What banjo roll should I use?
by Ross Nickerson
What’s your go to roll? Do you have a preference? Which roll works best for playing the melody? How about for backup? These are some questions that get raised by 5-string banjo players at all levels.
Let’s start by defining a banjo roll briefly. It could be described as a series of quarter and eighth notes that make up a single four beat measure. The right hand pattern is what defines the name of the roll. For instance, a common forward roll pattern is TIMTIMTM, an alternating thumb roll is TITM. A common mistake beginners make is believing that the strings they played their first alternate roll on is what defines the roll. You can play any roll pattern on any combination of strings. To illustrate that better, for example,you could play the forward roll pattern above on the first string only, or the third and fourth strings only. When studying and learning rolls be sure to memorize the patterns and try them on as many combinations of strings as you can create. By doing that you’ve created a whole vocabulary of right hand patterns that you can use for improvising and making your playing more interesting. Anytime that you spend working on your rolls and other aspects of your right hand is time well spent. You could run your left hand up and down the neck but without being a proficient picker it want sound like much.
I raised several questions in the first paragraph, let’s discuss the first two questions I asked in this months IBanjonews and we’ll follow up next month with some more.
What’s your go to Roll? A go to roll could be described as the roll you play the best, know the best, what you think sounds the best, the one you can play the fastest, the one that drives the band the best, etc. It’s something that you have to decide. However to have the knowledge to make the best decisions you should become proficient in several varieties of the major roll patterns used in Scruggs Style picking. Break down some of the songs you know and take note of what different rolls you’re playing and how they affect the song. Your goal should be to be balanced and use the rolls that fit the song your playing the best.
Do you have a preference? Even if you’re a pro you probably have rolls that you tend to use more than others, but you’ve reached the level to make choices. If you’re not so proficient, chances are you have a roll or two that you can play the best. Obviously, keep practicing and balance out your ability. However, if the reverse roll is the roll you can play the fastest and it keeps you from backing out of a jam session when the tempos get fast than by all means go to it until the other rolls catch up.
If you would like to learn more rolls and more about them. I have many varieties included in my How to Build Your Speed On the Banjo instruction book and cd’s.
Ross Nickerson’s main teaching website