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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Forward reverse roll

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:

Bluzeman - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:01:46

So I've been playing about 3 months now. I'm progressing well enough that I treated myself to an OB-300 to replace my Amazon special. It's beautiful by the way.

I've been trying for weeks to get the forward reverse roll smooth at a fast tempo. I even sat here one night and played it over and over a million times. Well, seemed like that much anyway. I can do it fairly smooth up to about 90-95 BPM and no matter how much I try, my fingers get all tangled up if I try for any faster than that. Is there any trick to help with that or do I just have to practice with a metronome another million or so times? I'm doing well with most other rolls but this one is just really kicking my rear.

jdeluke137 - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:13:34

Don’t try to speed it up. Just keep playing it slow with a metronome. You’ll get it, but it takes time. You’ve got to build the muscle memory correctly, and if you speed up and make mistakes you’re building that into your muscle memory.

Bluzeman - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:28:24

Thanks, and will do. I'm really happy with the progress I've made in such a short time but I have a LONG way to go! I've played guitar, mostly blues, for 52 years and bought a cheap banjo thinking that would give me an edge and it would be fairly easy. After 3 days I almost said "expletive" this "expletive" ! Ha ha! Whole different world from guitar!

Edited because I originally put the word expletive inside the greater than and less than signs.  Guess that must make it some kind of code for the board.



Edited by - Bluzeman on 05/13/2023 13:31:41

steve davis - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:31:21

Each month will get a little easier.

Tractor1 - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:33:50

I find that one --about the hardest to keep smooth from quiet to loud settings -you might watch to make sure you are not rocking your hand sideways --but it still needs to be relaxed not planted hard--my opinion--i ask no one to agree

Bluzeman - Posted - 05/13/2023:  13:37:48

I'll watch for that. Appreciate any and all advice. In all the years I have been a musician I never even touched a banjo until 3 months ago so I have a lot to learn!

Texasbanjo - Posted - 05/13/2023:  14:07:54

Sounds like you're doing very well for 3 months. Getting used to that 5th string drone is usually difficult for guitar pickers.

As far as the forward-reverse roll, I agree with what others have said: take it slow and easy, count, keep it steady, use a metronome or some sort of software that has a steady beat. Every once in a while speed it up where you make mistakes, then take it back down a little.

Just remember this: if you try to play too fast too quickly, you'll end up being a sloppy banjo picker. You have to be able to play something slow before you can play it fast.

Bluzeman - Posted - 05/13/2023:  14:24:41

Thanks Sherry.  I've been using an old Boss Dr-670 drum machine.  Without that or a metronome I think it would be impossible to learn banjo.  At least for me.  The 5th string was definitely something weird for me at first.  I play by ear and after all these years, reaching UP with my thumb for the high note was like something out of bizzaro world!


Old Hickory - Posted - 05/13/2023:  14:31:26

What everybody else said.

Three months in, you should not be worrying about speed. 

I'd say make sure you really do have it smooth at 90-95. That means in time and every note as clear as you want it. When you're regularly playing at that tempo with no loss of time or accuracy -- and with added expressiveness -- then you can think about ratcheting up a little at a time.

If you're a fast and clean guitar player after your 52 years, then maybe you can push yourself more to be the same on banjo.

But timing and accuracy should always take precedence over speed. I don't think anyone ever improved their accuracy by playing faster.

All of us, unfortunately, have a speed limit. Some of us are never going to be really fast pickers. Some of, myself included, are never going to be as fast as we used to be.

Good luck.

steve davis - Posted - 05/13/2023:  14:51:54

I never worried about speed.
Lots of songs are played too fast.

Jack Baker - Posted - 05/13/2023:  15:15:20


There's nothing to it. Just blaze away. I've got lots of students who want to blaze away after 2 weeks. Some do, most don't, but just have at it...Jack

Originally posted by Bluzeman


Edited by - Jack Baker on 05/13/2023 15:16:58

phb - Posted - 05/16/2023:  01:19:49


Originally posted by steve davis

I never worried about speed.

Lots of songs are played too fast.

