Belt Hook

Standing Position

How much fingerboard can you see while wearing your Stick in standing position? My Stick currently leans back into the body, almost touching the chest, so that I can see a sliver of wood at the 24th fret when looking down the fingerboard. It’s also about 15 degrees from parallel with the torso (the greater this value is, the harder it is for the left hand to come around and grab chords). Does this sound healthy?

Watch the “see how it works” clips of greg Howard on the stick web site, and observe how his left elbow, arm and wrist moves very closely (in addition to how he wears the instrument). For example. if he “grabs” a root / octave 2note chord type of chord shape his left elbow tends to raise up a bit keep his forearm perpindicular to an imaginary line that goes through the two note locations on the fretboard. Conversely if he does a root / tenth 2note chord his left elbow will drop some to maintain that perpindicular forearm orientation.

Also note that his upper arm is out/forward from his body a bit so he can use his whole arm and wrist to provide a lot of the /everagekinetic energy that that results in the final note tap. The best thing you can do is go to a seminar that Greg is teaching at. He shows and explains what i’m talking about waaaay better than i’m feebly attempting to here. ~ Mike Hoegeman

First, thanks to Mike for chiming in, and for the kind comments about the seminars I teach. I learn as much from the questions students ask me as they do from me, I’m sure.

Second, the exact way I suggest that people wear the instrument is not universal in the Stick World. You’ll see many Stickists wearing The Stick at a lower angle than I do. Most of these players come from a guitar background, and I think it relates better to what their used to (though I don’t think that necessarily makes their way a better way to wear the instrument, to each his own).

My goal is to try to take advantage of the natural flexibility of Emmett’s belt hook and strap system to position the instrument ideally on each player, based on their body shape, shoulder width, etc. By enhancing freedom of motion, your energy can go into musical control instead of stretching and contorting. I’ve watched people playing guitar give themselves tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome for too many years to be satisfied with that instrumant’s status quo. So from my perspective we’re very fortunate that Emmett has designed a way of wearing the instrument that really facilitates the tapping technique through its positioning as much as it’s construction and features.

If you haven’t done so already, please take a look at video #2 on this page:

It pretty clearly illustrates most of the points I’ll make below.

There are 4 things I consider in the placement.

1 - Instrument Height. I find that if the first inlay is positioned around the top of the left shoulder (just above the center of the collar bone) this makes it possible for both hands to access the instrument with the most ease. If it’s lower, left hand chord shapes can become very difficult as you get past the 8th fret or so. Wearing a second belt enables you to get the positioning up a bit higher, and if your instrument has an adjustable belt hook then you can get the right combination of belt hook height and instrument height relative to the belt hook. This has an influence on the “perch” of the instrument on your body, which I’ll talk about below.

2 - Instrument Angle. Generally, the outside edge of the fretboard (just past string #1) needs to be “inside” the shoulder joint. If it’s outside that joint, then as you rotate your arm up and down it can force you to pull your arm back and bend your wrist more than necessary. If you never move your elbow position to help your hand form the shapes of intervals and chords, then you can get away with this, but it makes playing certain things, particularly sustained major arpeggios, much more difficult.

If you are narrow-shouldered like me (we prefer the term “svelte” :) then the instrument will be pretty close to your head, probably more than you expected. If you are broad-shouldered, then keep in mind that it’s the relationship to the shoulder joint, not the side of the head that counts.

So I suggest you adjust the shoulder strap so that the instrument is just inside the shoulder joint. The angle that’s formed by this positioning is somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees from vertical. This might make it seem a little harder for you to see when you’re playing near the nut. You shouldn’t worry abut this too much, playability and comfort are the main goals. As you get more familiar with the feel of the instrument, you won’t need to “see” as much as you will need to “play.” Optimal perch of the instrument will pull it back into view (see below).

3 - Perch By “perch” I’m referring to the angle of the instrument as it relates to the vertical plane in front of your body. If your instrument is hanging purely vertically (as when you raise the neck of an instrument with a body), then your left wrist will have to bend more than necessary and you will not have good visual access at all. Because of the way the belt hook is shaped, the lower it is relative to the instrument, the higher the instrument will rest on your belt and the more the instrument will slope back toward your shoulder.

You want the instrument to be leaning back a bit, but if it’s resting on your shoulder then that limits the range of motion of your left hand. Everyone is shaped differently, but I find that if the damper lines up with the front of my ear, then that puts my hand in a good spot. If you have a nonadjustable plastic belt hook, then you can order an adjustable replacement from Stick Enterprises. All instruments made since 1994 have it already installed.

