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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: The Top Ten Reasons For 4-Finger Pickin’


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mikebanjo - Posted - 12/02/2009:  12:07:45


I have been picking exclusively with four fingers for over a year now and, in the spirit of Dave Letterman’s Late Night Show, I thought I’d share some reasons for doing so, with some conclusions, and have a little fun. Here then are . . .

The Top Ten Reasons For 4-Finger Pickin’

No. 10 The question of which fingertips to place on the head of the banjo is finally resolved.

[After putting a pick on your ring finger, you’re left with only the fingertip of the little finger to place on the banjo head to anchor the playing of the other four fingers.]

No. 9 You can still pick 3-finger style with four picks on, but you can’t pick 4-finger style with three finger picks.

[All those years of 3-finger pickin’ are not wasted, as you now have the option of not playing at times with the ring finger, especially below the fifth fret.]

No. 8 With four fingers assigned to the first through the fourth strings, your brain has less to think about.

[Here are my “at rest” or primary (secondary and tertiary also) assignments for the four fingers with picks: ring-1st string (2nd); middle-2nd string (1st & 3rd); index-3rd string (4th & 2nd); thumb-4th string (5th & 3rd). ]

No. 7 Four-finger pickin’ has more in common with single-string or Reno style than Scruggs style.

[Besides using the thumb-index on a single string, ring-middle and index-middle also work from the above assignments; or, as I have heard Jens Kruger say, “What’s wrong with any finger on any string?”]

No. 6 You can finally deemphasize that pesky fifth string in your playing.

[Beyond the fourth fret, the fifth string is really no more than a duplicate of the first string; but because the fifth string is nearest to the strongest digit (thumb), one is inclined to always play the fifth string, even while playing from the fifth to the 22nd frets.]

No. 5. Forget the capo . . . You are capo-able of playing in different keys up the neck without it.

[By not playing the fifth string (or hooking and/or tuning it appropriately), the G-tuned banjo can be played in ten other major keys besides G.]

No. 4. Four-fingers playing leads to learning chords, melodies, and backup notes up the neck more thoroughly.

[In combination with No. 5 & 6 above, chords, melodies and backup notes are found anywhere on the banjo neck in whatever key you chose to play in.]

No. 3 The sound of all four notes of a four-note chord picked at the same time is magnificent.

[You don’t have to do a cross-over arpeggio to play all the notes of a 7th chord; you can also sound magnificent playing A7thb9, Bbm7th, Bm7thb5, Cm6, D7thb9, Eb7th, E7thb5, FMaj7th, F#7th, GbMB7th, GMaj7th, etc., etc.]

No. 2. By learning the notes by name everywhere on the neck, you can go on to playing from standard musical notation and start playing jazz, popular music, classical music, etc.

[There’s a whole world of music out there (and plenty of sheet music) to be played on the banjo if you can get beyond having to learn everything from tab; help expand the banjo’s horizons.]

No. 1 If Earl had done it that way, we’d all be pickin’ today with 4 fingers!

[I know I will get grief for this.]


Edited by - jazzylynne on 12/12/2009 16:04:32

5stringypsy - Posted - 12/02/2009:  12:31:06


who is Dave Letterman?????????????????????????

NINJO - Posted - 12/02/2009:  12:34:44


Can you post some sound clips that show the difference between 3 & 4 finger approaches to the same musical idea?

pearcemusic - Posted - 12/02/2009:  12:48:25


I started playing with 4 fingers ... I think Greg Leitz (edit sp Liszt ... Greg Leisz is a pedal steel player ... can NEVER keep those 2 straight) plays that way.

http://www.jakeschepps.com/web/node/249

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Lyvc-nzUQ0

It didn't work for me .... I just played more bad notes.


Edited by - pearcemusic on 12/02/2009 14:08:25

Laurence Diehl - Posted - 12/02/2009:  13:01:22


Yes, some sound clips would be nice.
And this is just me, but I actually prefer the sound of 3-note voicings. Less cluttered.

beegee - Posted - 12/02/2009:  13:47:14


De gustibus non disputandum est

salvatone - Posted - 12/02/2009:  13:50:53


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlF1cdBoafw&NR=1

Gregory Liszt playing with Crooked Still. He is the most notable of the four finger pickers. I have spoken to him about his style. He first told me several years ago that learning to play with four fingers involved "some major reprogramming." When I saw him this year and spoke to him he told me that he was more selective in the way he used his four finger rolls.

