How to Play the Lick Roll on the Bluegrass Banjo - dummies

How to Play the Lick Roll on the Bluegrass Banjo

By Bill Evans

The lick roll is an essential banjo technique for bluegrass players. The lick roll has nothing to do with rock‐’n’‐roll banjo posturing, but it’s the roll pattern that is used to play just about everyone’s favorite lick. A lick is a musical phrase that you can use in many different songs; the lick that goes with this particular roll is used perhaps more than any other in bluegrass banjo. Getting familiar with the right‐hand sequence will speed your progress when you add the fretting hand.

The lick roll combines the first four notes of a forward roll with the last four notes of a forward‐reverse roll. When you start using this roll in songs, you’ll discover that it’s frequently used when you need a fourth‐string melody note at the end of a measure:

  • Picking‐hand sequence: T–M–T–I–M–I–T–M

  • String sequence: 3–1–5–3–1–3–4–1

This is what the lick roll looks in banjo tab.

The lick roll.
The lick roll.

Most players find that the trickiest part of the lick roll comes mid‐measure, when you give the picking‐hand index finger a real workout as you reverse direction in the note sequence. Don’t sweat it! Just breathe deeply and repeat the roll slowly, playing each note as clearly as you can to give your fingers and your brain the opportunity to get accustomed to this new pattern.