Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Background

Intro | Background | Observations | Benefits & Challenges | Getting Started | More Getting Started | Applying it to a Song

Last blog, I gave a brief introduction to the topic of playing bluegrass banjo with four (right hand) fingers, rather than the usual three. Now, we’ll go over a bit of historical perspective.

Some Background & Other Observations
1946is a year bluegrass banjo pickers will always remember. That’s when Earl Scruggs, at the Grand ‘Ol Opry, introduced the world to 3-finger style banjo playing, when a lot of folks were still playing banjo with either two fingers or clawhammer style. As many banjo players know nowadays, 1946 was ripe for just this quantum leap in banjo technique. Several other players, among them Don Reno and Snuffy Jenkins, were also starting to play 3-finger style, especially around the North Carolina area that Earl Scruggs came from.

3-finger style banjo was revolutionary for several reasons.
1. Physically, it allowed the use of one more finer in rolls, thus making it roughly 50% faster-sounding for the same amount of effort with two fingers.
2. It created a totally new cadence to rolls. Combined with the existing syncopated sound of the 5th drone string, no wonder it was such a fascinating new sound.
3. Given the speed that was now possible with 3 finger style playing, songs could be played with a more exciting drive. Old songs could be reworked and new songs written just for a fast bluegrass feel.

Since that day, we have added several new and exciting techniques and styles, including Reno style, which embodies single string playing, melodic style which emulates note-for-note fiddle tunes and many new techniques that extend these styles into not only bluegrass, but also jazz, country, rock and other genres.

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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 Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Background

  1. Pingback: Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Introduction

  2. Pingback: Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Getting Started Yet More | Phill Gibson's Blog

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