10 Essential D Licks on the Bluegrass Banjo
D lick 1
Lick 1 uses a forward‐reverse roll and two different D positions to play a phrase that you can use in the banjo favorite John Hardy. You’ll want to shift from the first D‐chord position on the second and third strings to the next position that you fret on the third and fourth strings just as you approach measure two.
D lick 2
This is another forward‐reverse roll lick, but this time there’s activity on the first string as you use your ring and pinky fingers to climb from the second to the fourth fret. A standard G lick follows the D phrase in this and many examples you find here, in order to get your flow going as you move from one chord to the next in a real song.
D lick 3
You only need to fret the third and fourth strings to play this forward‐roll‐based lick. This all‐purpose and absolutely essential D phrase is used in many songs, such as Your Love Is Like a Flower, in both lead and backup scenarios.
D lick 4
Old‐school masters J. D. Crowe, Sonny Osborne, and Earl Scruggs specialize in ingenious variations on standard licks. Lick 4 is a finger‐busting variation on lick 3, where you shift quickly from a forward to a backward roll. J. D. Crowe uses this phrase in his classic Old Home Place solo.
D lick 5
Get ready to use your picking‐hand middle finger on the second string with this ingenious lick that has you playing forward rolls on the inside strings of your instrument. There’s a quarter note midway through measure two, so don’t forget to give this note the breathing room it needs to allow you to complete the lick in good rhythm.
D lick 6
Lick 6 is one of those rare licks that works well for both D and G chords. Here, the open fourth string indicates that it’s a D lick. The chord progression that’s shown in this lick (one measure to G moving to one measure of D that then moves to two measures of G) is one you’ll encounter frequently in songs like Little Maggie and Nine‐Pound Hammer. This phrase can be used either for a solo or as backup when encountering this chord progression in any song.
D lick 7
Exercise care with the picking‐hand rhythm on this lick from Earl Scruggs’s classic Ground Speed, as the mix of quarter and eighth notes is tricky for just about everyone who tries it. You’ll want to get the sound of the lick in your head first with this lick, before delving in and trying it yourself.
D lick 8
Everybody needs a two‐measure D lick to use at the end of a solo, and this one’s just the ticket! Use your thumb to pick the second‐string hammer‐on note in measure one to give this lick the drive and power that it needs to put this over the top.
D lick 9
Lick 9 provides another great two‐measure D alternative, this time featuring third‐string hammer‐ons. You may not recognize the roll pattern used in measure two: It’s a Foggy Mountain roll using a third‐string variation.
D lick 10
J. D. Crowe has created a number of memorable D licks that reflect his interest in rock and blues guitar techniques. This lick from the song You Don’t Know My Mind reflects those influences. Check out the picking‐hand indications below the staff to try out J. D.’s own preferences for this lick.