How to Play Pinch Patterns on the Banjo

Once you have a feel for how to figure out the notes and rhythm in tab, you're ready to get acquainted with the pinch pattern. The pinch pattern gets its name from the right-hand motion you use to play the strings.

With the pinch pattern, you strike the strings with a downward motion with the thumb and with an upward motion with the right-hand index and middle fingers all at the same time. In other words, you're pinching the banjo strings with your right hand!

The pinch pattern is great for beginning players to use when following chord progressions and accompanying songs. For now, you can play this pattern without any fingerpicks on your hands, and you don't need to worry too much about your right-hand position.

Here's a step-by-step guide to playing a pinch pattern for an open G chord (all strings are unfretted):

  1. Pick the 3rd string with a downward motion of the thumb.

  2. Strike the 5th string with the thumb, the 2nd string with the index finger, and the 1st string with the middle, playing all three strings at the same time.

    You should hear the sound of three notes together. Remember that the pinch pattern always uses a downward motion with the right-hand thumb and an upward motion with the index and middle fingers every time you pick a string.

  3. Pick the fourth string with the thumb.

  4. Repeat Step 2 by playing the 5th, 2nd, and 1st strings simultaneously with the thumb, index, and middle fingers.

You can see in this tab what the pinch pattern looks like in tablature for the G, C, and D7 chords. Also, be sure to listen to the audio clip Pinch Patterns and watch the Playing the Pinch Pattern to hear and see the pinch pattern in action on these same chords. In the example, t stands for the right-hand thumb, i for index finger, and m for middle finger.

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Note that the numbers on the tab staff change with each new chord in the tab, but that the right-hand picking pattern remains the same in each measure. As you read through any banjo tab, don't forget to follow the chord progression as you play.

More often than not, if you fret the chord that's indicated above the tab staff, then you also have the fretted positions you need to match what the tab staff line numbers indicate to play. For instance, in this tab, you see a C chord above the tab staff.

The lines on the tab staff (remember, these lines stand for the strings of your banjo) indicate that you need to fret the 1st string at the 2nd fret, the 2nd string at the 1st fret, and the 4th string at the 4th fret.

If you fret all three of these strings at the same time at the beginning of the second measure, following the C-chord indication that you see above the staff, you're also fretting everything that's indicated on the tab staff for this measure.

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