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Banjo Lesson: An Introduction to Single String Playing


In the context of more traditional bluegrass music, the most common style of banjo playing is the 3-finger technique pioneered by legendary banjoist, Earl Scruggs. When employing this technique, the banjo player will generally play slower-moving melody lines accompanied by rolling 16th-note arpeggios outlining the song’s harmonic movement and structure.


In more modern and progressive schools of bluegrass banjo playing, many banjoists will utilize two different techniques that allow them to play more streamlined melodies (much like a mandolinist, fiddler, or guitarist would) rather than constraining them to the focused rolling patterns heard in traditional 3-finger Scruggs-style banjo. These two approaches are called “melodic” and “single string” style banjo. To learn more about melodic-style banjo playing, check out Noam’s lesson here.


In his collection of online banjo lessons here at ArtistWorks, Punch Brothers co-founder and Grammy Award-winning banjoist, Noam Pikelny, teaches all three of these schools of banjo playing—Scruggs-style, melodic, and single-string. In this lesson, Noam introduces us to the single-string approach and explains the critical differences that set this style apart from melodic and Scruggs-style playing.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass banjo from a master musician like Noam Pikelny? Try some free online banjo lessons now!


“So, what is single-string?” Noam asks. “Well, single-string is a technique that allows us to simulate the up and down motion of a flatpick, much like a guitar or mandolin player would use. Through the single-string approach on banjo, we emulate this flatpick sound by alternating between our thumb and index finger on our picking hand.”


Single-string technique allows banjoists the opportunity to play scales and scale-based melodies on the banjo in a completely different way. Instead of playing consecutive scale notes on different strings (as one would using melodic style), the single-string approach allows the player to perform the first few notes of a scale or melody on the same string before moving to another string.


“I just want to put this out there right now—single-string playing is not that hard,” Noam expresses. “I think playing traditional Scruggs-style banjo is infinitely more difficult than playing single-string. So, with that being said, I want to dispel any feelings of intimidation that you may have around single-string playing. If you’ve been playing Scruggs or melodic-style banjo for a little while, you can learn to play single-string.”


To learn more about single-string style banjo and how to implement the approach into your own playing, dive into this online banjo lesson from Noam Pikelny:


An Introduction to Single String Playing with Noam Pikelny:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play the banjo? Through our comprehensive banjo lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Noam Pikelny, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Noam’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner banjo to advanced performance techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, improvisation, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as banjoists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Melodic Style Banjo Lesson: Learn to Play “Blackberry Blossom” with Noam Pikelny

Bluegrass Mandolin Lesson: Playing with Speed with Sierra Hull

ArtistWorks Summer Series—Week 1: Tony Trischka




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