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Sep 11, 2019 - 12:02:30 PM
20 posts since 4/28/2019

Hello! This questions about Seeger's style are destroying my head and I really need a datailed and complete answer of this. ¿What are the adventages and the disadventages of:

1 - rest the fingers that you don't use for the up-stroke over the banjo head? ¿Sholud I rest them just when I am doing some picking with no brush or maybe never? ¿Where should I rest them?

2 - use the middle finger for the up-stroke of the 1st string and the index for the others? ¿Will i move less the hand? ¿The less you move your hand the faster you are?

3 - using picks?

Please (and sorry about this) avoid answers like what is natural for you because any of them are natural for me and I'm tired of hearing that. I'm faster with some ways of playing but with other it sound worse... the question is adventages and disadventages.

Please any single detail or story about this will be useful.

Thank you so much for your time.

P.D.: might be useful for your answer who I'm trying to play or sound like: Pete Seeger, Luke Kelly or Tommy Makem (even though i know they weren't as good banjo players as Pete and Clifton) and Clifton Hicks are my idols.

Sep 11, 2019 - 12:20:29 PM

95 posts since 8/25/2009

On the inside front cover of the last edition of his book "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" Pete had a handwritten note that said if he had it to write over again he would change two things.

1) He would start with G-tuning rather than C-tuning

2) He would not start with the Seeger stroke, but with another. I think he attributed it to Bascom Lamar Lundsford, but I could be misremembering the player.

Hope this helps,


Sep 11, 2019 - 1:57:01 PM



106 posts since 2/18/2005

Hola, Cabesa!
Interesting that you should pick two Irish 5-string players as your role models! I'm also an Irishman who plays 5-string banjo, and like Luke and Tommy, I'm a singer first and foremost, and use the banjo as an accompaniment. In fact, it was Luke and Tommy whose example encouraged me to sing folk songs to the banjo when all the other kids were doing it to guitars!
In Ireland, we have no real tradition of playing 5-string banjo. The 5-strngs that the "early modern" folk singers had available were probably left over from the time when the (classic) banjo was popular with the bourgeoisie, i.e. early 20th century. An Irish folk singer who wanted to use the banjo had to work the style out for himself.
I had to do that, too, because my father had an old banjo given to him, and passed it on to me. The only tutor I had was a slim book based on English classic banjo technique. And what I learned from that was, "Middle finger plucks first string, index finger plucks second string, thumb plucks the other three strings." The tutor also had chord patterns for the most-used chords, and I took it from there.
A lot of songs can be accompanied with "thumb-fingers, thumb-fingers", but you soon learn to separate the fingers and play TIM or TMI patterns. At some point, I tried down-strumming (which works best when you damp the 5th string with your thumb) and even a flamenco-style rasgueado.

In a good accompaniment, I mix and match most of these right-hand techniques, and find that it works very well.

While I do admire Pete Seeger's very varied style of song accompaniment, what I take from him is not so much details of technique, but rather the idea that the banjo is capable of anything that you can m,ake it do. And you may want to do other things than Pete Seeger did! Just don't get nailed down to being either Scruggs or Clawhammer!yes



Sep 11, 2019 - 3:36:25 PM

114 posts since 3/16/2008
Online Now

1 and 2) when I am playing Seeger Style, I plant my pinky finger on the head when I'm plucking the strings and lift it up when I'm brushing down. This video illustrates what works for me well:

Clifton Hicks also has a video on YouTube illustrating the same process.

3) I don't use picks when I'm doing Seeger style. Pete did sometimes, but not every time.

Sep 11, 2019 - 4:31:51 PM

20 posts since 4/28/2019

Thank you very much for your answers, specially to @johnedallas because I feel very identified with him. I have been in ireland last five full summers and it was there where I fall in love with luke kelly's voice and The Dubliners music. I started to sing his songs and even though i wasn't bad what i really like was that I felt true happiness, I just knew that was for me. I could do it anywhere, specially when I was alone trying new song... so I said... what the hell lets play the f***ing banjo. It is simply the best decision in my live. While everybody was passing the exams for their driving licence I was learning the banjo (I still don't know how to drive but I know how to play the banjo). Now banjo and singing are pilars in my life, that kind of things you can not live without them, like a true love (and I still doing them alone because here in spain no body gives a s*** for the f***ing banjo hahahaha they still asking me things like what is that weird white circle that you play?). I feel alone here in spain that is why i still going to ireland every summer and thank yoy again for your text @johnedallas it was so comforting.

Sep 11, 2019 - 4:37:15 PM

20 posts since 4/28/2019

@rooksbay well i dont rest the non up stroke fingers while im brushing but i do it when i finish every brush like pat kallaher from longneck music when he plays lonsome valley. Then i do up stroke. But pete almost never rest their fingers and if he did it was for a second and then he lift them up again. I hope we can talk about this cause you are the only man who gave me the kind of answer i was looking for.

Sep 11, 2019 - 4:40:42 PM
likes this

20 posts since 4/28/2019

@rooksbay i would also like to say that i admire colin a lot i learned a lot from his videos.

Sep 11, 2019 - 5:58:46 PM

114 posts since 3/16/2008
Online Now

I'm sure there is a lot of variation, but Colin's method was the one that clicked with me. I probably plant my finger for longer than some people do because I first learned to play bluegrass style before I tried the others.