Here is the a link to The Bluegrass Intelligencer, a humor newsletter that he posts:

http://bluegrassintelligencer.com/

He was the banjo player on Bruce Springsteen's Seeger tour and he is really smart, he recently completed a Phd from MIT in biology. Nice guy, great player.



clawforlife - Posted - 12/02/2009:  14:04:19


i will also coment on the great 4 finger skills of greg from crooked still, he is awesome. and not one guitar in that band, cello instead of a fiddle, very cool sound indeed.

pearcemusic - Posted - 12/02/2009:  14:05:08


quote:
Originally posted by beegee

De gustibus non disputandum est



ok smart aleck ... what the heck does that mean ??!!

NINJO - Posted - 12/02/2009:  15:03:42


I can't even remember what this thread is about after clicking on that http://bluegrassintelligencer.com/ link. That is the best thing going.

mikebanjo - Posted - 12/02/2009:  15:12:05


Can't post sound cllips, Ninjo, but think of the difference in a song like The Girl From Ipanema (made up of all four-note chords) played fully with four fingers vs. how it would sound with three fingers.

JDunigan - Posted - 12/02/2009:  16:42:22


"There is no disputing about tastes" Good one!

Banjocoltrane - Posted - 12/02/2009:  17:10:11



I don't see the advantages of four finger playing given the examples you have given. Nearly all of them apply to 3 finger playing as well.

1)People that play with 3 fingers often just plant the pinky

2)Even if you play with all 4 fingers, you still don't subscribe each finger to only one string, there are still many variations possible. In addition, I happen to like the sound of thumb hitting the second/third strings to emphasize melody notes. I don't want to designate a finger for each string.

3)I don't see a need for another finger to do reno-style, melodics, etc. I can't imagine adding another finger will enable me to play either styles better.

4)I don't want to demphasize the fifth string in my playing, it's part of what makes it a five string banjo.

5)You can play without a capo regardless of how many fingers of your right hand you use. Right hand fingers aren't a limiting factor of how many keys you can play in without a capo. It has to do with left hand knowledge.

6)I don't see how 4 fingers make learning chords/melodies any easier. Once again, this is a left hand issue. Likewise, learning the names of the note isn't a right-hand issue

7)Like Laurence stated, I like 3 note voicings. One can play very complex chords without an addition finger. I play rootless chords all the time, min7b5, 7b9#13 chords, etc.

In addition, I have yet to hear anyone play smoother and more intricate things with four fingers than someone playing with three fingers.

mikey5string - Posted - 12/02/2009:  17:19:43


well if four is good for all those reasons, five fingers must be better! ; )

1four5 - Posted - 12/02/2009:  17:43:23


I play with 4 fingers, simply because that's the way I like playing. I play with only three fingers occasionally, especially for bluegrassy songs, it hurts nothing to have a pick on the 4th finger, just waiting for the next song. I also like to mix. I have actually found it interesting that my thumb and middle and ring actually work together the best for 3 finger patterns. My 4 finger patterns often include double stops (I think that what you call it) for thicker sounding country rhythms. 4 string pulls and "rakes" as well as simple patterns outside of bluegrass makes my banjo very versitile, and although doable, are much harder to accomplich with 3 fingers. Compared to some of you all, I'm pretty much a mediocure player, and I'll never leave any legacies, but I've leanred the way my brain, hands and muscle mechanics enjoy playing the most. It works very well with the music I like to play, and the songs we perform. I don't consider myself a bluegrasser, but more so just a banjo payer who loves playing.

P.S. MikeBanjo try this pattern I- [M+R]- T .....think bum-[dit]-y ... explore the possiblilities for a few weeks and tell me you aint having a BLAST with it

thetexan - Posted - 12/03/2009:  07:53:18


While interesting to watch or listen to (when and if you can find any 4 finger player worth listening to) four finger playing, especially in bluegrass, is simply so esoteric to be unusable, at least in that genre.

Possibly in jazz or classical.

mikebanjo - Posted - 12/03/2009:  09:50:06


Well, I did start this thread out as an attempt at humor, given my reasons (not advantages) and some conclusions as to why I play with four fingers. Guess not too many folks saw any humor in the Top Ten. I think 1four5 got the gist of what I was trying to say. Better give up on becoming a writer for the Late Show.

salvatone - Posted - 12/03/2009:  13:48:41


miekbanjo-I am often surprised that more banjo players do not use 4 fingers. Bela is certainly one example, as well as Trischka and Noam Pickelney, three of the most inovative and tecnically proficient players I know, but they seem to be doin fine without it. If I were starting now, I think I would use four fingers. I spend a lot of time practicing crossing my thumb over my index one way and visa versa the other. The recording I just posted of Brilliancy on my sound page has a couple of examples of this tecnique in the second section. Perhaps I could just start wearing a third finger pick and it would just naturally come to me.

Post a sound clip of your playing, I would like to hear what you are doing.

Best wishes

Salvatone

mikebanjo - Posted - 12/03/2009:  15:11:31


Thanks for the encouraging words, Salvatone, but I can't post a sound of my playing because I don't know how. What I tried to show by No.8 of my Top Ten was how I arrived at picking with four fingers: mentally I had to get the thumb away from playing the fifth string all the time, so I "assigned" the four fingers to the first four strings, the "at rest" position. From there, I found that it was easier to play with four fingers, giving the fifth string a secondary role. I also found that playing above the fifth fret with four fingers made more sense since the fifth and the first strings are the basically the same at that point. And playing with three fingers below the fifth fret also seems the thing to do, especially in bluegrass. Again. I am not saying playing with four fingers has advantages over playing with three; it just seems more natural for me to do so now.

1four5 - Posted - 12/03/2009:  16:38:20


My entry into four finger style is a little different. Long story short, I played self taught finger style blues on guitar for a loooooong time before even touching a banjo. I also used open D and G tuning. My brain to string connection was well formed long before my friends talked me into being a banjo guy. I knew the tuning and all that. My brain thinks a sound or a pattern, and my fingers just do it without much thought. Like I said above, I'm not a bluegrasser, although as a group we touch the fringes with some simplified versions of the more recognizable stuff, because someone always wants to hear some when they see a banjo. It's definately not what I'm into, yet I still enjoy giving our local jam my best shot. My main banjo interests are in supporting our band efforts, primarily classic old country and western swing, with rockabilly and we love to swing old hymns traditional, and big band stuff. 4 finger playing works well. It's not better, or worse or any of that... it's just the way I play.

KI4PRK - Posted - 12/04/2009:  19:07:33


quote:
Originally posted by mikebanjo

I have been picking exclusively with four fingers for over a year now and, in the spirit of Dave Letterman’s Late Night Show, I thought I’d share some reasons for doing so, with some conclusions, and have a little fun. Here then are . . .

The Top Ten Reasons For 4-Finger Pickin’

No. 10 The question of which fingertips to place on the head of the banjo is finally resolved.

[After putting a pick on your ring finger, you’re left with only the fingertip of the little finger to place on the banjo head to anchor the playing of the other four fingers.]

No. 9 You can still pick 3-finger style with four picks on, but you can’t pick 4-finger style with three finger picks.

[All those years of 3-finger pickin’ are not wasted, as you now have the option of not playing at times with the ring finger, especially below the fifth fret.]

No. 8 With four fingers assigned to the first through the fourth strings, your brain has less to think about.

[Here are my “at rest” or primary (secondary and tertiary also) assignments for the four fingers with picks: ring-1st string (2nd); middle-2nd string (1st & 3rd); index-3rd string (4th & 2nd); thumb-4th string (5th & 3rd). ]

No. 7 Four-finger pickin’ has more in common with single-string or Reno style than Scruggs style.

[Besides using the thumb-index on a single string, ring-middle and index-middle also work from the above assignments; or, as I have heard Jens Kruger say, “What’s wrong with any finger on any string?”]

No. 6 You can finally deemphasize that pesky fifth string in your playing.

[Beyond the fourth fret, the fifth string is really no more than a duplicate of the first string; but because the fifth string is nearest to the strongest digit (thumb), one is inclined to always play the fifth string, even while playing from the fifth to the 22nd frets.]

No. 5. Forget the capo . . . You are capo-able of playing in different keys up the neck without it.

[By not playing the fifth string (or hooking and/or tuning it appropriately), the G-tuned banjo can be played in ten other major keys besides G.]

No. 4. Four-fingers playing leads to learning chords, melodies, and backup notes up the neck more thoroughly.

[In combination with No. 5 & 6 above, chords, melodies and backup notes are found anywhere on the banjo neck in whatever key you chose to play in.]

No. 3 The sound of all four notes of a four-note chord picked at the same time is magnificent.

[You don’t have to do a cross-over arpeggio to play all the notes of a 7th chord; you can also sound magnificent playing A7thb9, Bbm7th, Bm7thb5, Cm6, D7thb9, Eb7th, E7thb5, FMaj7th, F#7th, GbMB7th, GMaj7th, etc., etc.]

