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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Timing and Advice

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eagle1 - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:05:44

Grant it i'm still a little green at this (alot actually) i've been trying to play for about three or four months now, but my timing is still a huge issue . I just can't seem to get it to come together. I'm sure that alot has to do with the length of time that I have been playing. I was just looking for any advice that might help with this. I have been taking lessons from an "instructor" for 2 or 3 months but just don't seem to be getting anywhere with this particular person,each week its always try this piece of this song. Not very much structure to it. Anyway I said all of that to get to this I'm considering just trying to go with it on my own for now. I have the Earl Scruggs Book as well as Janet Davis and Geoff Heowald and I'm assuming that Scruggs would be the best way to go?
I just seem to be scratching my head more than anything lately and not getting anywhere.


banjo007 - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:21:12


Learn your basic rolls and play them with the metrodome at a SLOOWW pace.

It may drive you crazy. You hate the metrodome, and me for suggesting it, but it helps.


wrentree - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:37:23

If you go to the tablature section, top left of your homepage, and go to helpFAQ.. Then scroll down to what software do I need to view tab format. You will come to downloading Tabledit. Go ahead and download it and install it. Then you will be able to download the different tabs. When you have a tab downloaded, you will be able to play it as a midi file and hear the beat of the music. How are your forward and reverse rolls, and your square rolls doing? By the way, welcome to the Hangout. Also if you want a lot of good advice, stick around. The people on the hangout are great.

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

eagle1 - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:44:59

Thanks for the advice wrentree. I have already downloaded tabrite and tabledit as well as a ton of songs just waitin for the day when I can play them. As far as my rolls, alternating pretty good but forward and reverse stil need some work and thats basicly one of the reasons I quit taking lessons where I was because the fundamentals were not being looked at it was just different pieces and parts of a song each week.Thanks for your input and you are100% correct about the help and advice on this site.

Rachel Streich - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:49:11

Originally posted by banjo007


Learn your basic rolls and play them with the metrodome at a SLOOWW pace.

It may drive you crazy. You hate the metrodome, and me for suggesting it, but it helps.


"Metrodome"? That sounds like a sports stadium

Its called a "METRONOME"

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

Aikipappy - Posted - 02/06/2007:  21:53:28

So far every bit of advice you have gotten is solid. If you have a buddy or budette that plays good rythm guitar start playing slow songs as much as possible with them. When at home alone set up your metrodom as mentioned.All comes in time and anyone who says it was easy to learn probably gave up by now.

Live like you love it
Play because you love it

gibson1933 - Posted - 02/07/2007:  00:47:57

Good points, all.......I would like to add if you feel like there is no structure to your lessons and you are NOT getting the basic techniques covered......IN DEPTH........change teachers! We as teachers should have structure to our teaching method and commitment to our students to teach them the basics. As I tell my students.......I don't want to teach you WHAT to play.......I want to teach you HOW to play, so you can play what YOU want to play. Just my opinion..........

Dick Brown

banjafreak - Posted - 02/07/2007:  04:47:55

All good advice plus spellchecker. Bet you didn't know the HO had that also , watch your Ps and Qs or the grammer police will get you...Welcome to the hangout Earthling.

Chris Mitchell

'Where I come from it's Cornbread and Chicken,'
' Where I come from a lotta front porch pickin.'

Kevin and his banjo - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:18:05

Yep, all good advice here but I'll add this little bit...If there are other teacher options try them out. I don't think I would get very far without my teacher. I got the Scruggs book and the Howald book. They are good but I have asked many questions like "What's that mean?" and "How's that supposed to sound?" One more point (which is the most important) it really helps to have somebody in front of the banjo to let me know when the sound I'm making aint the sound I think I'm making. Go it alone is fine, add all you want to what your teacher helps you with but I wouldn't think about self study until I got the basics down pat...but then I'll have lots of coaches at the jamborees


AD3AD3AD3 - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:24:49

Use the Scruggs book with the cd. match your playing to what's on the cd' with respect to the slower versions of the rolls. Notice I'm speaking of rolls here. Learn the rolls the way they are on the Scruggs cd. Do them slowly but cleanly. It's a little dull but you won't be stuck there forever.
Also, it sounds as though you may have found a less-than-ideal match in your teacher. IMHO it is critical to have a teacher with whom you are comfortable and who is giving you what you want for your money/time.


jpoulette - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:28:09

Dick is right on as usual. If you're not "getting anywhere" with your teacher - you should consider a change of some sort. I haven't really been playing the banjo all that long, but my first impression is that without a reasonable mastery of timing and rhythm - I can't imagine anyone playing some of these Scruggs-style standards properly.