I do worry about speed because many songs are played faster than I feel comfortable with. indecision


steve davis - Posted - 05/16/2023:  06:51:19

If playing faster is important to you then practice on gaining speed every day.

Eric A - Posted - 05/16/2023:  06:56:32

No reason to play faster than you can sing, imo.

monstertone - Posted - 05/16/2023:  07:42:34

The sound you're trying to create with that, or any, roll, has to be firmly rooted in the brain in order to come out through the fingers.

gcpicken - Posted - 05/16/2023:  10:37:54

Just a suggestion, but maybe work all the “Janet Davis” rolls everyday. In coming months/years, you’ll be happy that you did. She didn’t invent them, she is just one of many who have compiled the basics. My experience is that over-working a roll is not helpful - your finger muscles get worn out, your pinky/ring fingers start losing form and you start unlearning. JMO. But I’m guilty of doing that myself.

steve davis - Posted - 05/16/2023:  12:00:53

I like to play fiddletunes at dance speed.

phb - Posted - 05/17/2023:  05:38:16


Originally posted by steve davis

I like to play fiddletunes at dance speed.

I have some personal reservations about the melodic style but I recently have learned to play a few fiddle tunes in melodic style and find they make very good practice for right-hand technique.


steve davis - Posted - 05/17/2023:  09:00:55

90% of my melodic playing is playing fiddletunes with my Cape Breton playing pals.
They were the reason I wanted to learn melodic playing in the 70s.I wasn't satisfied with just using a Scruggs type rolling banjo with them.I wanted them to recognize which tune I was playing and when I learn one of their tunes I practice it as the tune actually goes.

Fiddle players learn the strict melody of a given tune first then decide how to ornament it each time they play it.
I know some fiddlers and whistle players that never venture away from the strict melody which is fine,but I prefer strong ornamentation..Each tune is unique and fiddle players appreciate someone from another instrument striving to learn that uniqueness instead of just rolling what fits the chord progression.

A nice challenge for me is learning the melodic harmony break to each fiddletune I learn.
Two birds with one stone.

I like mixing my Scruggs style bluegrass playing with melodics when I feel it's appropriate.
If you've ever seen that old stage performance of everyone taking a turn on Foggy Mt. Breakdown with Earl that offering by (I can't remember his name) the "melodic" guy wasn't melodic playing of FMB.
It was a rambling of tired old,worn out licks that could have been plugged into 50 other tunes with the same lackluster results.
That was a true "nothing burger" naming itself "melodic".

I figure my work isn't done until I can play a fiddletune for a fiddler and be told I've learned the tune.
Once that has happened I move on with adding ornamentation.

Tractor1 - Posted - 05/17/2023:  09:39:25

of course these notes can be emphasized differently --if being used as short fill,begging to be ignored or maybe the last part acting as a pick up into the next measure --maybe the resolve measure but I can't think of it doing that--Earl definitely found strengths in it

The licks the hippie played in the country soul jam were ground zero at the time imo--they got ruined by over indulgence later

nc2va2nc - Posted - 05/22/2023:  17:28:12

Can someone post the exact roll you’re talking about? Is it 3 2 1 5 1 2 3 1?

gcpicken - Posted - 05/22/2023:  18:49:45


Originally posted by nc2va2nc

Can someone post the exact roll you’re talking about? Is it 3 2 1 5 1 2 3 1?

If I knew how send a link, I would do so, but I don't, so if you go to the Tab Library and search Rolls, there is one called Rolls - Standard, and in there is the Forward Reverse Roll. timtmitm 

nc2va2nc - Posted - 05/23/2023:  04:17:28

Thank you!

RB3 - Posted - 05/23/2023:  06:34:18


Rather than thinking about the forward-reverse roll pattern in the context of the strings that are picked, think of the pattern in the context of the fingers used by the right hand. So, instead of defining the pattern as 3-2-1-5-1-2-3-1, define it more generally as T-I-M-T-M-I-T-M. The point is, that once the right hand is familiar with the pattern as a sequence of right-hand fingers, it can be used to play several different string sequences.

Laurence Diehl - Posted - 05/23/2023:  09:02:41

Maybe this is just me but I never practiced rolls, I practiced music. Earls Breakdown has a split role.

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