Banjo Picking for Beginners

In this video from Making Music Magazine, we show you everything you need to know about Banjo Picking. This lesson is based on the Scruggs style rolls for banjo, including forward roll, backward roll, reverse roll, and alternating thumb roll.

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Video Text:

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this is bluegrass banjo styles 101 and I’ll be your instructor John bolding I’m a long time professional banjo player been playing full-time for over 25 years and the purpose of these videos is just to give you a brief overview of what bluegrass banjo is and some of the styles involved generally when you say three-finger banjo people will associate that with bluegrass banjo and it is true that all true bluegrass banjo players use three fingers there is more than one way to use three finger picks in bluegrass banjo than just one so for each of the videos that I’m going to present to you we will look at each of the three divisions of three finger style within the whole context of bluegrass banjo and hopefully I can give you some insights into what makes each style tick and you’ll know a little more

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about it so you’ll gain a new appreciation level for it the first style that you should start with if you’re wanting to be a bluegrass banjo player is what’s known as Scruggs style Scruggs is referring to Earl Scruggs who was a fellow of North Carolina banjo player who is the most famous banjo player probably who ever lived he passed away in 2012 unfortunately but he’s given us a just fantastic legacy of music so saying three finger banjo is also synonymous with saying strut style now Earl’s way of playing was to use notes of court and Earl would string together these chord tones in the patterns that he called rolls let me play an example of a roll pattern that you might hear in stroke style banjo that was called a forward roll now there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different ways you can combine notes even on a five string banjo in these

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patterns and you can call those some kind of variations of roles but it would be nearly impossible for you to keep up with all the different names and to categorize each one individually the main focus of roles is to carry melody or to play what we call licks which are streams of notes that sound good together that you can use to fill spaces and songs you can roll over the chords that you know to provide backup and accompaniment to other instruments so there’s a lot of different ways you could use rolls musically in bluegrass banjo we won’t have time this video to even touch on just the bare beginnings of that but we can look at the roll patterns forward rolls refer to notes that travel in this direction across the banjo heads so from a string that’s higher up in the plane of the head to a lower placed ring say from the fifth string five four three two one from five to one if the notes travel in that direction they’re called forward rolls

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so the role I’ll play just a few seconds ago was five and I don’t want to get too technical in this video explaining eighth notes and sixteenths and dotted notes all these musical terms let’s just focus on what a roll looks feels and sounds like so next five three one would be one example of a forward roll if I wanted to try a different combination of three nuts it would be three strings covered with three fingers in a row powder I can also play three two one now another foundational role that you’ll hear named in bluegrass is called a backwards roll that would be the exact notes I just played but the notes would be traveling this way up toward the the smaller string so if I wanted to play

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one three five instead of five three one that would just be the opposite of a forward roll we call that a backwards roll I could play instead of three to one which is forward I could play one two three and call that a backwards roll I could play one two five but again it’s three fingers covering three different strings three note streams now another pattern is to combine forward and backward rolls into one pattern and we call that a reverse roll it starts forward and reverses itself or it could start backwards and go forwards here’s a very common beginner roll

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that would be a forward backwards role often called a reverse role and you can do that on different combinations of strange starting forward coming backwards or starting backwards and returning forwards another common beginner role that has a name is called the alternating thumb roll this is one of the more complex roles that beginners start with three to one and then alternate for the thumb to play the four into one and off relate back to the third so the alternating part is thumb on the third thumb on the fourth the other notes stay the same there’s another basic role that usually

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beginners don’t start with but eventually creeps into your course of study it’s called a double thumb roll that allows you to play four notes in a row index thumb metal is called a double thumb and again these are just the basic roles that you would learn to start your course of study is scro style banjo player for the right hand roll patterns again for review are just streams of notes that are generally considered one note per string per finger three note patterns played with obviously three fingers that’s one of the very first things you learn as a bluegrass crow style player is to get good with these basic roll patterns and then as you improve and learn more about the style you can make up your own roll variations you can look at the variations of rolls from famous players other professional

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players that you’ve seen and heard about that play these more exotic roll patterns and you can learn what they’re doing but it all starts with your basic foundational rolls which are reverse rolls forward rolls backwards rolls alternating thumb and double thumb rolls so in the next video we’ll look at another form of three finger style within the context of bluegrass banjo and it’s referred to as melodic or Keith style banjo so I’ll see you in that video and I thank you for watching have a good day and enjoy your banjo

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