To me, a reasonably "simple" piece like Cripple Creek has some pretty tricky timing to it. The metronome helps, but for me simple repetition, looping, and playing with a CD seem to work the best. Playing with other people is potentially the best - but I think it's hard for new folks to get into that right away. Measuring progress is also key for me - write it down if you have to. Getting the timing to "You Are My Sunshine" correct was a huge personal goal in "my book". But, it would not have been possible without having the rhythum part down cold first. Like a lot of things I guess it's the crawl before you walk scenario.

Hey - Good luck David!

Gibson Blackjack
Stuff I'm working on

Paul Ryan - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:42:08

Hello Eagle,
Before you do anything, ask yourself a question: In other learning situations, have you done better being off by yourself, or with hands-on instruction and feedback? I think there are two types of people-those who need the regular weekly or bi-weekly accountability of a teacher, and those who do better by themselves with materials, and the occasional lesson. At some point we all need an instructor, but maybe the Scruggs book will get the majority of the job done for you (the other one I like is Ross Nickerson's Banjo Encyclopedia). The only other thing I'd suggest is to minimize what you are doing at each sitting, & don't try and do too much at one time. If it's forward roll, keep at it til it's butter-smooth. Only then move on to something else.

davidcava - Posted - 02/07/2007:  08:53:49

Hi David, if you'd like to check it out...I did a series of videos on basic Rhythm and Timing on Its totally free online Banjo Lessons and maybe that can help you in conjunction with any other instructional Books you may be working with. I'd love to help you get rolling on five string. Best of Luck in your playing man.
David Cavage Hickory Project

seanray - Posted - 02/07/2007:  10:03:10

Sounds like you should lose that teacher and buy a metronome or a drum machine with the money you'll save. Then all you need is the Scruggs book and a whole lot of free time and you'll be a bona fide banjo picker in no time.

Good luck

GP4 Tom - Posted - 02/07/2007:  10:09:52

Originally posted by eagle1

Grant it i'm still a little green at this (alot actually) i've been trying to play for about three or four months now, but my timing is still a huge issue . I just can't seem to get it to come together. I'm sure that alot has to do with the length of time that I have been playing. I was just looking for any advice that might help with this.


In a later reply you said "I have the TABLEDIT program"....great you don't have to wait any longer...put it to work for you. Pick a real simple song and start using the follow procedure.

Timing comes from lots of practice and for some the metronome is the choice. But to me, after the years I spent at my job - training people, I have developed basic techniques that seem to work the best no matter what you trying to learn to do. The eye must see it, the ears must hear it and you have to practice.

Here they are:
1. EYES: Visual learning.....seeing the music/tablature of the song being played.
2. EARS: Sound Training....hearing the song at the same time watching the timing marker moving through each measure. In most programs like TABLEDIT you can also set up a metronome in any voice (sound) you want while playing the song (Optionial...this can help some).
3. PLAYING Finger training ... set up just 3 or 4 measures to repeat, at very slow pace (I mean snail pace). As you become real familar with the song, speed it up a little at a time. Your fingers will begin to do their job without much thought. This is what you want to happen, your eyes, ears, and the fingers are the only tools you need. If you have to always involve the brain. it will just slow you down.

Use the TABLEDIT, it will help the timing issue plus having many other benefits.
Hope this helps.
Have Fun!

qtip - Posted - 02/07/2007:  11:09:20

I tried an exercise from a book by Ian Perry. Ian wrote Beginner's Corner for Banjo Newsletter and has put all of the articles into book form.
The chapter 'Getting over the Hump' starts you with practicing the forward roll with a metronome at 100BPM or two notes per click. The exercises continue on for a few months until you're playing the forward roll, the alternating thumb roll, the forward/backward roll and the FMB roll at increasing speeds along with changing chords. G, D7 and C.
The book's title is 'Banjo from the Beginning'. Well worth looking into.
Good Luck David.

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