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Sep 21, 2019 - 4:30:21 PM
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19 posts since 9/20/2019

Hi y'all!

I'm a long time jack-of-all trades multi-instrumentalist (mediocre at many, good at none, save guitar).

After surviving a motorcycle wreck which put me out of work, I decided to fulfill my lifelong ambition of learning to play the banjo, specifically Scruggs style. I've got time, right?

A friend happened to be clearing his recently-departed father's house out, and found this Epiphone EB-98 in a closet gathering dust (seems to be a common first time picker story around here).

He said it was bought around 1980, and from the looks of things, his pop played it until one string broke and then put it away for good. The hardshell case still has the lock key attatched to the handle by a string! Came with a terrible little "how to play banjo book" that tries to teach musical notation in two pages, a pitch pipe, some very old thumb and finger picks, truss rod tool, head tightening tool, et al. I paid $200, which I gather is a little much for these things, but I wasn't about to haggle on his late pop's banjo.

Anyhow, after doing a setup and throwing some polywebs on (what I use for all my acoustic guitars), I started diving into Janet Davis' YCTYB book. As an experienced if not mediocre guitar finger picker, the beginning of course seems a little basic, but I've read so many glowing reviews, I'm not going to rush through. Rolls aren't difficult for me with my guitar experience.

The one thing that threw me off as I'm used to Travis style is starting the forward roll with the index finger. I've used the search function for this site extensively and found a few complaints, but ultimately I figure it's good to learn to carry the melody with the Index, as some folks have stated.

My question is whether or not locking the forward roll in as Ms Davis instructs will hinder me learning to carry the melody with my thumb as Mr. Scruggs did? Is it recommended to practice both ways? Are there other materials I could utilize to lock in the thumb leading while also working through YCTYB? I also have the revised Scruggs Black Book, but I don't want to get too spread out with multiple books (as I have so very many times with guitar learning).

It's obvious I'll want to invest in learning backup at some point, but for now I'm just trying to get a foundation in. I spent what I could afford being out of work on the Banjo, so lessons aren't an option right now. Aside from purchasing Mike's Mute so I can roll all through the night, I'm just focusing on working with what I've got.

Anyhow, 100 paragraphs later to introduce my actual question

It's good to be here, good to be playing and learning, hello all, and thanks!


Edited by - tortoise on 09/21/2019 16:32:40

Sep 21, 2019 - 4:57:02 PM
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224 posts since 3/29/2018

Congrats! I'll just leave this here for you...youtube.com/watch?v=XswGppdJs_...0ie6TRUL0

Sep 21, 2019 - 5:06:01 PM
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19 posts since 9/20/2019

@Astrobanjo

Thanks! I love Jim's stuff. Subbed to his channel last week. I wish he lived in my town, 'cause I think he'd be maybe the best teacher to have.

Edited by - tortoise on 09/21/2019 17:07:20

Sep 21, 2019 - 5:57:48 PM
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14396 posts since 12/2/2005
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A forward roll can start with the thumb, the index, or the middle finger. What matters is the three notes that follow.

It's a forward roll if you start with the thumb and follow that with the index and middle.

It's a forward roll if you start with the index and follow with the middle and thumb.

It's a forward roll if you start with the middle and follow with the thumb and the index.

Three notes. That's a forward roll. The roll refers to the direction of the finger movement.

Which finger starts the roll is dependent upon the note you want to play and where it is on the neck, relative to what came before it and what you want to do next.

Any more than three notes, and you're not talking about a roll. You're talking about a roll PATTERN. And that's a different beast.

Sep 21, 2019 - 6:12:26 PM

19 posts since 9/20/2019

quote:
Originally posted by eagleisland


Any more than three notes, and you're not talking about a roll. You're talking about a roll PATTERN. And that's a different beast.


Ahh I see the distinction now, thankyou for the clarification. 

