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My So-Called Style

Posted by DantheBanjoMan on Sunday, August 1, 2010

     When other banjo players ask me about what style or I play I am never sure how to answer, and even claiming to have a personal style seems a little self aggrandizing, but since the question comes up I've written this blog and posted some mp3s of my playing.  I’ve also included a detailed explanation of my picking style because I get the occasional question about that.

     Like most modern banjo players, at least some of my playing style can be traced back to Earl Scruggs, but I’d hardly call myself a Scruggs style or bluegrass player.   I play a mix of Celtic, folk, country, and cowboy songs, but folk is my favorite.   I am in a folk band, and unlike bluegrass bands where the members often take turns in the spotlight, we try to engage all five members most of the time to create a nice, full sound.

     I find that the square roll (or variations on it) works well for a lot of the real folksy songs. I often leave out a few notes from my roll or give it a little lilt to create the folksy flavor, and if I need to spice things up I’ll use the “toggle” that I learned from George Grove’s DVD. That’s more-or-less what I’m doing in “Hangman.”  If we’re playing a real tub-thumper I’ll rely on a modified forward roll and various slides, licks, and hammer-ons. A typical forward roll pattern (such as 2-1-5-2-1-5-2-1) does not put the emphasis on the first and third beats and it was a little hard for my band mates to sync up to that, so I created a modified roll (3-2-1-5-2-1-5-2) that works out better for the other folks in the group, although it does lose a bit of drive. I don’t have a recording where I play a lot of forward roll, but you can hear some of it in “The Library Song.” 
     The group plays instrumental verses, but we don’t take “breaks” where individual instruments are highlighted, and for that reason we don’t vamp, either. That sounds strange to a lot of bluegrass players, but it is more in keeping with the folksy feel we are trying to create.     

4 comments on “My So-Called Style”

Ks_5-picker Says:
Sunday, August 1, 2010 @10:03:15 PM

I'd just describe it as the 3 finger style if it was me.

DantheBanjoMan Says:
Sunday, August 1, 2010 @10:10:46 PM

That's a pretty good name for it. A lot purists get upset if I call it Scruggs style, but the same people also get uspet if I don't give Earl credit. My explanation is a bit long and not for everybody, but I do get the occasional person who wants to learn my modified forward roll and since it isn't in any book I thought I'd post it here.

saphine Says:
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 @5:39:20 AM

I had the pleasure of a picking afternoon/evening with Dan and loved his style of play. Although I'm a solid fan of bluegrass I also love other types of 'styles' and feel everyone has something to contribute to the evolution of music. Yes we need the purists of any genre to keep the spirit alive so to speak, but without different folks playing different strokes (hey I'm a poet...who knew?) calling it whatever they chose the world would be more than a tad would the people in it.
I have just spent a fabulous Bluegrass weekend and the mix of old, new and the interpretations lifted my heart no end.

Frebazak Says:
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 @7:29:01 AM

I too have spent time listening to Dan and playing along with him. I like emphasis on on certain notes within the role. There can also be an absence of a note that puts rhythm within the role. I find myself naturally doing the same thing when I play.....
Bluegrass is okay,... but I more like the folk style of playing the songs and incorporating strummed chords.

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