A Taxonomy of Sloppy Playing

Sloppy playing can creep up on you before you know it, especially if you’re just starting out learning to play the banjo. As time goes on and you get more experience, you’ll start to recognize when you’re getting sloppy with your playing. And if you’re sloppy with your playing, then most likely it’s because you’ve been sloppy with your practice.

Here is a brief taxonomy of sloppy playing. Most of these really are self-explanatory, and the solutions are all pretty much the same; perfect practice makes perfect! Perhaps listing them this way will help increase awareness of the specific mechanism behind the sloppiness we occasionally find in our playing.

Can you think of other items that would go on this list of sloppy playing habits?

  1. Left Hand Problems
       Poor fretting
       Poor slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs
       Pull-off occurring when not needed
  2. Right Hand Problems
       Hit wrong string
       Hit multiple strings
       Hit didn’t get across string
       Too loud or too soft
       Wrong emphasis
       Wrong rhythm
       Not planting either ring or little fingers on the drumhead
  3. Sync Problems
       Left-Right hand sync
       Syncing with other instruments
  4. Other:
       Out of Tune
       Doing just enough effort to get by
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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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2 Responses to A Taxonomy of Sloppy Playing

  1. Banjo Paul says:

    Hi Phill,

    Thanks for this article. It’s a great list of things for pickers to focus on. All of these items will get in the way of good picking, but the good news is they are all correctable!

    One thing I thought of that some struggle with is the inability to plant a finger…whether it be ring or pinky or both…on the head when picking.

    Keep up the good work! Love reading your stuff.

    Banjo Paul
    “Wunse, I coodn’t even spel bango pikker…now I are one!”
    http://www.banjosrule.com (main site)
    http://www.mybanjolife.com (blog)

  2. admin says:

    Hi Paul,

    Yes, that’s another for the list of woes we banjo players face.
    You know, some (most) of these are common to all stringed instruments (sync problems, out of tune, wrong emphasis…) while several are specific (or at least more predominate) to our banjo world: keeping one or two fingers on the head, slides and pull-offs, for instance. Thanks!

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