If you play the banjo right handed, which most people do, your right hand does all of the picking. A big part of your banjo sound comes from your right hand technique, if you want to be a fast banjo player your technique will have to be excellent.
There are a few things you should know before we get started. First, you will need a plastic thumb pick and two metal finger picks. Place the metal picks on your index and middle fingers, they should fit snugly and shouldn’t slip around. Curve the picks around the tips of your fingers and make sure they fit tight, but aren’t uncomfortable. The thumb pick should also be tight enough so it doesn’t slip around.
Your ring finger and little finger need to rest on the banjo head just in front of the bridge, don’t push down too hard on the head. If both fingers won’t stay on the head, focus on them and work at it slowly. In time, your fingers will get used to this position and you will feel comfortable. Some people use an elastic band to tie their fingers together until they get used to this position. Try the elastic band trick, it might work for you, but be careful not to cut off your circulation by having the elastic too tight.
Now that we have have the picks on and our fingers on the banjo head – let’s talk about position. Your wrist should be slightly bent and well off the head, some say you should be able to hold a tennis ball between your wrist and the head, but I think you also need to be comfortable. The palm of your hand should be about two inches above the banjo head, but again make sure you are in a comfortable position. Your fingers are resting near the first and second strings, you thumb, just above the fifth string.
Take some time and be sure that you are setup correctly and you will improve much faster. The last thing to talk about is the angle that your picks hit the strings, the ideal situation is hitting the strings dead on, at a ninety degree angle. This position may be difficult to attain and some sources suggest you hit the strings at a sixty degree angle, so experiment and find the best combination of comfort and good sound.
Check out the other categories and remember, many of these jokes can be used for different instruments, so mix and match.
This roll uses the 1st, 2nd and 5th strings on the banjo. Your middle finger picks the first, index picks the second string and thumb picks the fifth.
The following exercise will get you started, since we are using open strings, this a G chord.
This roll is a bit tricky, because you lead off with your middle finger. Play slowly and count – picking evenly and cleanly. When you have this roll worked out at a slow speed and are confident, bring up the speed. Don’t try to go too fast too soon, you are better off playing well at a slower speed than playing faster and poorly.
Here is an example of this roll, have a listen: [audio:Backward Roll.mp3]
One of the most important banjo rolls is the alternating roll, it is used in both leads and backup and sounds great. This roll is a little different than the forward roll, as your thumb gets a pretty good workout in this one.
Let’s get setup; your thumb plays the 3rd string, index finger on 2nd string, thumb down on the 5th and middle picks the 1st string, now repeat this until you can play it in your sleep. Be careful not to go too fast – start slowly, and build up your speed when you’re ready.
Count as you play, if you are having trouble, take it one note at a time and make sure you are not overlooking anything. Practice this roll until you can play it with authority and each note is clean and clear.
Have a listen to the alternating roll right here: [audio:Alternating Roll.mp3]
Stay tuned for more banjo rolls in upcoming posts and keep on picking.
Don’t take your banjo playing too seriously, take some time and check out some of my favorite jokes. I have a few friends who are not only talented musicians, but are also sources of unlimited jokes. I’ll keep posting these jokes as I remember the best and worst of them.
I have added more audio clips to the old posts, go back and have a listen and let me know what you think.
If you have a joke that you’d like to share, just put it in a your comment and I’ll add it to the jokes section. Go directly to the jokes page here: Jokes Page.
The next post is going to be: The Alternating Thumb Roll, so I’d better get to work on that.
A New feature has been added at Banjoblogger.com, now you can listen to the exercises and learn even more quickly. Just click on the play button and listen to each exercise as many times as you like.
Click on the play button to hear a G scale played using the melodic banjo style.
[audio:G Melodic Scale.mp3]
Press play to listen to a backup version of “Oh Susannah”
Check out all of the old posts, sound clips have been added to almost every one. Just watch for the audio player and press play.
The first banjo roll I’m going to teach you is the forward roll. You have to be proficient at the forward roll if you are going to play bluegrass banjo, so let’s get down to business. Your thumb picks down on the 5th string, your index finger picks the 2nd and your middle picks the 1st string.
This exercise is written using eighth notes and is counted like so: One and Two and Three and Four and. As usual make sure to count while you are playing and keep a slow, steady pace. The counting for this example is written as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + . . . repeat.
Listen to The Forward Roll Here: [audio:Forward Roll.mp3]