How do I use Banjo Rolls?

How do I use Banjo Rolls?

How do I use Banjo Rolls?

Hi Ross,

I'm finding your DVDs, CDs, etc. very useful and am pleased to have them. I have a question about the rolls information in your Fundamentals program that came up for me when I first got into that material. I didn't ask this when I started as I thought it was too basic or obvious a question but it keeps coming to mind so here goes:

My understanding of rolls is that they serve an ongoing, background rhythm purpose so, as the term suggests, they roll on and on and on. Several of the rolls you present have one measure of eight notes with the second measure ending in quarter/half notes (I don't have the book with me and may not be using the right term for the second measure). That second measure comes across to me as more of a closing measure than part of an ongoing roll. While I can logically understand that this is just one way of doing a roll, I still find I have almost a subconscious block against doing/learning/practicing rolls this way. Maybe that's because it seems that changing from one type of beat to another within the roll makes it more awkward to add lead ins and other embellishments during the roll in changes to a different key.  Could you comment on that? Is the idea that doing simpler repetitive rolls just makes for more boring music?

And that reminded me of another question re. rolls. It seems like the basic/main rolls work great as long as the song is being played in the first frets, i.e., first to third fret, but as soon as you move up the neck, the effect starts to break down. You address that with the fretted rolls and so on. Am I correct in thinking that I should be learning rolls up and down the neck right from the start?

I know you get at these points in the material but I just wanted to check in and put these questions to rest,

Thanks again for all the valuable content you have put together,

Lucy Rachynski

Ross Nickerson Reply

Hi Lucy,

Rolls are picking patterns. The fingers used is the pattern, any combination of 1/4 notes and 1/8 notes equaling 4 beats is one measure, or a one measure roll 

The picking pattern or roll is defined but the pattern or order of the fingers used, not the strings played,

Rolls you learn in books are primarily for exercise so you learn to pick and then later achieve the skill to use the roll that best states the melody and the rhythms you want to play, by choice.

 The term “Rolls” is just a word for practicing your picking patterns so you can learn how to play a banjo without thinking about what “roll” or pattern you are using, once you learn to switch freely between the picking patterns you can begin to make musical choices on your own.

This article I wrote may help some too. Don't get too hung up on things. Play steady, play complete measures, do not pause between chord changes and learn to create a continuous steady rhythm in your playing. Learn to “play through” any mistakes made with the fretting hand without stopping to correct them. This will ultimately result in learning to correct and improve them on the fly without making the only “real mistake” you can make on a banjo which is, stopping or breaking the rhythm.

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