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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.
So you just bought a banjo! Now what? This video will answer all of your beginner questions about 3-finger style banjo.
Ryan Cavanaugh's innovative ideas of how and what is played on the 5-string banjo are occupied by few musicians alike. Hailing originally from North Carolina, Cavanaugh's first appearances as a child featured his hard-driving styles on WPAQ radio and with Doc Watson, Doug Dillard, and John McEuen. Cavanaugh is a champion of premier traditional banjo contests RockyGrass, MerleFest, FiddleFest and Renofest.
Thirteen year old Willow Osborne, picked up her first banjo at the tender age of four, and was taught by her friend & mentor, Gary "Biscuit" Davis, the 4-time International Banjo Champion. Willow's stage presence, vocal, and instrumental skills have given her the rare opportunity to perform as the Youth Performer at the Country Tonite Theatre in Pigeon Forge for the past 4 years. Dollywood Theme Parks “Bluegrass and Barbeque Festival” have honored her as well with her own show for the past 3 years. Willow has also appeared on PBS with Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, on a TV documentary with Jens Kruger and most recently with "Bill on the Road".
Ernie Welch started playing banjo late at the age of 21 taking lessons from Joe Oser, Rual Yarbrough and Bela Fleck. His early musical influences were the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. His Bluegrass influences were the New Grass Revival, The Seldom Seen, The Country Gentleman, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and Hot Rize. While continuing to play with the Smokehouse Band, Ernie released two singles: “Ramblin Man” and “Who Have You Got To Lose” both produced by Johnny Sandlin, the original producer of the Allman Brothers on his Duct Tape Label. These releases charted in Cashbox and Billboard magazines. With “Ramblin Man” Ernie reached the # 3 position in the country on Cashbox for an Independent Artist. On keeping a band together for 29 years, Ernie is quoted as saying “I’m not a manager but I have developed good negotiating skills”. Ernie handles some of the songwriting duties and wrote “Walking After Midnight Over You” for the “20 Years Of Feedback” CD.
Austin Davis was fortunate enough to have been able to study basic to very advanced techniques with both Kerry Jones and Alan Munde. From single string practices to jazz in bluegrass a form, he soaked in as much as he could before joining the Josh Abbott Band. As a founding member, he has enjoyed trying to incorporate different styles of banjo into country music.
Andy Rau was born and raised in Southern California and has been performing professionally since 1975. He began his career as the in-house banjo player at Knott's Berry Farm amusement park in his home town of Buena Park. During that ten-year period he performed in a host of musical situations including bluegrass bands, country rock bands, and variety stage productions.
In July of 2006, after hearing John Hartford’s Mark Twang album, singer-songwriter, Snap Jackson, walked into a music store in Stockton, California and purchased his first banjo. He has been obsessing over it ever since. In addition to both Scruggs style and clawhammer banjo, Snap also plays the ukulele, mountain dulcimer, and the harmonica. In recognition of his efforts, Snap was nominated in 2010, 2013, and 2014 for the Northern California Banjo Player of the Year award and in 2011 he received an endorsement deal with both the Deering Banjo Company and Kala Brand Ukuleles. When he is not on the road fronting his band, Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players, he can be found at home playing the banjo and spending time with his family.