How to Play Pinches on the Bluegrass Banjo - dummies

How to Play Pinches on the Bluegrass Banjo

By Bill Evans

To truly get that bluegrass banjo sound, you may want to try playing pinches. You’ve found a comfortable picking‐hand position and you’ve got your thumbpicks and fingerpicks on your fingers. You’re ready to finally play!

Here, you try out the pinch pattern, a basic technique that you can use to follow chord progressions and play songs with others. Although it’s relatively simple compared to more advanced techniques, the pinch pattern is a bona‐fide, honest‐to‐goodness, real bluegrass banjo picking technique. It’s time to take the first step on your bluegrass banjo journey!

Playing pinches

Here’s your complete guide to playing the pinch pattern:

  1. Play the third string with your thumb.

  2. Play the fifth, second, and first strings with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

  3. Play the fourth string with your thumb.

  4. Repeat Step 2.

The pinch pattern derives its name from the motion your fingers make in Steps 2 and 4 to play the three strings together.

Here is the pinch pattern in banjo tab for the G, C, D7, and Em chords.

Playing the pinch pattern for the G, C, D7, and Em chords.
Playing the pinch pattern for the G, C, D7, and Em chords.

Trying out the pinch pattern

The pinch pattern allows you to hit the ground quickly and make some great music with others without a lot of fuss (or practice!). Try playing the pinch pattern for two bluegrass standards, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Long Journey Home.”

Playing pinch patterns to accompany “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Playing pinch patterns to accompany “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Playing pinch patterns is a good place to get started with your bluegrass banjo. Once you feel good with this technique, you’re ready to move on to more advanced moves.

Playing pinch patterns to accompany “Long Journey Home.”
Playing pinch patterns to accompany “Long Journey Home.”