4 - Left/Right Positioning of the belt hook. With the correct position your body can be extremely well-balanced, and you can have fluid access to the whole fretboard with both hands. I find a good guide to be that the octave inlay should be in the center of the Left/Right head-to-navel axis. If the instrument is too far to your left side, then you will be pulling your left shoulder back too much, and if it’s too far right then you will be pushing you left shoulder forward.

Another factor is how long your forearms are relative to your upper arms. I’m not a physiologist, but I think this ratio is not consistent in people, so if your upper arm is on the long side compared to your lower arm, then you’ll want to wear the instrument slightly to the left, and vice versa. Is there a doctor in the house?

What this all boils down to is that on most people the belt hook will be positioned slightly right of center.

A Few Other Things to Consider:

A. Comfort You should do what’s most comfortable for you. Comfort is the key to being free to make the music you want. If you’ve spent many years holding the instrument a certain way with no problems, then you might be better off just sticking with what you’re doing.

B. Sitting You can apply these guidelines to seated pay as well. If you use a lap bar, make sure it’s not placing the instrument too high. You can raise the belt hook to compensate for this. The important factor is that the instrument should be in the same relative position to your left shoulder as it is when you’re standing. My experience with lap bars is that they place the instrument too far to the left. I prefer to sit with the belt hook resting on the front of my chair, held in place by a loose belt (see page 1-1 of my book for pictures of this).

C. Just My Opinion I know I keep saying this, but I recognize that most of my fellow experienced players wear their instruments a bit differently than I do. Obviously, what they’re doing works for them. So I’m just trying to provide a window into my experience that’s come from questions I’ve received at seminars. If the instrument is not in the right place, then technique suffers. Also, please note that I can’t say whether this article applies to the so-called “uncrossed” way of playing. My instinct tells me that the innate restrictiveness of that approach on hand motion would mean that these concepts probably don’t apply.

D. The Main reason to pay attention to positioning... I believe that the combination of good instrument placement together with an emphasis on technique development opens the most musical doors for players, regardless of their instrumental background, favorite styles or musical ambitions. It doesn’t matter what the music is inside your head or on the page in front of you, if you can’t physically play it, then your technique is the limiting factor. And if your instrument positioning is hampering your technique, then improving that is step one.

I’ll try to get some photos together to illustrate these points, but in the meantime...get thee to a seminar! and I’ll hook you right up. Don’t have one happening near you?, get in touch and I’ll see if we can arrange something. It’s been 5 years since I was in the UK, so I guess I’m due. Why don’t you guys get together and arrange something?

Happy Tapping, Greg Howard


Angled vs. Less-angled Belt Hooks

Greg...Great post! I notice you didn’t discuss one other variable... that of standard-angled vs ‘less-angled’ belt hooks (that make the instrument face more forward.) I’ve found that the flatter belt hook equalizes the wrist angles better, while the standard angled belt hook facilitates looking at the fretboard. (Whether or not that’s a good thing is a whole other discussion.) What’s your hit on that option? As for the ‘innate restrictiveness’ of uncrossed, well... as you say, eye of the beholder. :-) ~Jerry Ballard

Hi Jerry, thanks for the reminder about the angled belt hook question, and glad you liked the post.

My belief is that the interest in those belt hooks often comes from a failure to understand the other factors I discussed. Most people say they want these because it helps with wrist angle problems, but if they place the instrument as I’ve indicated, then that shouldn’t be a problem. When I see people play “uncrossed,” I’ve noticed that they tend to hold their elbows in more, so I could see how using a less-angled belt hook would make for less wrist-bending. In this case it makes some sense.

I don’t want to minimize other people’s concerns, but I think the benefits of Emmett’s angled belt hook are that it enhances visual access and actually improves the ability of the player to comfortably play the instrument with the elbow at many different positions, thereby making the process of making tapping music much easier (see below).

As far as the restrictiveness of “uncrossed” playing goes, I stand by my comment with regard to physical movement. I’m not saying that you can’t make good music using that approach, but it’s clear to me that there are many, many advantages to playing “open-handed.” Having your hands cross over the strings facilitates the physical motion of the arms, hands and fingers together, something I believe is a necessary evolutionary step in tapping music. Without this step, players become locked into position play, relying too much on their fingers to get the job done.

Anything that involves a lot of repeated notes, like rock music, benefits tremendously from establishing this physical connection, and everything that could be played with a “fingers-only” approach is even easier to do. There are many up-sides, but ease of movement is by far the most notable.

The only negative thing I can think of about the “open-handed” approach is that you can occasionally bump one hand into the other. But this doesn’t happen to me any more, especially using the Baritone Melody tuning. If you had a Grand Stick, there’s such a range of notes, I can’t imagine it ever being an issue.

Am I being argumentative? I don’t see anything wrong with trying to figure out what attributes of conventional guitar playing don’t translate as well to two-handed tapping. I do believe that the relationship of the hands to the fretboard must evolve if we’re going to get the most out of the technique. Opening up the hands by “crossing over” is a step in the right direction. On a tapping instrument we’re asking a lot from each finger - find the note, articulate the note at the right time, hold the note. Opening up the hands and the greater physical involvement from the hands and arms that helps to spread out the responsibility of making the music. This makes the finger’s job much easier. Dancer’s don’t just use their feet. The feeling I get when I play “uncrossed” is as if I were dancing with my legs tied together at the knees.

Another step is altering the left hand’s relationship to the intervals of the strings. The shapes required of the left hand to actively play chords in “guitar 4ths” work okay when all you have to do is hold a chord. But we have to do much more than that with each hand. If a player insists on having 4ths under the left hand, then I think a mirrored 4ths tuning is much better than the conventional 4ths arrangement. I’ve spent some time experimenting with this tuning over the years, and while I don’t think it’s as ergonomically advantageous as Emmett’s inverted 5ths, I think it’s an improvement over conventional 4ths. I also think it’s hard for people who play “uncrossed” to appreciate just how much of an advantage having an ergonomically beneficial tuning is, because the hand is basically in a partially closed grip most of the time.

Any tuning that helps the hand form and hold the shapes of the chords is one that facilitates the making of music. If each hand can be more open, then the rhythmic motion of the hands and arms is reinforced. If each hand can have an identical relationship with the strings, then the brain has a very easy time asking each hand to perform the same task. Same chord shapes, same scale shapes, etc. So wouldn’t mirrored 4ths make the most sense?

The only problem is that the frets aren’t uniformly spaced. So how identical are those tasks, really? While I like this tuning, sometimes it’s rather like walking up a staircase in which every other step is twice as big as those in between. Some of the right hand reaches are too much of a stretch in the left, so you end up using different fingerings. Even so, for tapping I think it’s probably an improvement over conventional 4ths.

Here’s where I think Emmett’s tuning goes one better over all of the left hand 4ths possibilities. Because of the scale length the frets are pretty far apart as you get closer to the nut, so a new approach to the fretboard is required. Bassists are the closest relatives to The Stick in the scale length department. We rarely find bassists playing chords near the nut, unless they’re using open strings as a part of the chord.. Why not? I would guess two reasons:

A. It’s too hard to form the shape of the chord because the notes are too spread out. B. Chords in the bass range sound like mud.

Emmett’s tuning solves this problem quite handily:) If you’re going to play a chord, spreading the voicings out creates a very full, but also open sound. And here’s a bonus. Parallel geometry with guitar 4ths means that all the chord shapes are inversions in 5ths. I use this all the time as a device for remapping chords on each side.

Bassists also have their right hand to activate the strings. Holding a shape is much easier to coordinate than articulating a shape with only one hand. You can’t really satisfactorily tap in locked positions anyway without some hand movement, unless you exert a lot of energy through stretching. Let go! Move! Take advantage of that huge range of notes 5ths gives you.

The most commonly played chords (major and minor triads, major 7ths, 7ths, minor 7ths, and all of their respective inversions) are all playable in shapes that are easily formed by the hand without having to bend the fingers much, if at all, and without having to stretch much, if you are willing to move your elbow up and down to help your hand form the shape. This facilitates the transmission of hand energy and connects the player to the process of making music.

Okay, so there are some physical impossibilities that arise:

You can’t play is not easy to play a “2nd” interval or a true 1-3-5 major triad on one set of strings.

Now be honest. How easy is it to do these things near the nut in 4ths?

With the 4ths/5ths tuning it’s easy enough if you use both sets of strings under that one hand, an approach Emmett’s Free Hands shows a lot (and that I think is worth reconnecting with).

