Stand a plectrum banjo up against your average five-string banjo and at first glance, you might not spot the difference. Both types of instrument have almost identical construction, from the scale length and fret count all the way down to the size of the head, and the type of strings used. Quickly, however, it will become clear that on the plectrum banjo the shortened fifth string is missing.
Keeping a banjo in top notch playing condition doesn’t have to be a difficult or time consuming task. Keeping a banjo in pristine condition is easier than you think. Follow these simple steps and your banjo will continue to sound and look great for years to come.
Contemporary banjos, with their metal strings, frets, and tension hoops, tone rings, etc., have come a long way since their ancestor instruments crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, centuries ago. What is recognized today as the essential makeup of the banjo hasn't always been the case. The way in which we approach the instrument has also changed.
There are few instruments as easy to just pick up and play as the humble ukulele. With a few chords memorized, anybody can start producing those chilled, Hawaiian vibes. Soprano models, notable for their highly compact bodies and fretboards, have become a staple feature of beach parties and informal jam sessions the world over.
With a few chords under their belt, and perhaps a plectrum to hand, almost anyone can have fun strumming away on the banjo. In fact, as newcomers to the instrument that's where most of us tend to start out. If you wish to unlock the instrument's unique sound, however, you will have to learn one of the unique styles used to play it.
In the case of 3-finger style, that means mastering the art of the roll pattern.
A roll pattern is a series of eight notes picked repeatedly with the thumb, index, and middle fingers on the right hand (if right handed, opposite if left handed). By playing patterns over different chord shapes you create a stream of arpeggios or ‘broken chords'. This means picking each note of the chord one after another as opposed to strumming them together, and is what gives 3-finger style such a distinctive sound.
In bluegrass and 3-finger banjo the vast majority of tunes are made up of these different roll patterns. The patterns may be chopped and changed to suit each song but can always ultimately be traced back to a few core ideas.
As a beginner, learning all the variations on 5-string banjo rolls is neither necessary nor desirable. All you need to kickstart your playing are these four essential rolls: forward, backward, forward-backward, and mixed.
When most people think of the banjo, they tend to think of Bluegrass, Earl Scruggs, and the 3-finger style. You'd be forgiven for not knowing banjo could be anything else given their dominance in mainstream culture. In the movies, and in popular folk outfits like the Flecktones, or Mumford and Sons, 3-finger style has reigned supreme since Scruggs pioneered it in the mid-1940s.
Far older, though now overshadowed by its upstart younger sibling, clawhammer banjo remains an alternative option for those seeking a gentler, more melodic sound.
You wouldn't paint a picture with dirty brushes. You wouldn't chisel a sculpture with blunted tools. So why play a banjo with worn out strings?
If you've never changed your banjo strings before, the thought of doing it yourself can be a daunting one. So much so that you may be tempted to keep putting it off. However, if you want your instrument to stay in top condition, and keep on producing a quality sound, it's important to change the strings with some regularity.
One of the first things that three-finger style players are told when they start learning banjo is: Always. Wear. Your. Picks. There is a widespread consensus in the three-finger community that fingerpicks are essential to properly develop speed and tonal quality.