Back in the 1980’s I got my mitts on a copy of Tony Trischka’s book, Melodic Banjo.
I had no interest in the melodic bluegrass movement. It was clear even by the mid 80’s that bluegrass banjo players almost always end up playing jazz. Jazz is the great elephant graveyard of bluegrass banjo. Start with Scruggs, move on to melodic and end up at jazz. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Anyway, what I was looking for in the book was a better understanding of how melodic players use scales. I read through the book and started exploring the songs. After experimenting with a few tab files I came across a cool lick. The challenge now was to take the three finger material and play it with frailing technique. After a bit of trial and error I came up with this little exercise.
The first three measures are double thumbing at the fifth fret. In a move you see a lot in melodic bluegrass, the lick stays in one place, getting a lot of notes with minimal movement.
The tricky thing here is keeping a flowing rhythm through the entire lick. Try practicing your basic frailing strum for a bit. Then flow through this lick and back to basic frailing.
If playing this at the fifth fret feels wonky move the lick to a different C chord.
I still have my copy of Melodic Banjo. All tattered and full of handwritten notes in the margins. I never used the book for three-finger playing as intended. It did help me come up with ways to approach the material with frailing.
- Basic frailing
- Double thumbing
- Basic chord forms
Where else can you apply one or more of these techniques?
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