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My Philosophy of Picking

Posted by Banjo23055 on Saturday, February 24, 2007

My Philosophy of Picking


Everyone has his or her own style of picking – and of course it will change as we improve, learn new material, etc. The picking style we develop is usually a result of several factors: (1) the style we were taught (2) the type of playing we like (3) what we can pick up on our own, and (4) the influence of other musicians and the people we play with.


As I mentioned in earlier writings, the man who taught and helped me was Ron Stokes. Of course he started me out with basic rolls and relatively easy songs that we all know. But Ron loved the songs played by Don Reno. This was particularly the case because Ron also played piano – ragtime, polkas, Broadway show tunes, etc. As many of you know, Don Reno played a number of those songs on the banjo. Also, Don Reno had a knack of getting some of the most unusual sounds out of a banjo. That concept fascinated both of us.


So I was particularly drawn to Reno style. This was in the middle 70’s. Well as many of you know, this was also the time when the “Chromatic Craze” was sweeping banjo land. (Melodic style – as some call it). Ron and I were determined that we were going to learn it as well. We picked up a few things on our own, but we were looking for anyone who could show us something. We would go to the festivals and hear someone do one of those scales and almost beg them to show it to us. If they would just show us where the first note started – that would be a tremendous help. Every now and then, Bluegrass Unlimited would have a tab of a chromatic lick.


We finally made some good progress in that area, and it was about this time that I started thinking about my own style. I was starting to give some lessons and I felt it important to have something I could tell students, something I could write on paper perhaps, and a way to approach different types of music.


So to recap – I started with the basics and listening to Scruggs, the Osborne’s, Jim & Jessie, the Country Gentlemen and various local banjo players. Then there was the real emphasis of Reno, then the chromatic wizardry of Bill Keith and Carl Jackson. Then right in the middle of all of that – throw in Eddie Adcock. Mix all of that together and you tell me what kind of style you will get.


As I have had a number of people ask me to explain picking and what to shoot for – I have come to this conclusion (and I am sure many of you have as well) – the ultimate goal is to have your fingers do whatever is necessary to play what you want. Remember: you are training your fingers (on both hands) to do something that is not necessarily natural – just like you do to learn typing or play the piano. Your hands are being trained and you start out with the basics.

The Reno and chromatic styles helped me see a new approach to picking. If it means hitting the 4th string with the index finger – do it. If it means hitting the 2nd string twice in a row with the thumb – do it. There is a particular song where I hit the 3rd string with my index finger and then the 2nd string with my thumb to get that Reno “bounce”
My piano and keyboard playing has helped my tremendously with banjo chords and chord progressions. I think most banjo players are like me and would say they hear banjo licks in their head. If you can hear those notes in your head, they are on the banjo somewhere – they may not fit the chord you want to play in or the song you are working on right now – but playing those notes may open the door to some fascinating licks and sounds.
Keyboard playing especially has opened my mind to new ideas in banjo playing. The keyboard has stretched me a great deal. As long as we were playing things like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”, I could hold my own pretty well. But then we got interested in contemporary Christian and Hosanna praise music, and the bluegrass chord progression mentality went right out the window.

Thanks for reading and listening to my tunes. .If there is anything in any of the songs that I post that I can explain or help you with, I will do my best. Thank you for returning the favor when I hear some of your awesome licks as well.

3 comments on “My Philosophy of Picking”

jhbraun3 Says:
Monday, March 5, 2007 @6:54:09 PM

Excellent tune pick'n Ellet.

mainejohn Says:
Thursday, April 19, 2007 @7:00:48 AM

I enjoyed reading how your style evolved. Quite differently than mine, but  it just shows what influences have on what our playing. My background of plectrum style has influenced me much like your keyboard background has done.

rupedog Says:
Sunday, September 23, 2007 @11:09:05 PM

Hey, enjoyed the read and the song on the jukebox.  Very informative. Have a good one..... 

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