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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: guitar comparison

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reggaephillipsmoore - Posted - 01/16/2007:  12:30:04

this is just a bit of a thought from myself and nothing more, but it certainly pertains to bluegrass banjo. it essentially explores why a person decides to pick up a banjo.

my stringed instrument career started when i was eighteen, and i picked up my first guitar; it was an electric epiphone sg. i learned chords, how to use a pick, arpeggios, scales, all the not-so-fun stuff. eventually i picked up a nice processor and an amp, and started to play some stuff i enjoyed hearing. there was very little satisfaction out of playing the electric guitar, though. it seemed cliche and i'l admit it was actually a guilty pleasure. i eventually gave up on the electric (which i recently sold to a buddy) and purchased a takamine electric acoustic.

this was wherethe fun was at! i was in heaven. i put down the guitar pick and relied on my fingers. i learned a lot of folk tunes, some traditional but particularly from artists out of our new folk craze. i often came up with my own tunes. i began playing my guitar like a banjo (unbeknownst to me). anyway, to get to the point, i feel i grew tired of the guitar. and i sort of speculate that my reasoning for this is that with a guitar, too much emphasis is placed on the frethand. on the contrary, with a banjo, i feel the frethand is simplified to allow for emphasis on the picking hand.

now i understand that when considering a banjo, the frethand is obviously still very very important and can be quite active in songs. would you agree that a banjo player (particularly a bluegrass player) concentrates more on his or her picking hand?


banjonz - Posted - 01/16/2007:  12:57:03

Yes I do. The Scruggs style banjo produces a certain 'feel' and sound which is wholey unique. I feel it is specifically due to the 'rolls' produced by the picking hand that gives it this feel. Fretting chords is dead easy on a banjo. To add something to a song/tune while someone is singing/playing a break depends on the dexterity of the picker's picking hand and the taste in which they execute the patterns. Listen to really good banjo pickers in many of the top bands and what they do compliments everything else that is going on in the band.

New Zealand

Rachel Streich - Posted - 01/16/2007:  13:50:13

Originally posted by reggaephillipsmoore
[brnow i understand that when considering a banjo, the frethand is obviously still very very important and can be quite active in songs. would you agree that a banjo player (particularly a bluegrass player) concentrates more on his or her picking hand?


I can definitely say that in old-time clawhammer style, its definitely true. The fretting hand is MUCH simpler in clawhammer style than it is on guitar OR in Scruggs-style 3-finger picking. This is because in clawhammer style, you make use of various different tunings to play in different keys, which allows you to make most efficient use of open strings, so you're rarely using more than 1 or 2 fretting hand fingers at a time.

The picking hand technique for clawhammer -- the basic downpicking or "frailing" stroke -- does take a bit of getting used to. It initially feels somewhat counter-intuitive, especially if you're coming to it from a fingerstyle guitar background, but once you get the hang of it (most people get it within a few weeks of practice), its a wonderfully satisfying style of play. Clawhammer can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be; it works equally well for group jamming or solo play; for instrumental work or vocal accompaniment. Scruggs style 3-finger picking, OTOH, to my ears anyway, is at its most effective played in a group context rather than as a solo style; the rolling, syncopated rhythms of Scruggs style almost seem to demand a guitar or other rhythm instrument to play off of, IMO.

My $.02.....

Rachel Streich

What?: c 1920 Weymann 5-string openback
How Long?: Since 1989
Venues: Mostly jamming, willing to teach
Style: Old-time clawhammer
Other: Fiddle, guitar, some mandolin, vocals
Working On: "Garfield's Blackberry Blossom"
Dream Banjo: I'll know it when I see it

Texasbanjo - Posted - 01/16/2007:  15:06:16

I think when one first begins to learn banjo you need to work on both hands, especially if you're new to stringed instruments. If you've played other stringed instruments and understand the fundamentals of fretting chords, then you should concentrate more on the picking hand: rolls, rolls, rolls, until you can play them without even thinging about it. After that, you also need to work on technique, which requires both hands to do correctly and tone, again, both hands need to work together and timing, again, both hands have to work together and lastly, speed -- again, it takes both hands working together. So, I guess the answer really is: it takes both hands to pick and pick like a musician, with timing, tone, technique, speed and, of course, feeling.