No. 2. By learning the notes by name everywhere on the neck, you can go on to playing from standard musical notation and start playing jazz, popular music, classical music, etc.

[There’s a whole world of music out there (and plenty of sheet music) to be played on the banjo if you can get beyond having to learn everything from tab; help expand the banjo’s horizons.]

No. 1 If Earl had done it that way, we’d all be pickin’ today with 4 fingers!

[I know I will get grief for this.]



No. 2 & No. 4 are irrelevant. They can all easily apply to three-finger, or even 2 finger or 5-finger or whatever should you choose to play that way.

No. 1 is probably true, but is still not a reason for 4-finger pickin'.

As any Reno-style picker will tell you, No. 6 & No. 5 are perfectly possible with three-finger picking. I play tunes in all kinds of keys without the 5th being a problem. And for many songs, I WANT to use the 5th string. It's one of THE most unique things about the 5-string banjo.

I have tried to 4 finger pick many times, & each time I did, I disproved No. 8. It might be different for other people, but for me it's more confusing to have to deal with 4 fingers than three.

To a good picker, the question of which finger to plant is easy to resolve. It's mostly a matter of tone. You pretty much HAVE to plant at least one finger to get any good drive to the faster bluegrass tunes. Most pickers I've heard who plant with one finger start to slip at higher speeds. However, there are a few famous examples of pickers planting with one finger and sounding amazing.

No. 7 doesn't really make sense; Single string & Reno style are both three finger styles, as is scruggs style. Reno style includes rolling, and although it is noticeably different in its basic elements, both are three finger styles including rolling. Single string can be played with two fingers, three fingers, or four fingers.

That leaves 9 & 3; both valid points. A chord picked all at the same time as opposed to brush does sound slightly different.

Let me add one for 4-finger style: You can play finger patterns that simply cannot be played with 3 fingers. I have come across these problems once in a blue moon; for my picking stye, I can usually get around this by crossing one finger over another, but sometimes you just need another finger.

Now, like I said, I've tried to play 4 finger before, but failed each time. If I had any patience I might be able to do it, but that ring finger is infuriating, and I like to have two fingers planted; when I play finger-style guitar I have to plant two or three fingers (depending on whether I'm picking with 3 or 2 fingers).
So I've stuck with good ol' 3 finger-style banjo (my old-time banjo styles notwithstanding). I am a diehard Reno-style picker, as well as a melodic style picker, & I play plenty of Jazz (Limehouse blues in Ab sans capo ), vintage pop music (Bill Bailey), and I've even ventured tentatively into Classical music (Humoresque in G & Bb).

Sorry, just had to plug one for the good-ol' 3-finger style! Merry Christmas!

73, Brennen


Mirek Patek - Posted - 12/04/2009:  22:49:09


What about the use of your ring finger(nail) for downbrushing/downpicking, rather than for uppicking. This way you can mix picking and frailing in one song. (I was told late John Hartford did it and I am sure many others too).

Mirek

salvatone - Posted - 12/05/2009:  03:28:55


Mirek-That is a good tecnique, but if you put on a third fingerpick, you are pretty much commited to up picking.

mikebanjo - Posted - 12/05/2009:  07:52:16


Another reason (not an advantage) for a pick on the ring finger is that I can frail [up-frail?, Salvatone] with picks on, resting slightly the heel of picking hand on the banjo head instead of the pinky finger. I can now go thru Banjo Newsletter and, if the old timey tunes are in G-tuning [don't want to re-tune; I'm lazy, as well as why confuse myself with more tunings], I have that many more tunes to play. Perhaps the old-timey players will now add to this thread: picking with four fingers and frailing, too? . . . impossible!


Edited by - mikebanjo on 12/05/2009 13:53:06

1four5 - Posted - 12/05/2009:  08:02:17


I've tried to use my pinkey for throwing some strums in... not so good, and I ditched the idea. With 4 picks you can develope a really nice rake that you can vary in speed to go from sounding like a strum to a nice arrpagio. I've allready mentioned this: I- [M+R]- T .....think bum-[dit]-y. I use it in places, and have been asked how in the world I was clawing with picks on, the two notes [M+R] picked together gives a nice illusion of a strum at speed.