I suppose then I am asking about roll patterns. Since each pattern I'm working into muscle memory so I can just automatically utilize them at will, my concern is that learning the forward roll pattern starting with my index finger instead of my thumb could be problematic when I start working on Scruggs' material. In Davis's book, all tab utilizing the forward roll pattern starts with the index finger.

is this an unfounded concern? would it be easier to just train myself to start with the thumb regardless of what's printed?

Sep 21, 2019 - 7:10:20 PM
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14396 posts since 12/2/2005
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quote:
Originally posted by tortoise

I suppose then I am asking about roll patterns. Since each pattern I'm working into muscle memory so I can just automatically utilize them at will, my concern is that learning the forward roll pattern starting with my index finger instead of my thumb could be problematic when I start working on Scruggs' material. In Davis's book, all tab utilizing the forward roll pattern starts with the index finger.

is this an unfounded concern? would it be easier to just train myself to start with the thumb regardless of what's printed?


No, not necessarily. Earl generally led with his thumb. Ralph Stanley often led with his index, and he sounded pretty damned good.

With that said, neither of these guys thought in terms of patterns. They thought in terms of the melody notes they wanted to play, and the rolls that would fill in around them.

Patterns, as a construct, didn't emerge until the early 1960s, in the first Earl Scruggs book. Earl didn't exactly write all of that book, and he didn't codify the rolls; he didn't even think of them until Bill Keith showed up with transcribed tabs of Earl's recordings and noticed that Earl played many measures of music using the same handful of right-hand moves - which became the roll patterns.

In my view - which is certainly not shared by all - these roll patterns are overemphasized in a lot of banjo instruction. They can be useful for limbering up the fingers before getting down to work, and they can be useful in helping new students start moving their fingers in different directions. But they can also be limiting and misdirect new players into thinking that everything in bluegrass music ends at the end of each measure. It doesn't, and there isn't a codified 8-note pattern to solve every musical equation. I don't make my students practice them for this very reason. Better that they learn how to play music instead of perfecting mechanical exercises.

Use the search feature and look for an archived thread called "Is It Time To Re-Think Roll Dogma?" for more on this.

Sep 21, 2019 - 7:19:37 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

44566 posts since 10/5/2013
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It’s good to be as versatile as possible with those right hand fingers. I was too locked in starting phrases with my thumb, and I had to work on playing with index lead, especially on the melody notes which should get more emphasis.

Sep 21, 2019 - 8:55:43 PM
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10214 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by tortoise

Are there other materials I could utilize to lock in the thumb leading while also working through YCTYB? 


Welcome to banjo and the Hangout.

The only thing you want to "lock in" is the ability to use whichever finger you want or need to use at any particular moment. 

If you're talking about forward roll patterns that go I-M-T-I-M-T-I-M vs T-M-T-I-M-T-I-M, I'd say practice both. And change up which strings thumb and index are hitting. And while you're at it, practice T-I-M-T-I-M-T-M and T-I-M-T-I-M-I-M  and T-I-M-T-M-T-I-M and T-I-M-T-I-M-T-I-M-T-I-M-T-I-M-I-  among others.

If Janet Davis is teaching the Foggy Mountain Breakdown forward roll pattern of I-M-T-M-T-I-M-T-I-M-T-M-T-I-M-T  definitely practice that, since that's the prevailing way to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown and other tunes that sound good with the same right hand pattern.

Sep 21, 2019 - 10:39:03 PM
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19 posts since 9/20/2019

eagleisland
Thanks for taking the time to write out that explanation. Between that and the article you wrote in the thread you suggested I search, I'm kind of seeing how my approach has already been informed by the notion of this rigid structure of rolls patterns as the end all be all of learning to play bluegrass banjo. The article and the discussion following it were quite honestly fascinating (up until some of the more pedantic trolley responses from a certain user). Having played all of the instruments I currently do for years, and only a few of them having been learned through instruction, I never really thought about (and I certainly had to think BACK) how I approached learning on my own. Thinking back, once I was past the very basics of fingering for the wind and brass instruments, and for the chords as rhythm accompaniment on strings, left to my own devices I sought the melody. I learned chord melody on guitar without even knowing what the concept was, until I started approaching technique and realized I already had it, just not the words for it.

