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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: adapting bluegrass 3-finger picking to the guitar

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:

Rick McKeon - Posted - 03/06/2019:  19:35:00

I used to think that picking bluegrass banjo and playing classical or folk guitar were so different that you couldn't adapt one style to the other. My early guitar training in college was in the classical approach (and all the restrictions that that entails). So it took me a long time to give up the comfortable acrylic nails for fingerpicks, and to start playing with just the thumb and two fingers. But you can play all of your favorite ragtime, blues, and classical songs using a 3-finger approach. This was a revelation to me!

Has anyone else adapted a 3-finger banjo picking style to the guitar?


dupreejan - Posted - 03/06/2019:  20:06:43

Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac plays 3 finger style Guitar. He also plays the banjo and has been since the early 60's.

Mooooo - Posted - 03/06/2019:  21:29:21

I use only three fingers for guitar often enough. Some Dylan songs come to mind, Don't think Twice, It's alright and It Ain't Me Babe...etc...Blackbird by the Beatles, Dust in the Wind. That's all I can think of now. I guess if I don't have a flat pick with me, I use three fingers quite a bit if I have to pick some chords.

Edited by - Mooooo on 03/06/2019 21:32:23

talljoey - Posted - 03/06/2019:  23:28:08

I was amazed at how easy it was for me to utilize my 3 finger playing from banjo to guitar. I got a guitar last fall and I fingerpick almost all my songs with ease. My biggest problem is my tendency to anchor my ring finger and pinky on the pick guard. I got the ring curled up, but my pinkie isn’t willing yet. It feels like my hand flops and jitters when I don’t anchor it.

Edited by - talljoey on 03/06/2019 23:29:05

csacwp - Posted - 03/07/2019:  05:11:39

Mark Knopfler.

chief3 - Posted - 03/07/2019:  05:17:40

I have played 3 finger style guitar and banjo for over 40 years . In my experience, the same rolls used in bluegrass banjo can easily be played on a guitar but understand that when you do, the timing is different because, for one reason, you are using 6 strings instead of 4 and a drone. That being said, the alternating thumb (box roll ?) matches well with Travis alternating bass style guitar because both styles emphasize rhythm. The danger that bluegrass banjo players should be wary of is if the finger style guitar timing they may develop when playing finger style guitar, affects the drive in their banjo rolls.

RB3 - Posted - 03/07/2019:  06:57:03

This is something I've wondered about for a long time. The approach that Earl Scruggs took to playing guitar always seemed to me to be as unique as his approach to the banjo. I always thought that someone would take what Earl had done and expand upon it and develop it as a popular guitar style.

Rick McKeon - Posted - 03/07/2019:  07:54:53

Joanne, I do rest my fingers on the face of the guitar. It feels just as natural as when playing banjo.

FlyinEagle - Posted - 03/07/2019:  08:46:04

I’ve always been hesitant to call the things I do to a guitar “playing” it, but I’ve been picking up my wife’s guitar more frequently as of late, and I have been really shocked at how much easier it is for me to play. I’ve just been strumming cowboy chords and singing, but there is obviously a lot of overlap in the skill sets. I have to give some fingerpicking a go.

Frailin_Brayden - Posted - 03/07/2019:  10:03:24

I would also check out Jason Romero when he plays guitar. He plays with fingerpicks, although i wouldn't say he's using three finger style all the time. Very interesting stuff! Amazing player!

Texican65 - Posted - 03/08/2019:  20:21:45

Uh....Jerry Reed!

The only group/artist he ever paid to go see was Flatt & Scruggs.
He took what he saw Earl doing on banjo and directly incorporated it into his 6 string guitar playing...and that’s straight from Jerry’s mouth. He loved banjo and would sometimes even plink around on one in the tour bus. The intro to “Jerrys Breakdown” is a classic banjo intro. He had a couple different picking patterns, but when getting in the above mentioned song, he would use thumb, middle, and ring!

PeterJ - Posted - 03/19/2019:  06:50:04

I just can't get comfortable with a flat pick, so I just use bare fingers on guitar. Sometimes rolls, sometimes strums, pinches and single string lines.

kimjo - Posted - 03/19/2019:  07:17:40

Rick, do you use finger picks or bare fingers? Thanks!

Phil - MO - Posted - 03/20/2019:  06:58:07

Any books with tabs and cd of learning this style?


Texican65 - Posted - 03/20/2019:  12:39:31


Originally posted by Phil - MO

Any books with tabs and cd of learning this style?


Oh ya! Craig Dobbins' "5 String Banjo Styles for 6 String Guitar". Craig was a friend of Reed's, and has also written several reed guitar books, and is an accomplished musician.  Check it out! 


pearcemusic - Posted - 03/26/2019:  20:44:28

Yep a bit

Texican65 - Posted - 03/28/2019:  11:38:50


Originally posted by pearcemusic

Yep a bit

A prime example right here folks! Nice job on "Pony Express". 

I thought you were Paul Yandell for a minute....



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