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.