I'll definitely have to re-read your post and that thread just as the depth and amount of information is epic, but it has been a perspective changer for sure.

Thankfully years of guitar and bass and my mediocre skills at finding strings with my right hand have paid off in this endeavor as I seem to not have issues there, although sometimes I forget that 5th string G is higher than I expect. Learning the fretboard in this tuning is going to be a task for sure.

chuckv97
I'm starting to see what you're saying about versatility. As I was reading in that thread eagleisland posted about, I kept seeing people referencing like he did above how many of the legendary players never really thought about a rigid structure, rather just using whatever finger was free in a roll to pick the next note. It's a far cry from the rigidity I approach playing Travis style et al. on guitar. I think i'll still practice rolls a bit to limber up as mentioned before, and to drive home where that high G really sits.

Old Hickory
Thanks for the welcome! I am quite excited to start this journey.
It sounds like you're saying kind of the same thing that i've been picking up digging through that aforementioned thread; try every combination possible to be comfortable with using fingers in as many different cycles as possible. I'm kind of getting the idea that it's fine to follow instruction as written, but to not feel beholden to only working within the context of what's laid out in front of me. As it's stood, I have only been practicing the roll patterns in the book to the degree that I can get them out without stumbling, usually 20 to 30 seconds, and then as I progress through a piece (slowly!), kind of looping on a portion I might stumble on before moving forward. I'm trying to go slow enough to just move my fingers as I see the tab progress. I think if I get into my empty focus zone, I'll probably just put what finger is closest down next. Can't wait to apply this stuff.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer me with thoughtful and helpful positions and information. I'm sure there's a noob per hour asking really similar stuff, so I very much appreciate folks taking the time to put forth ideas and concepts to help.

Sep 22, 2019 - 7:22:41 AM
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3285 posts since 3/28/2008

If you're going to use the IMTIMTIM pattern repeatedly, I'd STRONGLY suggest changing that initial I (as Davis shows it) to a T, so the measure will become TMTIMTIM. It will flow better that way when you repeat it, and will help you develop an essential Scruggs-style habit: the continuity of the forward roll. (There will be other situations where you'll need to do IMTIMTIM, but if you've developed that continuous-forward-roll habit, it'll be obvious when you need to do that.)

Sep 22, 2019 - 10:52:07 AM
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Mooooo

USA

7187 posts since 8/20/2016
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Not so much an answer to your question, which was answered many times already, but just some general advice.

With your experience in picking guitar, you may be your own worst enemy when it comes to bluegrass banjo picking. Focus on getting used to picking with fingerpicks and the thumb pick all the time, and remember, the banjo isn't the guitar. Don't try to play it like one. It would be better if you can take at least a few lessons from a bona fide banjo instructor, not a guitarist who teaches banjo. Guitar logic doesn't always translate to the banjo so be prepared to put in a lot of time to break habits you have developed picking guitar and develop good banjo picking habits. Good luck and have fun picking. Looking forward to hearing from you on the Hangout. I hope you get better from the motorcycle accident.

Edited by - Mooooo on 09/22/2019 10:57:09

Sep 22, 2019 - 11:20:44 AM
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10214 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by tortoise

It sounds like you're saying kind of the same thing that i've been picking up digging through that aforementioned thread; try every combination possible to be comfortable with using fingers in as many different cycles as possible. 


Exactly.

quote:
Originally posted by tortoise

I'm kind of getting the idea that it's fine to follow instruction as written, but to not feel beholden to only working within the context of what's laid out in front of me. 


Not exactly. But almost.

I think it's more than fine to follow instructions as written. I believe you actually should practice as written whatever lessons or exercises are set out in the instructional material you've chosen.  Knowledgeable instructors and writers such as Janet Davis, Jack Hatfield, Tony Trischka, Alan Munde, Bill Evans, Pete Wernick and others have reasons for presenting the material the way that they do.  Generally, they'll present roll patterns as exercises and then put them to practical use in tunes exactly as taught. So learn them.  But also practice them in alternative ways, picking other stings, using other fingers -- so you'll have greater flexibility to play the music you want to play.

