Kinder-Scruggs Style

What is Kinder-Scruggs?

It’s what I call a simplified style of playing that is ideal for young children.

I came up with this when one of my youngest students was going to play in her school Christmas play (although being a public school they have to call it a ‘holiday play’ or something like that nowadays – go figure). Anyway, she needed something that was:

  1. Playable
  2. Simple and quick to learn
  3. banjoy-sounding. That is, it at least sounds close to Scruggs style.
  4. Easy to execute

So I came up with what I call Kinder-Scruggs style. I was going to call this teaching/playing style ‘Pre-Scruggs’, as in ‘Pre-school’, but that seems to already be used for referring to non-clawhammer, two and three-finger playing styles prior to about 1945, when Earl Scruggs introduced his style on the Grand ‘Ol Opry. Oh well. Kinder-Scruggs it is.

It goes like this.

First, the student learns the usual three or four rolls, plus a few basic chords: open G, C, D7; possibly also E and Em; and a bar chord A if they have strong hands. This gives them a good feel for what Scruggs style playing is like.

But we’re not ready for songs yet that would involve anything more complicated, such as licks, hammer-ons and the like.

What we do next is to memorize a set of very simple licks that I call blocks. Think of them like Lego blocks; you can plug them in at different places in the song as needed. And since the entire song is pretty simple, you only need a few blocks. For ‘Silent Night’ I have used about 10 blocks. Children are fantastic at memorizing things such as these simple blocks, but aren’t as good at absorbing complex patterns, such as is needed for licks. This style allows them to be able to play in a style that is very close to Scruggs without the more difficult licks. These licks can come later, maybe at 12 or so years of age.

Of course, ages vary; and some youngsters are more or less talented than others and will progress at different rates accordingly.

Here’s a simple TablEdit file exported to a .txt format of the prototype song, ‘Silent Night‘.

About Pgibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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