Banjo For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

Bluegrass-style banjo originated with the innovations of Earl Scruggs, who burst upon the national scene in the mid-1940s. The bluegrass style is characterized by a flurry of fast, brilliant-sounding notes and is the sound behind all-time banjo classics such as Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “Dueling Banjos.”

Before Earl, 19th-century musicians played the banjo by using fingerpicking techniques borrowed from the guitar. Later, early 20th-century rural musicians, such as Uncle Dave Macon and Charlie Poole, featured simplified (at least compared to Earl's!) two- and three-finger picking techniques on their early country recordings.

Although this way of playing the banjo is at the foundation of the bluegrass style, banjo players such as Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, Jens Kruger, and Noam Pilkelny have used this approach as a starting point for incredible musical journeys into classical, jazz, and rock styles.

Bluegrass banjo playing uses the thumb, index finger, and middle fingers of the right hand and (for this reason) is sometimes called three-finger picking. Because banjo players always go for the shortest description, the term three-finger picking has stuck over the years even though it would be more accurate to call it a “thumb and two-finger” style.

Just like when you're figuring out how to play clawhammer banjo, the biggest challenge with the bluegrass style is getting a comfortable right-hand position that enables you to play clearly and quickly. And because bluegrass banjo players use picks on their thumbs and index and middle fingers, part of being able to play bluegrass comfortably is finding the right picks.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

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.

This article can be found in the category: