Learn to Banjo Roll

The banjo roll is a fundamental technique that every banjo player should learn. It’s a rolling motion of the fingers that produces a continuous, flowing sound that’s essential to many styles of banjo playing, from bluegrass to old-time to folk. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of how to learn to banjo roll, including different types of rolls and some tips for practicing and mastering the technique.

Check out our Free Banjo Tabs resource.

Learn to Banjo Roll

Step 1: Understand the Basic Roll Pattern The basic banjo roll is a pattern of three notes played in succession, typically using the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The pattern is played on a single string, and then repeated on another string, and so on. The basic roll pattern can be varied and embellished to create a wide variety of different sounds and styles.

Step 2: Practice the Forward Roll The forward roll is one of the most common and versatile types of banjo rolls. It’s played using the thumb, index, and middle fingers in the following pattern: thumb, index, middle, index. This creates a continuous, rolling sound that can be used to accompany a variety of different songs and styles.

To practice the forward roll, start by placing your thumb on the fifth string and your index finger on the second string. Use your middle finger to pluck the first string, and then repeat the pattern: thumb, index, middle, index. Practice this pattern slowly and steadily, making sure that each note is clear and distinct.

Step 3: Try the Reverse Roll The reverse roll is another common banjo roll pattern that’s played in the opposite direction of the forward roll. It’s played using the index, middle, and thumb fingers in the following pattern: index, middle, thumb, middle.

To practice the reverse roll, start by placing your index finger on the first string, your middle finger on the second string, and your thumb on the fifth string. Play the pattern: index, middle, thumb, middle, and repeat it several times. Like the forward roll, the reverse roll can be varied and embellished to create a wide variety of sounds and styles.

Step 4: Experiment with Other Rolls Once you’ve mastered the forward and reverse rolls, you can start experimenting with other types of banjo rolls. Some common variations include the forward-backward roll, the alternating thumb roll, and the forward-reverse roll. Each of these patterns creates a different sound and can be used to create a unique style of playing.

Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice As with any new technique, practice is essential for mastering the banjo roll. Start by practicing each pattern slowly and steadily, making sure that each note is clear and distinct. As you become more comfortable with the patterns, try increasing the speed and experimenting with different variations.

Tips for Practicing the Banjo Roll Here are a few tips to help you practice the banjo roll effectively:

  • Use a metronome: Practicing with a metronome can help you maintain a steady tempo and develop a consistent rhythm.
  • Focus on accuracy: It’s better to play slowly and accurately than to rush through the pattern and make mistakes.
  • Use both hands: Don’t forget to practice with both your left and right hands. This will help you develop coordination and ensure that you can play the patterns smoothly and accurately.
  • Experiment with different tempos and styles: Once you’ve mastered the basic patterns, try experimenting with different tempos and styles to create your own unique sound.

In conclusion, learning to banjo roll is an essential skill for any banjo player. By mastering the basic roll patterns and experimenting with different variations and styles, you can create a wide range of sounds and styles that will enhance your playing and allow you to express your own unique musical voice

In this video from Mike Hedding, we learn how to Banjo roll, as well as how to improvise. Mike takes us through step by step, until you are playing with ease. Great for beginners.

Video Text:

0:00:04.6 –>
alright hey everyone out there in banjo land Mike Hedding here coming to you today with another little mini lesson this is a great lesson for beginners that are just getting used to some of the roles or a you know beginner or intermediate player that’s kind of struggling to start improvising so what we’re going to do is I’m going to show you some basic roles you can use and then I’m going to give you some basic left-hand notes to kind of actually make some music with your role so you’re not just playing open strings or cords we’re going to actually get you moving your left hand around and what we’re going to work on here is getting our two hands to operate independently which is really tough you know when our right hand is changing you know our left hand wants to do to change as well you know and what we got to work on is keeping our right hand the same while our left hand changes once you got that down you’ll there’ll be no stopping you all right so here’s the lesson in the simplest form

0:01:12.5 –>
okay let me show you how I would you know take those notes and mix them up in a different order using some other roles and and staying on them for different lengths of times and then I’ll break it all down for you so here we go Oh okay so here we go so we’re going to start with the simplest form we’re going to use the same exact role every time so sometimes they call this the thumb index thumb middle role I’ve heard it called the square rule so it’s with your right hand you’re going to do thumb index thumb middle starting on the third

0:02:00.9 –>
string then your new index on the 2nd string then your fifth thumb back up to the fifth string and then your middle on the first string sounds like this usually one of the first rules that most people learn um if that’s still giving you a little challenge you can even make it simpler just make it a pinch so I’m hitting a thumb on the third string oh and then I’m pinching the outside strings by pinching I just mean I’m plucking the strings at the same time so I’m using my thumb and my middle finger on the outside strings and yeah but try to roll first okay what we’re going to do is we’re going to add some left hand notes and what what I want you to work on is keeping your right hand the exact same and we’re going to work on moving our left hand around without changing our right hand

