
A. Well, seeing how much in evidence they are when playing either a banjo, mandoline or guitar, I think it is the bounden duty of every performer to see that he does not offend the eye of a listener by reason of carelessness in this respect. To many there is as much pleasure in watching the manipulation of a performer, as in listening to his execution. That pleasure I maintain must be considerably reduced if the eye is engaged in watching an ill-kept and "grubby" pair of hands.
Q. I quite agree with you, and I have often wanted to know the proper outfit to procure in order to obtain that brightness and polish on the nails one sees so often nowadays.
A. It is not a very expensive outlay, nor a very tedious process. The implements that you require are:
There is not the slightest difficulty in procuring these nowadays, and a visit to a manicurist would give you a valuable object-lesson in how to make the best use of them.
Q. Cannot you explain ?
A. I could, if the explanation were likely to be of interest, but for the moment the above hints may, perhaps suffice, and we will discuss some subject of more importance.