A reader of this blog contacted me with an inquiry as whether or not to do “banjo rolls” on his banjitar,in addition to questions about fingerpicking. I was very glad for these questions as it revealed to me that there’s still a lot of confusion as to what a 6 string banjo really is. So lets explore that.
It’s important to realize that banjitars are a hybrid instrument…..like banjo ukuleles. A banjo ukulele is still a ukulele. Banjitars,or banjo-guitars,as they were called in times past,fall in the same boat. Despite the banjo body,it’s still a guitar. Tho players of these instruments of the past referred to them as banjos,which I don’t doubt for a moment they did on purpose to enhance their rep as multi instrumentalists.
Now in saying that your 6 string banjo is indeed a guitar with a banjo pot is by no means a put down,not should you view it with less enthusiasm than before you started reading this installment. But it does give you a definite sense of direction in your playing of it. In other words,
banjo rolls are not used on banjitars.
What to do then? Why there’s lots. You can flatpick,fingerpick,do Carter Style playing on it. I use a thumbpick on mine so I can go back and forth between picking melodies & strumming to out and out fingerpicking. in classical guitar there is a right hand technique in which one sounds two strings at the same time,say the 2nd and 5th,as an example (depending on what you’re playing) It is in banjo playing terminology referred to as a pinch. I play using pinches where I feel they’ll fit in and sound good. But banjo right hand bluegrass rolls such as the forward roll,reverse roll,and so on aren’t used on a banjitar.
This leads me to the next realization about your banjo-guitar. People assume it’s related to the 5 string banjo. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually a cousin to the tenor or 4 string banjo. Both guitar-banjos and tenor banjos were used in early jazz. Django Reinhardt played a banjitar as his first guitar and recorded extensively with one in the late 1920’s.
And this is where the banjo part of your instrument shines forth. It is perfect for picking single string melodies. Try it. Playing a single string tune with no fills or chords sounds wonderful on it- better than on guitar. The tonal quality of the banjo pot makes it all sound really rich.
This frees you up to pursue whatever right hand techniques you would like as there’s countless guitar books on the market on finger and flat picking. I have quite a few in my online store at Mandolin Babe’s Pickin Parlour . I also teach via Skype. I studied a lot of classical guitar and fingerpicking in my youth. My teaching webpage is Sherrie’s Folk/Bluegrass Lessons in case you’d like to book some lessons with me.
I also want to wish one & all a very Happy Holiday Season! Wishing you joy,happiness,and cheer!