Let's Pick!
Texas Banjo

banjogud - Posted - 01/16/2007:  16:01:29

I dunno,...I`m pretty far along with my pickin...somewhere`s advanced intermediate (or "purdy good") ...I find that my right hand is doing thing on "automatic" wheras I have to keep an eye on what my fretting hand is doing all the time, keeps wantin to play somethin either too flat, or too sharp. 8^)

Edited by - banjogud on 01/16/2007 16:03:58

Nielen - Posted - 01/17/2007:  08:06:20

My 2 cents' worth: I agree with nzbanjoman and Rachel that the picking hand is the work-horse of Scruggs style. Open tuning also makes the fret hand work less demanding. It's when one starts playing melodic / chromatic scales that things get a little trickier - and sometimes more like a guitar. Even then, though, that 5th string half way up the neck makes it a lot easier to run a scale up the neck and move position. As a guitar-picker I would start sweating some to achieve the same.

But, like Matt, I was a guitar finger-picker for years before I tried the banjo and that probably helped. For example the guitar picking on the opening of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" is typical finger-style folk guitar (and sounds great) but is also mainly picking-hand.

Then there's the issue of left/right hand co-ordination when you've doing quick scales on a guitar. Flatpickers are the aces at that stuff. The equivalent on a banjo is single-string stuff, I guess. But that doesn't always ring as nicely as when you're using all the strings. To me, straight Scruggs is mostly picking-hand work where melodies are implied rather than explicit, as in melodic style. Just picking the rolls over chords sounds great. I recently did a little part in a TV ad/jingle for a local gas company and it was really nothing flashy - just rolls over a few chords. Now, there are not many banjo players in this neck o' the woods and at the recording studio there were quite a few professional musicians and gutarists, etc. They all seemed fascinated at the sound and asked if I minded them sitting-in and listening. I showed them that it was all really just the right hand (in my case - I'm a regular north-paw) but they seemed no less fascinated.

Good ol' Scruggs. Turns us all into geniuses

axsis - Posted - 01/17/2007:  09:53:02

Reggae?.......Great thoughts......I feel much the same here .......guitar player for darn near 50 years..........not a smart one tho...........Banjo players get all the dates!.........just new at the banjo...........Texas?........................I never worried about my left hand positions being an ex-guitarist..............but now as you right is getting a mind of it's own I can look at my left!..............does that mean I have progressed a level? to hear your thoughts on this.............thanks

reggaephillipsmoore - Posted - 01/17/2007:  10:57:19

Originally posted by axsis

but now as you right is getting a mind of it's own I can look at my left!..............does that mean I have progressed a level? to hear your thoughts on this.............thanks

well, its interesting because i'm also thinking about my picking hand less and less as i progress with banjo. gotta love muscle memory. and my statement here is counterintuitive to what i said earlier. oh well.


chuckles50 - Posted - 01/17/2007:  13:05:00

I think both hands are equally important. I agree the right hand has to play all the rolls etc. cleanly but though I am still a relative newcomer to banjo, when I get playing up to speed after warming up, I concentrate more on the left (fetting) hand as the right pickin' hand just seems to know where to go. That is of course, until I have a brain cramp and can't work either hand. That seems to happen from time to time.
All my banjo pickin' has improved my acoustic guitar pickin' as well.
A pleasant and welcome surprise.

If you keep pickin' it, it ain't never gonna heal!

JonT - Posted - 01/17/2007:  17:57:31

One of the better-known guitar players, I think maybe Bob Bronzman, said this:

"Your left hand shows what you know. Your right hand shows who you are."

If indeed that's true, it's probably true for all stringed instruments. And to me, it suggests that both hands are equally important. Afterall, the right hand does the same chore on both banjo and guitar. It just does that chore in a different way. Or, if you're a guitar finger picker, maybe not all that differently.

Peace - JonT

AD3AD3AD3 - Posted - 02/06/2007:  13:41:26

The right hand seems to be the guts of what we do in Scruggs style.


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