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4-finger picking on the 5-string with classical/baroque music

Apr 21, 2021 - 12:28:22 PM
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305 posts since 2/23/2019

Before I get comments like "you're trying to reinvent the wheel" or "why try to fix something that's not broken", just hear me out. I've searched the archives and have read up. I know of Greg Liszt but hear he's no longer doing 4-finger picking. I'm not asking this from a Bluegrass perspective, I know this isn't what Scruggs did. I learned Scruggs style and find that it's actually pretty easy to add the ring finger to the picking line-up, and I've only been experimenting with this for a short time. I don't anchor my hand and stick to pretty much classical/baroque music only right now. I don't have much experience with other musical instruments (or music in general before I started the banjo), so I have a few basic questions/thoughts about it and wanted to bounce them off the community to determine if they hold up logically from a music theory perspective:

1) 4-note chord pinches could sound better/more robust than 3-note chord pinches
2) Having more options to play notes could be considered a good thing
3) Harmonizing melody notes could be easier with another finger to work with
4) There might be less of a need to arpeggiate a chord in certain cases with an additional finger
5) Playing triplets might be easier
6) The range of sheet music available to me to transpose could increase based on the greater picking capacity (such as pieces that require 4 notes to be played at once throughout the composition)

Constructive thoughts welcome

Apr 21, 2021 - 12:38:31 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

25829 posts since 8/3/2003

Alan Munde also plays 4 finger banjo and it definitely works for him.

And, to quote another member (Mike Gregory): It's your banjo, play it the way you want to. I agree, if that's what works for you.... go for it.

Apr 21, 2021 - 2:12:04 PM

305 posts since 2/23/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

Alan Munde also plays 4 finger banjo and it definitely works for him.

And, to quote another member (Mike Gregory): It's your banjo, play it the way you want to. I agree, if that's what works for you.... go for it.


Oh wow didn't know that, he's probably my favorite melodic player

Apr 21, 2021 - 2:58:58 PM
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10893 posts since 4/23/2004

Ain't nuthin' but a technique. A number of classical-guitar players who transitioned to banjo continue to use however many fingers are convenient for them. For the most part, it is a rarely used thing. If you can do it, why not?

Mathematically, it should be "better". Back in the 1800s, it was pretty commonly shown in banjo tutors...but not really used. It dropped away very quickly and by the 1900s was pretty rare, if not extinct.

Large block chords just don't sound like one might expect on the banjo...it ain't a piano. Typically, one finds that arpeggiated chords sound better than stacks (at least I think so). Even though one finds 4 and 5 string chords in the literature, they were most often either arpeggiated or strummed. Of course, 4-string chords are the meat and potatoes of Dixieland tenor and plectrum playing...they're not about subtlety though. laugh

One might expect to be better able to manage multiple voices with a 4-finger technique. It is difficult for 99.44% of players to just hold on to 2 voices, much less more of them. Again, it is just technique.

In the end, it can be a good addition when needed. If you can manage the technique properly there's no reason not to. When I first started playing the old Classic Style pieces (different from "classical"), I played 4-note stacks as written...with my ring finger in use. At some point one of the old guard asked me why I was doing that...and explained as above. I stopped.
 

Edited by - trapdoor2 on 04/21/2021 15:00:26

Apr 21, 2021 - 4:11:29 PM

45 posts since 10/15/2007

quote:
Originally posted by finger-picker

4) There might be less of a need to arpeggiate a chord in certain cases with an additional finger


On the other hand, if you do want to arpeggiate a chord, there could easily be situations where it's easier/smoother to play the 4th note with some 4th finger rather than swing one of the 3 previously used fingers over to play it. It depends on how smart/quick/strong you can teach the additional finger to be, because there are workarounds if it's incorrigibly dumb/slow/weak (e.g. sweep picking.)

As for available sheet music, it seems to me that 4-note chords are the only feature of a score that necessitates 4-finger picking.  What's really going to cramp your style is not having a guitar's bottom two strings.

Apr 21, 2021 - 4:25:58 PM
Players Union Member

Lew H

USA

2620 posts since 3/10/2008

Gus Cannon of the the Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers played some 4-finger banjo many decades ago.

Apr 21, 2021 - 4:36:06 PM

11684 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

Alan Munde also plays 4 finger banjo and it definitely works for him.


On what recordings does Alan Munde play 4-finger? Where have you read of him playing 4-finger? If he does, it must be only occasionally. I have several of his tab books and videos -- admittedly old -- but they're all 3-finger.

