Robert Barrett

​​​​Bluegrass Music Instructor

a couple quick lessons

Exercise One

          This exercise is done on the banjo and is designed to help alleviate "fly away finger," a condition in which the index and/or middle finger does not stay close the string and flies away from the string after picking it.  No strings are fretted, therefore your left hand is not involved in this exercise and can take a break. With your right hand, pick the open third string four times with your thumb while keeping your middle finger touching the first string and your index finger touching the second string.  Then place your thumb on the fifth string and keep your middle finger on the first string.  Next, pick the second string with your index finger four times, again leaving your middle finger and thumb on the first and fifth strings.  Next, pick the fifth string four times with your thumb, all the while keeping your other two fingers on their respective strings.  Now pick the first string with your middle finger four times, once again keeping your thumb and index finger down on the strings.  Do this over and over, four times on each string, while keeping steady time.  Then pick each string three times while maintaining the fingers that are not picking on a string.  Next, pick each string two times, always keeping a fixed beat.  Finally, pick each string one time.  You don't need to keep your fingers down on the stings for this final stage.  Guess what? You're now playing the alternating thumb roll!

Exercise Two - "Old Faithful"

  This is a classic exercise I use to warm up before every practice session or performance.  It can be done on the guitar, mandolin or banjo.  If you are right handed, start by placing your left index finger on the 1st fret of the first string. Pick that note with a flat-pick in a downward motion if you are playing guitar or mandolin, or with your right thumb if you are playing a banjo. Leave your index finger on the 1st fret and place your left hand middle finger on the 2nd fret of the same first string. Pick that note using an upward motion of your flat-pick on the guitar/mandolin or with you right index finger on the banjo.  Leave both fingers down on the 1st and 2nd frets and place your left ring finger on the 3rd fret (you're still on the first string).  Now play that note with a downward motion with your flat-pick on the guitar/mandolin or with your thumb on the banjo.  Finally, place your little finger on the 4th fret of the first string and pick that note using an upward motion with your flat-pick, or with your index finger on the banjo. Once again, keep your index, middle and ring fingers pressing down on the string at the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fret.  Do this over and over until it becomes smooth.  Then do the same thing on the second string.  After a while, move on to the third, fourth, fifth and sixth strings, using the same down/up motion as you pick each note.  Go back to the first string and do this exercise beginning on the 2nd fret.  Go up the neck, picking four notes in succession using the down/up motion of the flat-pick or the thumb/index finger on the banjo.

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