Single String Banjo Technique part two

by Ross Nickerson

In last months column we were discussing single string technique. I’d like to use this month’s column to list some specific suggestions in developing this style and also refer some material that you can get with tab and instruction. Lets start by some instruction suggestions.

Learn scales and repeat them over and over.
Use a metronome and build your speed slowly.
Start with short four note phrases and work your way up to longer passages.
Try to incorporate open strings into your runs to increase your ability to play them fast.
Keep your left hand fingers close to the strings and minimize movement.
Try not to press too hard on the strings, it isn’t necessary and may bend the string out of tune.
When playing the runs slowly with the metronome concentrate on tone, fretting accuracy, timing and rhythm.
When practicing the single string runs try to match the tone and feel with your normal rolling sound so it will blend well when you incorporate the two together. Being able to go from one style to the next seamlessly is a very important part of the process.
Use a rhythm tape to play along with to get the kinks out and experiment. Remember if you’ve been playing Scruggs Style without single string technique for a long time this could take awhile.
Incorporate single string runs that you can play up to speed in the songs you already know right away.
If you’re having trouble fitting single string runs into fast songs or breakdowns. Begin by using them in slower songs.
When practicing alone keep in mind that it is ok to make mistakes and unpleasant sounds, practice time is when you push yourself to do things you can’t do and expand. Experiment a lot and as you get better weed out the bad notes and things that don’t work.

Here a few books I know of that have some scales in them and instruction on single string technique. I’m sure there are many more out there but this should help if you haven’t seen these.

Hot Licks for Bluegrass Banjo by Tony Trischka, Oak Publications
Banjo Picking Styles by Bela Fleck, Homespun Tapes.
Don Reno Style by Don Wayne Reno, Homespun Tapes

I cover it some as well in my How to Build Your Speed on the Banjo instruction book and cd’s available here on the website.

Thanks and good luck.

Ross Nickerson

Ross Nickerson’s main teaching website

Ross Nickerson Banjo Books, CDs and DVDs