Edited by - rooksbay on 09/11/2019 17:59:21

Sep 11, 2019 - 10:13:49 PM
Players Union Member



447 posts since 4/17/2019

1 - rest the fingers that you don't use for the up-stroke over the banjo head? ¿Should I rest them just when I am doing some picking with no brush or maybe never? ¿Where should I rest them?  Rest them over the head. I  don't touch the head with them when up picking.  I plant them when doing 3-finger.  I use pinch chords by using  strings one and two together and index and middle of the left hand together at the same time. Rest them in the air.
2 - use the middle finger for the up-stroke of the 1st string and the index for the others? ¿Will i move less the hand? ¿The less you move your hand the faster you are?   You may use any finger for the up stroke, and index for the others.  I went back and learned up picking again a few years ago.  I found I get more string clarity from single strings than with frailing or claw.  On all three, you are lifting your hand vertically during the 2nd beat rest so you can strum up or down.  1,2,3,4 =  Boom, Rest, Did He?  There's always a rest on the 2nd beat.  

3 - using picks?  Picks are like, learning how tie your shoes.  You want to go somewhere?  then use shoes.  Picks are included in the muscle memory you acquire while you are sleeping on it.  I mean the .025's or .0225's are being added and calculated by your body so they become more controllable.  Just like working with shoes for the first time as an adult rather than little baby shoes.

4.  Ditty Boom = first finger down and back, rest, hit the 5th.  You can find it in the documentary film about Hoover Dam when Roosevelt visited, they had an ensemble all dressed up to play "Soldier's Joy."  Roosevelt didn't know that song from an Adam's Apple, they told him what to ask for.  That's not it.

The little boys from the camp town all approach Roosevelt in the car, and they're all playing ditty boom, sounds the same, efficient, clear and youthful.

I like it when kids do that, they steal it back from us to change it,  The muse won't tolerate stagnancy.

Sep 11, 2019 - 11:06:47 PM

20 posts since 4/28/2019

Sorry @Helix1 but I don't undertand your answers to 1, 2 and 4. I'm spanish so my english is very limited.

In 1 you say that i should rest them in the head and then you say that i should rest them in the air. That is contradictory, isn't it?

In 2 i guess that you ask if i am doing the boom ditty correctly. I think i am, i do 1 (up-stroke), 2 prepare my hand for the brush, 3 brush and 4 5th string.

About 4 all right i will check that documentary.

Sep 12, 2019 - 7:32:58 AM

4724 posts since 5/14/2007

Hi, Cabesa,

Those are all good questions.

When I do the up-picking "bum-ditty", I don't rest any fingers on the head. It is an "up-down-and" motion, index finger picking the string. ring finger doing the brush, and the thumb playing the fifth string.

In my early years of playing, I sometimes used both my index and middle fingers to pick up. I don't any more. I didn't¶t find any big advantage to it,

When I do two-finger picking (what Pete calls double thumbing) I anchor my hand with my ring and little fingers.

If you search the web, you can see Pete playing the same way, the hand moving freely in up-picking, anchored when double thumbing. Find some of the "Rainbow Quest" TV shows.

I don't usually use fingerpicks or a thumb pick in this style any more. I want to play more quietly these days.

I hope this helps.

Sep 12, 2019 - 9:01:11 AM

Jim Yates


6565 posts since 2/21/2007

I don't rest my fingers at all when playing up-picking except when I do a drop-thumb passage. I pick up with the index or sometimes (rarely) index and bird on the first two strings.
I find it clearer to call this type of picking "Up-picking" rather than "Seeger-style", especially when teaching. I have had students request Seeger-style and later realised that they had seen Pete playing on Rainbow Quest and he was playing clawhammer and that's what they wanted to learn. Pete played clawhammer and many other styles just as often as he played up-picking. Now when a student says he/she wants to learn Seeger-style, I know enough to ask which Seeger-style.

Sep 12, 2019 - 3:23:04 PM

20 posts since 4/28/2019

Thank you so much @John Gribble and @Jim Yates . Your answers where the ones I was looking for. Why do you think that you rest your finger when picking naturally? Think about it. It is not oobvious and I still don't see the point of it. Do you have more precision because when you rest your finger over the banjo head you know how high you are? Do you follow me? Is conplicated but I'm just trying to find a reason for it. And another question: should I rest or even press the rist over the banjo head (or over the puece to rest the arm)? I ask this because I saw Pete doing that when I was checking some rainbow quest programs following your advices. That made me faster instantly... is that because I don't move the hand us much us I did when I didn't rest the rist over the banjo head? Thank you again, you are hepling me a lot.

Sep 12, 2019 - 4:30 PM

4724 posts since 5/14/2007

I don't think ot is natural to brace the fingers, but I do it for two reasons. First it helps me keep my fingers in the same position, which improves accuracy. Second, it supports the hand, so I can play more firmly and loudly.

Don't put your wrist or the heel of your hand against the head. Your fingers will be at a poor angle to attack the strings and you may even be hurting the sound with so much contact on the head.

Sep 12, 2019 - 7:16:41 PM

20 posts since 4/28/2019

All right thank you for the advices @John Gribble !!!

Sep 13, 2019 - 2:47:20 PM
Players Union Member



447 posts since 4/17/2019

No problem , no lecture intended.  I hope my  post helped others as well.  Igual hoy que siempre. 

Edited by - Helix1 on 09/13/2019 14:48:00

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