Welcome to Step 3! In this video, you’ll be picking out the next section of “Pretty Polly” by ear and learn your next 2 finger thumb lead banjo technique – the pinch.
Your Mission: Watch the video, and then practice the assigned exercise along with the “Beats for Banjo” practice tracks.
When To Move On: Move on to the next lesson when you can play the assigned exercise cleanly and with good timing along with the backing track (any tempo is fine).
THE LESSON (STEP 3)
YOUR PRACTICE EXERCISE
2) The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Molding a Musical Mind – the book outlines the theoretical principles of the Brainjo Method of instruction.
3) The Course Book (when ready):
BEATS FOR BANJO TRACKS
Okay. Welcome to step three of the how to play 2 finger thumb lead style banjo in seven essential steps, crash course for the total beginner.
All right. In this episode, like we’ve done before, we’re going to be learning a new technique in 2-finger thumb lead style banjo. And we will be learning the next and final section of the melody for our song, Pretty Polly, that we are using to learn all of the fundamental techniques of 2 finger thumb lead banjo. Once again, we’ll be learning that part of the melody by ear and then adding in the new part of our technique. And at the end of this video, we will actually have our complete melody. So from here on out, we’ll just be making it even more awesome by adding in more of the tools and tricks of 2 finger thumb lead style banjo.
As a reminder, remember that all of the course videos, transcripts of the episodes, links and so forth, as well as the sign up to download the book when it’s ready are available at fingerstylebanjo.com/twofinger, spelled out. That is central headquarters for this course.
And if you haven’t seen the preceding steps, step one and two, I would recommend starting with those and then getting back to this video.
All right, so the name of this style is 2 finger thumb lead. And so far we have only been using our thumb to play our song, Pretty Polly. So for the math whizzes out there, you guys have recognized that we are still missing a finger. And that ends today. So today we will be getting our second finger involved, which is our index.
As I mentioned in an earlier video, one of the unique things about the banjo is the fact that it has a drone string, a fifth street. So it is considered a drone instrument because it’s got this note that’s always ringing in the background. However, two-finger thumb lead style has not one, but two drones.
Your second drone is your open first string that’s played with your index finger, maybe not quite as much as the fifth string, but it’s kind of a secondary drone. And that is another feature that makes this particular style stand out amongst banjo style.
So one feature is that you’re always playing melody with the thumb, hence the name, thumb lead. But the other is that you’re getting two drones instead of one. So in all banjo styles, as I’ve talked about, you have a lot of extra notes besides the melody notes.
And in 2 finger thumb lead style, you have more droning going on than you have in any other style of banjo. And I think that’s part of also what makes it sound particularly old-timey and what makes it so well suited as a fingerstyle for kind of for just solo picking on your back porch. So I think it’s the best fingerstyle for that. And one reason for me is because of this extra droning that you get with the index and the thumb.
So then as a general rule, your thumb has domain over strings two through five, so, or five through two, however you want to say it. Five, two. And then your index has domain over the first. And there are two primary circumstances in a song where you’re going to be playing the open first string drone with your index finger.
One is going to be on the upbeat as a pinch, which we’re going to talk about today. And the other being on the offbeat, and we’ll be covering that in a future lesson. So don’t worry at this point in time if you have no idea what I’m talking about with downbeats, upbeats and offbeats. We’ll be getting to that, so don’t worry.
And just as a reminder, make sure your banjo is in G modal tuning. That’s the tuning we’re using to play the song, Pretty Polly. So that is a D on the fourth string, a G on the third, a C on the second, a D on the first, and a G on the fifth.
All right, so let’s just cover how to pluck a string with your index finger. So again, I have my pinky finger resting. We talked about before you can plant your pinky, or your pinky and ring finger, or just the ring finger, whatever’s comfortable. I do my pinky.
And so with it planted, basically all you’re doing is putting a little pressure onto the first string and then releasing it. So the motion is really towards you, not up. More towards your chest, and then you release that tension.
Now I put a pick on just to demonstrate, same principle with a pick. You want to be close to perpendicular to the strings with the pick to get a nice clean note. If you’re at an angle, it’ll kind of be slidey and soft sounding. If you’re perpendicular, you’ll hit a nice crisp sound.
