How To Play Banjo Rolls And How Many Are There

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The Banjo is a stringed instrument originally from the Appalachian Mountains. The first Banjo was made in the early 18th century. The Banjo is played by moving one’s fingers across the strings. There are many different types of Banjo rolls that can be played. In this article we will discuss how to play banjo rolls.

What is a Banjo Roll?

A Banjo roll is a sequence of notes played on the Banjo.

There are four types of basic banjo rolls:

  1. Forward Roll
  2. Reverse Roll
  3. Forward-Reverse Roll
  4. Mixed Roll

Forward Roll is played by playing one note with the index finger, then two notes with the middle finger, then three with the ring finger, and finally four with the pinky.

Reverse Roll is played by playing one note with the pinky, then two with the ring finger, three notes with the middle finger and finally four notes with the index finger.

Forward-Reverse Roll is played by playing four notes with the index finger, then three with the middle finger, two with the ring finger and finally one with the pinky.

Mixed Roll is played by playing a note, then two notes with the index finger, then three notes with the middle finger, four notes with the ring finger and finally five notes with the pinky.

This may sound complicated but after a little practice these different banjo picking patterns are fairly easy. Rolls are one of the best way to practice your banjo playing as well as many other string instruments.

hand playing banjo

Where to Put Your Fingers

Simply put, you will use one finger to press down on a string and hold it down while you press down on a string with one of your other fingers. The finger you use to press down on the string will vary depending on the type of roll you want to play and the direction in which your fingers are moving. All of those are 5 string banjo roll patterns. You can begin with learning these bluegrass rolls, those are good beginner banjo rolls. On the banjo roll patterns chart, these are one of the most often used.

Forward Roll

Banjo forward roll is used in songs like “Bluegrass Breakdown” by Bill Monroe and “Tennessee Waltz” by Redd Stewart. Forward Roll is played by playing one note with the index finger, then two notes with the middle finger, then three with the ring finger, and finally four with the pinky.

Reverse Roll

Banjo reverse roll is used in songs like “Shady Grove” by the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Reverse Roll is played by playing one note with the pinky, then two with the ring finger, three notes with the middle finger and finally four notes with the index finger.

Forward-Reverse Roll

Forward-Reverse Roll is used in songs like “Arkansas Traveler” by D.W. Alexander. Forward-Reverse Roll is played by playing four notes with the index finger, then three with the middle finger, two with the ring finger and finally one with the pinky.

Mixed Roll

Mixed Roll is used in songs like “Buffalo Gals” by Paul Lively. Mixed Roll is played by playing a note, then two notes with the index finger, then three notes with the middle finger, four notes with the ring finger and finally five notes with the pinky.

‘Lick’ Roll

The ‘Lick’ Roll is used in songs like “Heel and Toe Polka” by Red Smiley. The ‘Lick’ Roll is played by playing a note, then two notes with the index finger, then three notes with the middle finger, four notes with the ring finger and finally five notes with the pinky.

Foggy Mountain Roll

The Foggy Mountain Roll is used in songs like “Mixed Company” by Carlton Haney. The Foggy Mountain Roll is played by playing two notes with the index finger, then three notes with the middle finger, four notes with the ring finger and finally five notes with the pinky.

Middle-Leading Roll

The Middle-Leading Roll is used in songs like “Ground Hog’s Day” by John Hartford. The Middle-Leading Roll is played by playing four notes with the index finger, then three with the middle finger, two with the ring finger and finally one with the pinky.

Index-Leading Roll

The Index-Leading Roll is used in songs like “John Henry” by Vernon Dalhart. The Index-Leading Roll is played by playing five notes with the index finger, then four with the middle finger, three with the ring finger and finally two with the pinky.

FAQ

What is the difference between a roll and a lick?

A roll is a sequence of notes played on the Banjo. A lick is a Banjo solo. There is a roll called “Lick” roll, but it is not used in songs.

What is the most common banjo roll?

The most common banjo roll is the Forward Roll because it is used in many different songs.

street banjo player

How do I know which banjo roll to use?

You can use one of the most common banjo rolls, the Forward Roll, or find the banjo roll that is most commonly used in the song you want to play.

How do I know which finger to use?

You should use the finger that is most comfortable on the string. The most common fingers to use are the index finger, the middle finger, the ring finger, and the pinky finger.

Conclusion

To play a banjo roll, all you do is use one finger to press down on a string and hold it down while you press down on a string with one of your other fingers. The finger you use to press down on the string will vary depending on the type of roll you want to play and the direction in which your fingers are moving. The most common banjo roll is the Forward Roll because it is used in many different songs. Banjo rolls are a great way to practice your banjo playing and to improve your skills and after just some time of banjo rolls practice you’re gonna become a somewhat decent musician (of course, it’s gonna take more than that, but banjo finger rolls are important nevertheless).

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About the author

Hey, my name is John Peters, and I’m a co-founder and Jack’s co-editors. My country sole was born when I was not more than 4 years old and my dad brought several country records home. These were the records by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Asleep at The Wheel, and Neil Young. I fell in love with the genre forever back then. Before entering the university, I managed to gather a collection of over 1200 vinyl records with both classic and modern country releases.

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