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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: How do you practice your tremolo?

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 10/31/2018:  09:02:29

I'm asking for a friend whose tremolo technique is a bit, um, weak...

malarz - Posted - 10/31/2018:  09:19:33

I’m not that friend but I need help, too.

ekvin - Posted - 10/31/2018:  09:31:22

I also have tremolo issues. I was told to hold the pick and shake my hand like it was a dirty tissue, but that wasn't clear enough.

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 10/31/2018:  09:32:08

That is a great question, one that I have been wanting to ask. I hope someone like Omeboy responds to this. His tremolo is incredible.
I’ve been concentrating on loosening up my wrist and focusing on relaxing while playing.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 10/31/2018:  10:38:27

Omeboy! Look up in the sky!

It's the Bat Signal!

...oops, I mean the Banjo Signal!

We need you here...

Jbo1 - Posted - 10/31/2018:  13:57:53

Hold your pick hand steady and then shake the banjo really fast. That or drink a lot of coffee.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. I'll go back to the 5 string section now.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 10/31/2018:  15:32:51


Originally posted by Jbo1

Hold your pick hand steady and then shake the banjo really fast. That or drink a lot of coffee.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. I'll go back to the 5 string section now.

Actually, holding my hand steady and shaking then banjo would be about the only way for me to get a decent tremolo. I broke my wrist badly about 40 years ago, and I have limited extension, permanent weakness, and a lack of control when rapid movements are made.

I simply have given up and found other ways to play. I'll never sound like Eddie Peabody, but at least I can sy I have an original style.

Never really liked tremolo much, anyway...


Omeboy - Posted - 10/31/2018:  17:28:22

If you're having tremolo trouble, this might help.

Start out with a medium gauge pick like a 70mm.  A medium is very good to learn on before you go up to a stiffer gauge.  Lightly pinch your pick between the thumb and forefinger so it has a little "give" to it.  Just as you wrist is flexible to your arm, the pick shouldn't be held too tightly that there's no "give"  to its movement. The vital aspect here is NOT to pinch your pick with the forefinger using the tip of the finger, but rather by using the first full joint of the forefinger against the thumb.  This allows the pick to sit firmly yet lightly between the thumb and the flat of the forefinger's first joint. (See the video with Mike from the Kitsap Banjo Club.  Mike gives a nice explanation on how to maximize the proper grip for the best tremolo). 


With your wrist bent, let just the tip of the pick strike the string. The stroke will be Down Up Down Up Down Up and repeated continuously to create a sustained note. You can mute your banjo strings to practice this basic stroke.  Keep your wrist bent and lose as if you were trying to mimic a tremor. (A tremolo is actually a sustained tremor.)  The resulting movement is a controlled  "wagging" of the pick as it strikes the string in the previously described stroke.  You can experiment with how lose or tight you need to hold the pick.  You can also rest you fingers on the head----hopefully you have a smooth head.  If your pick starts to catch or bite the string as opposed to a smooth tremolo, you may have turned your pick angle too perpendicular to the string. Try to keep the pick parallel to the string for the best sound production.  A little angle is okay, but too much will cause noise and act as a deterrent to smooth tremoloing.


If you're trying to tremolo from your elbow, you're technique has gone out the window.  It needs to come from a bent wrist.  Those "elbow players" are the worst. They don't understand the technique.   For real progress, a metronome (or a drum machine) is a huge plus to sharpen you tremolo skill.  You can start with as slow a beat as you like and build up your speed as you gain skill.  The world wide web also has a few metronomes.  Start on a single string if you're a beginner and mute the string so it doesn't ring.  Once you can smoothly tremolo a single string, try two strings for a while, then three and work up  a chord melody tune tremoloing all four strings.  It helps to simply think of several strings as a single unit when tremoloing them together.  Edwelweiss and Laura's Theme (from Dr. Zhivago) are good tunes for practicing your tremolo either as a single string exercises or as chord melody exercises.

(Check out Mike's video on the tremolo pick grip as mentioned above.)

Edited by - Omeboy on 10/31/2018 17:33:14

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 10/31/2018:  19:42:57

Great to have you back! And thanks for that detailed explanation. I'll check that link tomorrow as my wife has gone to bed early.

And oh yeah....

what gauge is your current pick?





Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 10/31/2018 19:45:55

Omeboy - Posted - 10/31/2018:  19:53:46

I like a 1.0 mm Dunlop. I don't recommend it for a beginning student. You can work up to it. I use it for everything and I especially like the way I can accent notes with it in duo-style playing. A stiffer pick allows for much better note separation in that style IMO.

Edited by - Omeboy on 10/31/2018 19:54:29

parlour player - Posted - 11/01/2018:  01:05:52

Great explanation of using the plectrum.

malarz - Posted - 11/01/2018:  04:28:42

Thank you for that explanation.

Omeboy - Posted - 11/01/2018:  05:57:41

More good tremolo tips from a mandolin master.  A little angle is good.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/02/2018:  08:13:11

May I add to Omeboy's terrific tremolo advice that speed comes with practice? :-)

Veerstryngh Thynner

ldieckow - Posted - 11/04/2018:  01:18:38

I agree that speed comes from practice. Also agree about changing pick thickness. I spent a lot of time working on tremolo while muting the strings and playing

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 11/04/2018:  05:38:23

"We are not worthy!"

Lance, how wonderful to have a true master of the plectrum banjo like you joining us here.

The set you did at Allfrets this summer alongside tenor banjoists Johnny Baier and Paul Erickson at Allfrets lingers in my memory as some of the greatest four string banjo playing I've ever heard live... right up there with Buddy Wachter and my tenor banjo buddy Tim Allen.

Your fan,

Will Wilson
Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON

ldieckow - Posted - 11/04/2018:  14:00:19

Thanks so much Will. To be compared to Buddy and Tim is about the greatest compliment I've ever received in my 50 yr career. Please forgive me if I was a bit vague re: muting the strings to practice tremolo. I work part time as an IATSE stagehand and had just got home from a load out of Lynard Skynard and Marshall Tucker Band so I was a bit zonked @ 3 am when I responded. Paul(Omeboy) gave a better detailed response then I did and he was spot on with all his advice. In the early 80's, Buddy presented a 2 day workshop in Milwaukee that I attended along with Johnny and Debbie Shreyer along with another 6 or 8 folks. Re: tremolo practice, Buddy suggested putting a towel over the neck of the banjo and as Paul suggested, start with one string. no left hand on the neck at all. as you become more comfortable with one string, play 2 etc. as Paul mentioned. As an alternative to that exercise, he said to simply place your left hand across all the strings, no chording allowed and just practice on the 1st string and so on. Again, a metronome is a wonderful tool to help with this effort. Re: our set in Buffalo, Johnny,Paul, and I met in the early 70's and we've played together so much that most of the time we all know what the other is gonna do ahead of time. We start Tiger rag by playing the melody in single string harmony and take turns playing single string solos during the chorus. The arrangement you heard was perfected last September in Oklahoma City in a rehearsal backstage prior to serving as a backing act for the Kruger Brothers. Again thanks for your kind words and I hope you can join us next year in Dearborn or Springfield or both!

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