Published on April 24th, 2012 | by Sam1
Guitarists have stolen from other instruments for as long as there has been guitars! Just look for transcriptions of classical music for the guitar to players like Rev Gary Davis playing Scott Joplin tunes to modern players stealing from the steel (see my Mel Bay Sessions article “Stealin’ Steel Stuff”). Players like Albert Lee have been known to steel Earl Scruggs style banjo rolls as well. Here are a few ideas to get you going with the rolls.
Banjo Rolls are simply repetitive rolls that are indicative of the banjo. They’re so popular on the banjo because they are easy to play! The high G drone string really helps, as does the open G tuning-if you play any pattern on open strings you would get a type of roll. Translating to the guitar is not too difficult. One issue with all of this is the speed. Virtuoso-and non virtuoso-banjo players can play fast. Not just kind of fast, but really fast. Check out some videos of the marquee banjo players, like Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, and even Bela Fleck to name a few. There are countless players on YouTube who play these blindingly fast.
Some guitarists have also incorporated them, especially country guitarists. Albert Lee is probably the best known for using them, but you can hear them in many great country guitar players’ vocabulary. When trying to build speed most will approach this by trying to move the metronome up a few clicks at a time. This can work, but there are several ‘plateaus’ of speed and you can rarely get there by inching past them. Many times the best bet is to concentrate on the physical movement involved. Try playing an exercise by alternating between thumb and right hand ring finger, but play the ring finger notes loud. This causes your finger to build muscle and the ‘quick twitch’ fiber that you use to build speed-or in this case quickness. Do the same with your middle finger. Doing this exercise just a few times can dramatically increase your right hand quickness in this capacity.
All of the examples are meant to be played either finger style (with p i m) or with pick and fingers (pick m a).
Lick 1 in G (Albert Lee Lick)
This one is completely lifted from Albert Lee. I learned it while transcribing his StarLicks video introduction, but he also plays it in this video. The lick is a simple open 5th in G, with a hammer on to the root. It gives a nice dissonance with the open G note, which is where the banjo harmony comes from. (I have a transcription of the entire tune, I’ll try to upload it sometime.)
This lick is the same as above, but transposed to D. It’s more difficult to finger, but not too bad.
This lick can be transposed all over the neck. You still get the nice dissonance but this time it’s with the 5th instead of the root. You can play the slides as hammer ons as well. The chord here is G (or G7).
The final lick is also a transposable lick. This one is base on a typical “F” shape chord moved to G. This one gets its dissonance from the 3rd- minor moving to major. This one is the exact rhythm of what banjo players call the Forward Roll.