Increasing Speed with Single String Style

Since returning from NashCamp a few weeks ago, I’ve been more diligent with two things. One, I’ve been more structured in my practice, allotting about one third of my time to each of three categories: playing songs I already know, learning new material and techniques and working on trouble spots and other such things that require greater than usual detail.

Secondly, I’ve been practicing single string style more. That’s because I’ve been more inspired by it since getting one especially helpful tip from Bill Evans while at NashCamp; be sure to adjust you right hand up and down as you move from string to string. That, along with picking a bit more lightly, has made a surprising difference in the clarity and quality of my single string playing. By keeping your exact same hand position in relation to each string, you’ll have much better control and minimize mistakes such as accidentally picking the adjacent string.

With this new technique, I’ve been able to increase my speed on single string licks by roughly 20%. That’s a pretty big leap! And a quick one as well.

As a related item, I see this also works with certain more difficult melodic techniques that have been giving me consistent problems in times past. For instance, one tune I like to play is ‘Orange Blossom Special’ a la Carl Jackson. Part of the chorus, though, has always been tough to pull of at greater speeds. Using this movement of the right hand as the strings change underneath has helped increase my speed on this as well. I see here that it’s the same issue as with increasing speed with single string.

Thanks for the helpful hint, Bill!

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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 Increasing Speed with Single String Style

  1. john Mahitka says:

    I previously was an intermediate dobro player, but switched to a banjo back in June. Because I am 73, and having a super bad recent memory, I can not even for a moment grasp the tab info. to play what is prescribed, but seem to have a good ear type memory and feel I do fine. For years I had played a guitar and have minimal trouble quickly finding the next note to play, so not having a teacher, or ability to handle tab, I took to picking out the melody of a song all over the finger board and do a fine job at it. I have trouble with rolls and standard chords, but can whip out a song on what I call Melodic playing. That to me is playing a note or two in a boxed, open or closed position. I also play what I call Reno, or single string like using a thumb pick using an old 50’s rock beat style which is sort of alternating between two frets that are one fret apart and traveling swiftly along much of the neck. For all I know, this may be completely improper, but sounds good even with blue grass where the books claim Scruggs & rolls dominate. Very recently I learned all the bar and slant positions along the neck in order to use two strings at a time. I find that plunking down on the 2nd. string with my thumb while coming upward with my middle finger at the same time on the 1st. string makes sort of a roll sound. While I realize that this sort of a roll is not great all the time, there are songs and portions of songs where it could work out well.
    What I really need to get information on is some licks that might improve this sort of playing. I hope you do not mind my taking your time to read this.
    John Mahitka Shen. Valley, Va.

    • Phill Gibson says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the posting. And sorry to take so long to reply! Sounds like you’ve got a good ear for working out new techniques. Don’t be afraid to try these new things; nothing says we have to stick as close as possible to what already exists in terms of banjo styles, right? But don’t expect everyone to agree, either! I believe I got dumped once for not playing strictly by the rules myself!

      Anyway, do let me know what other ideas and thoughts you have – they are interesting. Take care!

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