Mirek Patek - Posted - 12/05/2009:  22:15:06


quote:
Originally posted by salvatone

Mirek-That is a good tecnique, but if you put on a third fingerpick, you are pretty much commited to up picking.
Yes, so what I am suggesting is to put the third fingerpick (on ring finger) the other way - covering the nail. After some period with Freedom Pick I use now plastic white Dunlop fingerpick shortened a bit. This way the down-frail can be played.

The up-frail mikebanjo speaks about can be done with middle or index fingerpick. Melody being on top of frailed strings... Interesting.

Mirek

deuceswilde - Posted - 12/05/2009:  23:19:45


quote:
In addition, I have yet to hear anyone play smoother and more intricate things with four fingers than someone playing with three fingers.



Banjocoltrane, google "Fred Van Eps."

1four5 - Posted - 12/06/2009:  02:20:13


Sometimes when I see defensive or negitive comments about using 4 fingers to pick a banjo, I think that there is a miss conception that 4 finger playing is somehow supposed to be 1/4 times faster, or 1/4 times more intricate, or 1/4 times more complex, or whatever other assumptions there may be. Well, at least in my own personal case, that is NOT the case. It's just the way my mind and hands feel comfortable, and the way my playing developed. I would have to say my playing is less intricate if anything, simple and rhythmic, and I've never felt the need to proove anything by playing overly fast.

geemott - Posted - 12/12/2009:  08:26:59


It sounds like it would be very interesting to try. Do you have to figger it out for yourself, or are there some resources to learn by?

Banjocoltrane - Posted - 12/12/2009:  09:05:08


quote:
Originally posted by deuceswilde

quote:
In addition, I have yet to hear anyone play smoother and more intricate things with four fingers than someone playing with three fingers.



Banjocoltrane, google "Fred Van Eps."



I've heard him lots, still stand by my original comments


Edited by - Banjocoltrane on 12/12/2009 09:06:06

KI4PRK - Posted - 12/12/2009:  13:55:47


quote:
Originally posted by Banjocoltrane

quote:
Originally posted by deuceswilde

quote:
In addition, I have yet to hear anyone play smoother and more intricate things with four fingers than someone playing with three fingers.



Banjocoltrane, google "Fred Van Eps."



I've heard him lots, still stand by my original comments



Smoother, maybe not. More intricate, DEFINITELY! Fred's takes on Nola, Ragtime Oriole, Bolero, & many other's are simply unbelievable. Sure, he ain't no bluegrass banjoist, but in terms of technical expertise, I have yet to hear an equal of him. And yes, I've heard Bela, Tony, and all the new banjo players. Close, but no Cigar. Fred is still tops, IMHO.

73, Brennen

Ol Lefty - Posted - 12/12/2009:  16:46:43


I score you 10 points on this thread. Enjoy the humor, "Intelligencer" is now on desktop, and on guitar and now on banjo, I sneak that 4th finger in, especially squeezes/snaps on chords. It gives a richer tone-cream instead of half & half. No pick on it, though-it still comes through, and, yes, I will frail/rake with all fingers, especially when economizing the high "G". Since I'm such a rookie, I'm talking about breaking 3 finger rules and I am not yet even a competent Scruggs picker, but I am reverse engineering from guitar-for many years played a vintage D-12-28 and with all of those strings I figured I needed to use more fingers(I cannot forgive myself for selling it to fund tooling, but I am about to parallel build a short scale slope shoulder dread -imbuia and Sitka, laminated 5 layer curly maple neck, blended spruce and carbon fiber bracing.)

As I begin to "ingrain" rolls the 4th finger is a conscious decision-if practicing with distraction(TV) I really have to think the 4th finger ahead. Heck, it's all good if it is still fun.We are supposed to be having fun here, aren't we?

Thanks!O'L

Yankee_Picker - Posted - 02/14/2010:  17:19:34


I looked up "4 finger" in these forums because I didn't want to be just another n00b asking questions that have probably been asked thousands of times before. So after reading through this thread, I am curious:
For those of you who have tried to play four-finger style, how do you position your ring finger pick?
I was having difficulty getting my ring finger to strike the string squarely. I already have my index and middle finger picks slightly cockeyed so that it hits the string straight on, but because the ring finger curls down at an even greater angle, I can't get it to hit the string straight...

I can pitch my wrist down (towards the ground) more, which makes my fingers all strike straighter, but then it forces my thumb pick to hit the string on an angle instead of flat.

So I am wondering, do you use a different pick? Do you have it almost sitting on the side of your finger? Or do you bend your thumb pick like a zookie?



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