Banjo For Beginners

The ultimate guide to banjo for beginners.

Basic Scruggs Right Hand Technique

Scruggs style is one of the two major methods for playing banjo. The other is claw-hammer, and there are some wonderful sources for learning that (more on that). I prefer Scruggs style because it blends better with other genres, where claw-hammer is generally only played in bluegrass or other similar genres. Plus you don’t need to grow your nails long to play Scruggs (some claw-hammer players grow their fingernails slightly long to get a cleaner sound, others use specially designed picks). Scruggs style calls for finger picks and a thumbpick (Here is an article on finger & thumbpicks)

Scruggs, or 3 finger style as it can also be called, started with banjo player Charlie Poole. Poole was a banjo player and broke his hand in a bet. His fingers healed crooked and so he played with a bend in his hand. Earl Scruggs came along in the late 40’s and popularized his style. For more information, watch this fascinating documentary on the banjo in America.

Scruggs style involves a plant finger (ring finger or pinky finger) and three playing fingers (thumb, index and middle finger). The plant finger acts as an anchor to keep the hand from flying around when playing. The thumb plays the 5th, 4th and 3rd string, while the index plays the 3rd (sometimes, less than the thumb) and the ring plays the 1st string. I’ve outlined the basic technique below.

1. Open your hand, keeping the pinky and ring together, with the thumb, index and middle apart.
2. Rest the ring finger on the head of the banjo
3. Arch your wrist, keep it kinda floppy (see video)
4. Bend the ring finger and wrist until your playing fingers are within reach of the strings.
5. Try playing, while paying close attention to your form
6. Immediately correct any flaws in your form. Here are some videos of Belá Fleck and Earl Scruggs (Video Belá 1 Video Belá 2; Video Scruggs 1, Video Scruggs 2). Both have excellent form.

Perfect form is highly desirable. If you keep up the proper form at the start, then you won’t have to unlearn any bad habits. Also, you will be better long term. Women and men will swoon at your feet. With perfect form, the world is yours.

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