0:03:01.9 –>
which is really tough again once our left hand starts getting in the mix for most people you know the right hand starts changing and that’s that’s what we want to avoid that’s what we’re going to practice okay so now we got the right hand down let’s let’s look at the left hand notes that we need okay so our first one they’re all going to be able to third string so our first one is open so just no frets our second one and I’m going to use my middle finger for all these but you can try which works best for you is our second fret so open second fret then up to the fourth fret then the fifth fret and the seventh fret then go backwards just the first five notes of a G Major scale you know kind of a Dueling Banjos thing okay so those

0:04:00.4 –>
are our notes and we can stay on each of them as long as we need to you know especially when you’re starting stay on them for a while stay on one for a half-hour if you need to okay so I’ll stay on them for a little bit just to show you at the second ring take your right hand move it on your right hand on a sign up one fret eighth fret back down Oh

0:05:05.2 –>
okay so again if you do that properly there really is no break in your right hand you shouldn’t you should be stopping between those notes it’s not you have to move your hand within the role and that’s what we want to practice sometimes you might even need to look down at your right hand visually verify that you’re actually doing the same role um sometimes it might switch on you without even noticing so so really practice and make sure you’re doing the same role okay okay so again you can stay on each one as long as you need to there um but let me change a little faster so now I’ll change each measure Oh

0:06:01.4 –>
okay so not too hard I think you should be able to get that one too okay so what if we changed even faster so what if we change in the middle of the measure so try that again um so once you got that down you know the next step is again very rarely in music are we just going to go straight up and straight down the scale so another thing to do would be take those five notes and mix them up in a different order maybe jump around a little bit so like this Oh Oh Oh – you know I’m not doing any particular order of the notes there I’m just taking those notes open two four five and seven and mix them up in any order I want

0:07:01.6 –>
again the more practice you just get moving around the better you’ll just become more familiar when the time comes another cool thing you can do is if you have a friend – plays guitar or something they can play G C and D or G C D and E minor you know play some basic chords and you can actually practice improvising a little bit it’s a really good another really good benefit of this exercises for people that are struggling with starting improvising even if you just start with three notes you know start with the open twos and fours maybe you can do you know you know again it’s a starting spot to check to practice mixing up the notes that’s all that improvising is in the simplest form is just taking some some notes that we’ve kind of determined our safe and then mix them up in whatever order you want um you know try experiment stay on one for awhile move around quick change you know change fast

0:08:01.4 –>
change slow the more the more options you try and the more you experiment um the better you’re going to get um very rarely do people just straight out of the box start improvising and playing these insanely awesome solos so you got to throw a lot of stuff at the wall and um be a little willing to fail and try stuff that might not sound too good yet and again the more you try this you’ll start um you know kind of pushing aside the stuff that’s not working and collecting the stuff that is working and moving forward okay so so we did that exercise with using the exact same right hand roll so let’s try a different right hand roll this time maybe let’s do the forward reverse roll so like this let’s try that one

0:09:04.5 –>
so same thing so you know a little bit harder but not too much harder okay so you could try with the forward roll to anything that’s using that third string is gonna work it’s also good exercise to practice your speed if you if you’re like hey I just want to get faster you know it’s a good one to kind of test the limits of how fast you can go okay lastly or one more thing you can try is again if you’re if you’re getting familiar with playing some tunes you’ll kind of start to realize pretty quick that very rarely in banjo are we going to do the same role for a really extended period of time you’re going to kind of have to get used to switching back and forth pretty quickly so that’d be the next level of complexity I would add once you feel like you’ve got it down with one roll moving around try switching back and forth between two rolls for example so

0:10:00.6 –>
I’ll use the the Ford the thumb index thumb middle roll and the forward reverse roll and I’ll switch back and forth every time I change here we go again done so you can practice moving around you know do and again the more combinations you can come up with the better that’s that’s improvising itself too is just switching up the role so so give that a try you know or you could add the forward roll you know ideally eventually you can just start to roll off different roles but I guess that doesn’t make sense play some different roles and move these notes around freely and just see what you can come up with okay so two more things and

0:11:02.4 –>
then we’ll call it a day another thing you can try is changing strings so let’s say we we get up there there let’s see if I can change the second string you know so I changed the second string up there so I was doing thumb on the second string and then middle on the first ring and then thumb on the fifth string and then middle so thumb middle thumb middle but in the tab I’ll have some different roles you can do on that second string the forward the forward roll works well too you know again so then you can get familiar moving around to different strings and keeping your roles and the notes moving again I really like this

0:12:01.7 –>
exercise because it gives you an excuse to practice your roles but if you’re just doing the roll on its own with open strings or you know maybe with chords it sounds okay but you can get a little bit more music working um and you’ll actually be able to practice longer because it’s going to be more interesting cool so you can try moving between the strings the last thing I would say is in the tab I have the rest of the notes for the scale because I just gave you the first five so let me just play those real quick so it’s open two four five seven nine eleven and then twelve so that’ll get you to the top of the scale so again once you got the first five notes down then start adding more notes um so again there’s so much stuff you can do with this um beyond just the the initial you know first Licht it okay it’s like okay maybe I got that down

0:13:00.1 –>
really push yourself to expand and try some stuff and experiment try changing strings try changing roles um try moving around try bigger jumps you know see if you can jump from way down here you know you can practice moving up and down you can put there’s so much stuff you can do with this little exercise it’s really cool alright that’ll get you started good luck you

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