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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Mixing rolls for beginners.

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:

Deering - Posted - 02/06/2007:  18:38:43

This may be something us beginners might like to hear. Tell us the simplest drill, playing a tune you name, where we can learn to incorporate different rolls in the one tune. We newbies will play one song with just a forward roll, or just a square roll. We know better, and we 'try' to mix it up, but this question goes beyond that, e.g.,what is the thought process you have when you are playing. A good tip on this may 'set us free'.

Westvon - Posted - 02/06/2007:  19:06:40

What is it you're really asking? You want the more experienced players to suggest a tune that can be played with a variety of role patterns?

David Russell

Deaf David - Posted - 02/06/2007:  19:15:43

"Goodnight Ladies" is a good beginner's tune that makes a nice transition of rolls. There are tabs for several variations of the tune on the internet. I believe has one.

"Bile Dem Cabbage Down" is another beginner tune that has a roll transition, if I remember correctly.

If you don't already have it, pick up the Janet Davis "You Can Teach Yourself Bluegrass Banjo" book (with either DVD or CD). It will get you going on the rolls very quickly.

Deering - Posted - 02/06/2007:  19:26:20

Maybe I am asking more about theory..You are playing along and just decide to change rolls. Obviously, to make it sound more interesting, so I guess this answers my own question, but I was asking more along the lines of maybe a song (an easy one) that earl might play that we can slow down and see how and why he may go into another roll. And maybe too advanced for this thread, how to seamlessly do it.

swooper - Posted - 02/06/2007:  23:49:00

I thought that was why we learned cripple creek it has all the different rolls and is great practice. Forward , backward , alternating rolls ,Along with slides hammer ons pulloffs etc . Great practice I think .

Chuck in kansas

fixdent - Posted - 02/06/2007:  23:58:45

Yep, Cripple Creek comes to mind real quick. There are simple versions of it, and more experienced versions.


Deaf David - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:47:23

If you want to hear Earl do it, listen to the "Foggy Mountain Banjo" CD. I sometimes think of it as one of the first "how to" offerings for banjo. Many of those first songs all beginners learn are on that CD, only done by one of the best bluegrass bands of all time. You not only get the combination of rolls, but also a lesson in what backup banjo is supposed to sound like and how the banjo can interplay with all the other instruments.

Texasbanjo - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:49:40

How about Banjo in the Hollow? It incorporates rolls and some up the neck picking and also gets you sinto a little bit of melodic type playing. Not too difficult for a beginner and the first part of it can be used as the A break for Cripple Creek.

Or,you could just do an exercise in the key of G, picking 2 bars of G using a forward roll, 2 bars of C using a reverse roll, 2 bars of D using a square roll and 2 bars of G using a forward-reverse roll. Want a song that has those chords in sit? Let's see, how about Blueridge Cabin Home, Great Speckled Bird -- and about a dozen others, take your pick.

You can also do that same picking pattern going up the neck starting at the 7, 8, 9 G chord, 8, 9, 10 C chord and 10, 11, 12 D chord -- good practice for learning backup, too.

Let's Pick!
Texas Banjo

patches - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:13:00

Great information for us newbies.... what is a "Square roll"?? Please let use know the sequence..

Keep on the sunny side!


Tyler8 - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:28:07


A square roll (aka a box roll) is the TITM picking pattern.


Tyler8 - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:31:07

The most fundamental thing you need to figure out/learn about switching picking patterns is a set of techniques that "bridge the gap" between the two patterns.

John Lawless calls them "escape rolls" and covers the concept pretty well on his 1st position backup DVD.


wrentree - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:31:49

An example of a square roll is playing the thumb on 3rd string open, index on 2nd open, thumb on 5th open and middle on Then you can add H O's, P O's, alternating the 3rd with 4th strings, etc.

Dad always told me"If you want to have friends, you have to be friendly." Harold

Edited by - wrentree on 02/07/2007 09:32:29

AD3AD3AD3 - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:51:12

We tend to joke about Cripple Creek as being the first song everyone learns but it can be played on a ton of different levels and it wil give you practice in just about everything - certainly switching rolls.
The 'square roll' is also called the 'alternating roll.' Some refer to it as 'double thumbing.'


BanjoGeek - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:51:18


I think I understand what you are asking. I am in no means anything other than a beginner myself, but I tend to use a forward roll, or alternate between a forward roll and a forward backward roll for most backup -- then when going from G to C, I tend to use the forward-backward over the C chord -- and when doing the D7 chord at the end of a verse, I tend to use an alternating thumb so I can hit the third string twice.

These rules work well with hymns that tend to follow the "I saw the Light", "I'll fly away" chord progression. I started doing this practicing "I'll fly away", Now the different rolls just fall into place. In fact, I get into a lot more trouble when I think about what rolls I want to use.

My laptop has five strings.

crowestyle - Posted - 02/07/2007:  09:55:14

It's not necessarily just changing rolls, it's more of finding the roll that puts the melody note in the right place. You figure out the melody, and incorporate the rolls around the melody notes. After a little while, this becomes second nature. You'll actually find there are a lot of recurring themes in bluegrass, and that is how most players improvise and make up stuff on the spot. The more licks and songs you know, the more you can copy and paste to make up more interesting solos and the like. Stick with it and it will become second nature and you won't really have to think about what roll to use. One thing I did when I was learning to play was to get in tune with a CD and practice rolling along with the CD. Play different rolls throughout the song and you'll learn to transition more smoothly.

"I don't have a girlfriend, I just know a girl who would get really mad if she heard me say that."- Mitch Hedberg

goghiti - Posted - 02/07/2007:  10:04:26

Cripple Creek comes to mind right away. Fred Skokolow's book "Complete Bluegrass Banjo" (might not be the right title exactly) has some good songs with different rolls in them and explains about changing to break up the boredom.

Way Walker - Posted - 02/07/2007:  12:15:07

I'm currently enjoying Janet Davis' "Splitting the Licks". It walks you through arranging songs. The first part of the book does Scruggs style and goes through the same basic program for each song:
1) Pluck the melody
2) Play the melody with one roll (typically recommends the forward roll)
3) Change up some of the rolls
4) Add fill-in licks
5) Add left-hand techniques (hammer-ons, etc.)

Seems to me like a good place to get a feel for when/why/how to change rolls.

irasmith - Posted - 02/08/2007:  11:15:53

I agree with CrowStyle and Way Walker, I am a newbie also, getting the various rolls down purty good, but getting the MELODY to come out is really a trick. That is to my ear the key to making the song come out. Also, if you are using TAB, be sure to follow the signage for the TIME! Working on the MELODY is really important for me at this time. I can play Cripple Creek at least three ways, but the melody is somewhat diffrent in each version.

Really like the comments from Way Walker...

My 2 cents!

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.

-- Henry Ford (1863-1947) American Industrialist

Edited by - irasmith on 02/08/2007 11:16:56

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