Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Getting Started

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

For starting starters (apologies to Dr. Seuss), it is best to make use of a little-known fact about how our brains process such things as banjo rolls. Did you know it doesn’t matter to your brain if you switch some of your fingers around when playing banjo rolls? It’s true. Not just any fingers can be switched however. Try this: play any song you already know on the banjo – even one of your more challenging tunes. Instead of using you thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand to pick, use your thumb, middle and ring fingers. Go ahead and try it now, but slow it way down. Do you see how you didn’t have to think about it any more than you would if using your ‘regular’ picking fingers? You’ll also notice how you had to slow it way down, due to the fact that the ring finger is way behind the learning curve, even if it already knows what string to pick. I must say, that is a weird feeling for someone who already knows how to play the banjo!

So one of the first tasks then, is to get that ring finger more up-to-speed. Always remember to keep a pick on the ring finger when you are practicing this style. As with any new style you learn, set aside some time for this one technique for a while. Try to get to where you can feel a level of confidence in what you are doing before increasing speed. Beginning speed can be a fairly relative thing; what I’m doing as I progress with this style is to start at about 4 to 6 notes per second (roughly 60 to 70 BPM on a metronome). Later exercises and rolls may need to slow down a bit, but for now, this can actually go a little faster due to the fact that your brain already knows what song to pick.

Practice this for several weeks. It’s going to take a little while to get used to it and to get the ring finger feeling more adept at a new role (pun intended) in life.

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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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One Response to Playing Banjo 4-Finger Style – Getting Started

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

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