This may be what you meant in the first place.

Good luck.

Sep 28, 2019 - 4:03:20 PM
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19 posts since 9/20/2019

Sorry for the late response here, sometimes stepping away from the internet is necessary!

Ira Gitlin
I think I've seen this posted in other threads, possibly by you. After just playing around over the last week, I'm realizing that it's really not that difficult to just ignore what roll patterns are shown at the beginning of some of the instructional materials I have and play whatever I want, so long as I just spend a little onerous repetition time on whichever pattern I want to use. I'll certainly use your suggestion, thanks!

Mooooo
I'm certainly seeing this. Though I'm not having great difficulty with the very beginner-type material I've been approaching, almost nothing about what i've learned with Travis style and hybrid style a la Elliot Smith translates directly or well to bluegrass banjo. I'm used to drilling with very strict and specific finger-to-string delineation (thumb pick for first 3 strings, index-middle-ring for the last three, in that order), and while I do pop the finger picks on from time to time, they're a lot more difficult to navigate through the guitar strings' close placing and radius.
I think the closest I have been able to use any of my guitar skills is just replicating Travis style bass alternating hybridized with a very poor upper string frailing technique while drinking wine on my porch and covering a Specials song, and that was still fairly frustrating.
I think probably the best thing about all my prior instrument experience is that I know getting good takes time, so while it's frustrating to pick up an instrument i'm not immediately competent with, I've been here before, and i know what the results of patience and slowness are. Also I can always just pick up parlor guitar or plug in my Moog if I just gotta let something pour out with proficiency, or when frustrated.
Thanks much for your input, and thanks for the wishes on my recovery. I don't know how soon I'll be posting anything up here, but I'll try to get over my noob embarrassment for the sake of constructive critique.

Sep 28, 2019 - 4:19:46 PM
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19 posts since 9/20/2019

quote:
Originally posted by tortoise

I'm kind of getting the idea that it's fine to follow instruction as written, but to not feel beholden to only working within the context of what's laid out in front of me. 


Not exactly. But almost.

I think it's more than fine to follow instructions as written. I believe you actually should practice as written whatever lessons or exercises are set out in the instructional material you've chosen.  Knowledgeable instructors and writers such as Janet Davis, Jack Hatfield, Tony Trischka, Alan Munde, Bill Evans, Pete Wernick and others have reasons for presenting the material the way that they do.  Generally, they'll present roll patterns as exercises and then put them to practical use in tunes exactly as taught. So learn them.  But also practice them in alternative ways, picking other stings, using other fingers -- so you'll have greater flexibility to play the music you want to play.

This may be what you meant in the first place.

Good luck.


Okay, I'm glad I got at least half of what you were saying in the first place!

But as to your latter response, I think what you've stated here is kind of what I was asking or going for in the first place. I didn't really have the language or or knowledge base quite yet to maybe describe what I was asking very well, but after reading through what everyone here has posted and through the threads folks have suggested, I'm getting a better grip on what I even want to do. That being said, I think your post, with a lot of hints and ideas from others behind it, sufficiently describes what I was wondering. I'm now realizing I was overthinking things to a degree, but the question did need to be asked, as I wasn't sure if it would be beneficial or detrimental to my learning to try things outside of the literal written context of my source materials. The resounding response is "Of course!", but with this sensible addendum of these teachers and writers having a reason for presenting the material the way they do. Thank you.

I think I got WAY more information and knowledge and insight from all the responses and replies in this thread than I was anticipating. I want to thank everyone involved for taking the time to thoroughly respond to a relatively new initiate's ignorance with such thoughtful and helpful information. It really does say a lot about this community, and what it says is pretty damn good. In fact it inspired me to become a supporting member after only one post!

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