And so the technique that we’re going to practice today is a pinch. So we’re actually not going to be picking the first string by itself. We’re going to be picking the fifth and the first string together. And so it’s called a pinch because it feels like you’re pinching your fingers together, pinching the strings together. You’re pinching them towards each other. And then releasing. And it’s this very similar motion to plucking the strings. It’s almost in some respects easier than doing them individually.
So as I said before, these pinches are played at certain places in the song in 2 finger thumb lead. And the sound is kind of like this. You see, I’m playing an open string, and then I’m following it by a pinch. So usually that’s going to be a melody note, and then you’re going to play a pinch as a drone. So it’s two strings there droning at the same time.
And that’s what I would practice first. So you could start just doing one open string, then alternating with the pinch. There I’m doing the fourth. You do the open third. And then you could try alternating strings. There I’m doing the open fourth and the open third. You can try to throw in the second.
And again, that’s kind of the first thing to get under your fingers is just that pattern where you’re alternating between plucking a string with your phone and then following it with a pinch. And because in songs that’s what you’re going to be doing. You’re going to be typically playing a melody note and following that with a pinch, which is essentially a drone on two strings.
Okay, the first thing we’re going to do is just add this pinch in to the first two sections of Pretty Polly that we’ve already picked out and had arrangements for. Remember we learned to play the melody with our thumb. Then we’d add the open fifth in our last video. And now we’re going to be replacing where we were playing the open fifth with a pinch.
Now this isn’t something you would always do, but for the sake of this exercise, we’re going to replace it in every spot. And then we might back off on some of these down the road as we continue to flesh out this arrangement. But for the sake of practice this time, we’re going to go ahead and put a pinch in every time where we were playing an open fifth in these first two struck section.
So above is the tab for what section one did look like, and now we’re just going to replace all of those fifth strings with a pinch. We’re still playing the fifth string, but now we’re just playing the open first at the same time. So here’s how section one now sounds with our pinches added.
Okay, so that’s section one with the pinches. And remember I will go back and demonstrate the whole thing with the beats for banjo backing tracks at the end.
Okay. Now here’s what our tab for the second section of Pretty Polly looks like. And now we’re going to replace those open fifths with a pinch. And it sounds like this.
So I’m going to go ahead and just sing where we are in this song right now so then we’re going to learn what the piece that we have left. So far we have Polly, pretty Polly, come go along with me. Polly, Pretty Polly, come go along with me.
Now we’re going to add our very last part, which goes, and this is the part you’re going to learn, pick out by ear. Before we get married, some pleasure to see. Okay, that’s how it goes. Now I’m going to play those notes on the banjo, and then it’ll be your job to pick out those notes from the choices that I give you. So here’s how that goes on the banjo.
Before we get married, some pleasures to see.
Okay, so again, the orange dots indicate the places where you might find a note here. So I think we have five in all. Second fret of the second string, open second, third fret, third string, open third, third fret of the fourth string.
So pause the video and see if you can find the right notes in that sequence. And then unpause when you’re ready, and I’ll show you the solution.
Okay, so here is the solution to the melody for our third part. Starts on the second fret of the second string, then the open second, then third fret, third string, open third, third fret, fourth string, third fret again, open third, third fret, third, open third, third fret, fourth string, and open third. And I’ll play that one time through so you can hear how it sounds.
Okay, so now we are going to add in our pinches, and just like before when we were adding into open fifth string, there are going to be a couple of spots where we’re going to drop a melody note in favor of a pinch or a drone. So here’s what now our new arrangement sounds like.
One more time.
Now there that we’re ending on that open third string, if you’re going to loop back to the beginning, you could just do a thumb pinch, thumb pinch pattern like this. And then start the whole exercise over again.
All right, so now I’m going to show you how to play this along with the beats for banjo backup tracks. Again, I’ll pick the 70 beats per minute backing.
Now I would encourage you to loop that over and over and over again. And that again is the full melody now. And what you might want to do in that last measure, if you are looping back instead of just ending and waiting, do… And then go back to the beginning. So ending going like this. And then go back to the beginning. So you can loop it over and over again and ending on a thumb pinch, thumb pinch to go back to the beginning.
Okay, so practice that exercise to get ready for the next step. And again, the objective is to play that exercise with good timing and clean notes. The speed is not that important. What’s important is that you were able to keep time at whatever tempo you choose. And again, if you want to, if you need to slow it down even further by using the gear icon and adjusting the speed of the video, that is fine as well.
All right, that does it for this installment. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below the video. And I will see you in the next one.