Apr 21, 2021 - 4:47:44 PM

11684 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by finger-picker

Constructive thoughts welcome


None to offer than if you think the technique offers better access to music you want to make, then do it.

I did not know that Greg Liszt doesn't play 4-finger any more. When an established and expert practioner of a technique no longer uses it, maybe that tells you something about its value.

Apr 21, 2021 - 5:02:21 PM

305 posts since 2/23/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

I did not know that Greg Liszt doesn't play 4-finger any more. When an established and expert practioner of a technique no longer uses it, maybe that tells you something about its value.


Someone somewhere at some time said as much about Greg, I don't know the details but I think he's mainly a bluegrass player so not sure if it's an apples to apples comparison 

Apr 21, 2021 - 5:24:05 PM

11684 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by finger-picker
 

Someone somewhere at some time said as much about Greg, I don't know the details but I think he's mainly a bluegrass player so not sure if it's an apples to apples comparison 


It's banjo. It's technique.

Some of what he played on his Four Finger Banjo album was not strictly bluegrass. And since it's 4 fingers, it's almost by definition not Scruggs.

Regardless of the genre of music, it sounds like he was capable of doing all the things in your list.

I'm not at all suggesting that you don't try it. I'm all for learning. I'm still learning.

Apr 21, 2021 - 6:14:59 PM
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305 posts since 2/23/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by finger-picker
 

Someone somewhere at some time said as much about Greg, I don't know the details but I think he's mainly a bluegrass player so not sure if it's an apples to apples comparison 


It's banjo. It's technique.

Some of what he played on his Four Finger Banjo album was not strictly bluegrass. And since it's 4 fingers, it's almost by definition not Scruggs.

Regardless of the genre of music, it sounds like he was capable of doing all the things in your list.

I'm not at all suggesting that you don't try it. I'm all for learning. I'm still learning.


Interesting on the album, I looked it up, it sounds great and yes he has some classical pieces on there. As for the thread that mentioned he gave up four-finger picking, I dug it up, it's back from 2014:

https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/281597

"It bears mentioning, since Greg Liszt has twice been brought up, that he said in a recent article that he gave the 4-finger style up. I am paraphrasing, of course, but he stated that after all was said and done, it wasn't really giving him anything that he couldn't do with three. Truthfully, I think there may have been just a touch of early infatuation with the idea of doing something no one else had."

However, his Four Finger Banjo album was produced in 2018, so I would say Greg didn't give it up for too long, lol. 

I'll continue to experiment with 4 fingers. I know how to use 3 fingers so I can always revert if it doesn't seem feasible, though I do have classical pieces involving three-note pinches that I'm able to augment with four-notes and they sound more robust for sure. The problem still remains for single string where, regardless of how many fingers I'm using, I'll need to at least double up on the fingers for the given string. 

Apr 21, 2021 - 6:55:14 PM

11684 posts since 6/2/2008

I'm all for letting the music be your guide. If you think the music calls for four fingers go for it.

Previously, I was just responding to your comment that Greg Liszt had given up 4-finger. I had never heard that he had.  It just seemed to be that if a guy developed the technique then gave it up, maybe that said something. And maybe he didn't really give it up.

There's a somewhat similar difference of thought about how many fingers to use in single string. There are artists and players who believe that two-finger thumb-index is sufficient for everything anyone might want to do in single string. Noam Pikelny, on the other hand, has developed a technique of playing three-finger rolls on a single string. He believes it accomplishes something.

I understand the people who believe thumb-index is sufficient. But I believe my ears when I hear Noam play and my eyes when I see him using three fingers on one string.

Good luck to you.

Apr 22, 2021 - 4:39:42 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

25829 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

Alan Munde also plays 4 finger banjo and it definitely works for him.


On what recordings does Alan Munde play 4-finger? Where have you read of him playing 4-finger? If he does, it must be only occasionally. I have several of his tab books and videos -- admittedly old -- but they're all 3-finger.


I don't know if he's ever recorded himself playing with 4 fingers or tabbed out anything he played 4 finger, but I saw/heard him do just that at Camp Bluegrass in Levelland, TX.  He did so sans picks, i.e., bare fingered, and it was definitely not a bluegrass type song, more of a classical piece.   I don't think it's something he does all the time, but when he did it for that particular class, we were all enchanted because it was so beautiful. 

Apr 22, 2021 - 6:55:25 AM

11684 posts since 6/2/2008

Ah. So it's something he knows how to do, but doesn't do it very much. That's cool.

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