Here’s a fingering for a true minor triad in Bari Melody tuning (finger/note/fret), for 10-String Classic tuning just drop the Bb down to string #5:


Perhaps the greatest benefit of Emmett’s tuning is just how much ground is covered on 10 strings in Emmett’s tuning. On 5 bass strings you get over 2 octaves at a single fret. And if you can break out of that nasty position-play habit, then you get 3 octaves from the 1st fret to the 9th.

I hear the distant voices of protest about how hard it is to play scales in 5ths. This is only a problem if the player holds onto the habits of playing in positions and relying on the fingers to do the work. Practice moving your hands more around the fretboard, using the hand energy to play the notes and not the finger energy, and it’s not hard. I haven’t seen any examples of players tapping chords in conventional 4ths near the nut on a bass scale instrument, though Rob Martino is doing a pretty good job with the mirrored 4ths (go Rob!).

And though there are some who say they have an easier path to tappiness than Emmett’s, working with Free Hands got me going pretty quickly when I started out. True, 4ths and inverted 5ths are different tunings, but it’s just about learning. We want to cultivate independence anyway, so maybe the different tunings actually enhance that process. I have seen no evidence to the contrary. If the tuning were really the problem, there would be a host of great 4ths tappers all over the world tapping circles around us. I’ve seen no evidence of that either...

So I’ll make a bold pronouncement, backed up by decades of great music from Stick players all over the world. Playing open-handed works. Emmett’s tuning works. For tapping they work better than anything else that anyone has come up with. And the design concepts he’s come up with really enhance the technique and application of the tuning perfectly. No, it’s not pure instant gratification. But how many things you’ve stuck with in your life actually were?

I think it’s to Emmett’s credit that he’s willing to customize and modify things to suit the customer’s wishes, like custom tunings, altered belt hook angles, etc. Many times those wishes are based on real concerns and good ideas, but sometimes they are based on a lack of understanding.

I think what he’s come up with, by virtue of the fact that he was a really creative and accomplished musician before he ever tapped a note, is an instrument that has evolved around his method, and that brought with it some expansive orchestral possibilities from his 9-string guitar that did in fact contribute to method, and enhanced it’s application. The inverted 5ths tuning is a part of the equation. If you haven’t read my recent interview with him on the subject of the tuning evolution, check it out:

His experience, musical knowledge and his desire to expand his (and our) musical universe have all contributed to the success of his ideas. I’ve never seen anything written about the musical qualifications other builders bring to their products, so I can’t speak to that. His spirit of innovation has led him came up with some things that are unfamiliar, but they all contribute to an inspiring and successful way of making all kinds of music, traditional and new. I intend to keep pushing people’s thinking away from conventional wisdom (my favorite oxymoron) and toward discovery. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what he’s started. Let’s dig in!

Happy Tapping, Greg

Quoting Greg: « My belief is that the interest in those belt hooks often comes from a failure to understand the other factors I discussed. Most people say they want these because it helps with wrist angle problems, but if they place the instrument as I’ve indicated, then that shouldn’t be a problem.»

Greg, you may recall that you were the one who recommended I switch to a shaved pedestal (not to nit-pick, but we are talking about a difference in pedestals, not belt hooks; the hooks are all the same). I have been using the shaved (non-angled) pedestal almost since the beginning, and it has been a lifesaver for my formerly injured left wrist.

Also, you implied that the non-angled pedestal is one of Emmett’s accommodations for players who request it. This may be true now, but wasn’t the non-angled setup the original one? I know belt hooks have evolved over the years, but I recall seeing older Sticks with no tilt at the hook. I could be wrong, but I’m thinking the angle was an evolution, not the original design. I’m nit-picking again, but I’m curious as to which came first: tilt or no tilt?

In any case, the non-tilted design is the only one that makes sense to me. I’m glad the angle works for most players, but I’m even more glad that the shaved pedestal exists. The angle messes everything up for me. Or maybe I’ve just messed up my technique enough that I can’t deal with it. ~John Edmonds

Hi John: The pedestals always provided the same tilt of 15 degrees, back to the first Macassar ebony “Electric Stick” in 1970. Before that I used two belts on my long scale guitar to get the same tapping position, with a little “roll” of the neck upward to see the fretboard.

To look or not to look? It was like casting the news or giving an extemporaneous speech from a prepared outline. I’ve always had to look down to hit the “money” notes (of course there was never any money), then I could look away and lose myself in improvisation, playing by shape, sketch and gesture, editing by ear.

Shaved pedestals are available any time.

Unshaven, Emmett {8={)}


belt_hook.txt (-2147478908 views) · Last modified: 03/02/2010 11:47