What Is Melodic Banjo?
Although Scruggs style is just about the most logical and ingenious technique ever created to play music on the banjo, you unfortunately can’t play everything in this way. Because you strike a different string with each roll note in Scruggs style, playing note-for-note versions of a melody that happens to contain lots of consecutive notes adjacent to one another is the one thing that’s next to impossible using Scruggs style.
In the early 1960s, bluegrass banjo players Bill Keith and Bobby Thompson were independently working on solving this problem as they tried to find a way to play fiddle tunes more easily in a three-finger style on the banjo.
These musicians came up with a new way of playing scales on the banjo called melodic banjo, where a different string is picked with each successive note, as in roll pattern–based styles of playing.
Melodic banjo is great to use as an addition to Scruggs style within bluegrass. This way of playing, which I describe in the following sections, gives you a new set of three-finger tools that you can apply to all kinds of music and also use in improvising. In addition to playing complex melodies with this approach, you can create virtuosic improvisations that rival the best work of any jazz improviser!
Melodic-style banjo is a real attention getter and is great for playing melodies that can’t easily be played using Scruggs style and for improvising. However, when it comes time to play with others, you should rely on the roll patterns and techniques used in Scruggs style to provide the most appropriate accompaniment.