How to Play the Earl Scruggs Banjo Roll

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Developer of a three-fingered style of banjo picking that bears his name, Earl Scruggs is one of the major stars of bluegrass music. One of his signature moves was the banjo roll, or repeated picking pattern, that bears his name. Here's how to play the Earl Scruggs roll.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Banjo
  • Thumb pick
  • Finger picks
  • Banjo strap (for playing standing up)

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  1. 1

    Strike the third (middle, "G") string with the thumb pick.

  2. 2

    Pick the second string (the string just below the middle string, "B" string) with the index finger.

  3. 3

    Strum the fifth (top, drone, high "G") string with the thumb pick.

  4. 4

    Pluck the first (bottom, bass, low "D") string with your middle finger. The four notes should sound something like the first four notes of a clock's quarter-hour chime.

  5. 5

    Repeat Steps 1 through 4 over and over. Increase your speed as your fingering and repetition become more automatic.

Tips and warnings

  • Think of the strings you pick in the Earl Scruggs roll numerically: "3" for the third string, "2" for the second string, "5" for the fifth string" and "1" for the first string, i.e., 3-2-5-1. Practice this mentally and on the banjo until it becomes automatic.
  • To add variety to the Scruggs roll, pluck the fourth string (the high "D" between the middle and top strings) every other time you would hit the third string; i.e., 3-2-5-1, 4-2-5-1, 3-2-5-1, 4-2-5-1.

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