Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies
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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.

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Bill Evans has helped thousands of people to play the five-string banjo through his instructional workshops, music camps, DVDs, books, and recordings. He has performed on stages all over the world, his recordings have topped folk and bluegrass charts, and he has mentored many of today's top young professional players. Bill shares the shortcuts and secrets he has developed in more than 35 years of teaching to help all banjo players sound their best.

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