Tenor Banjo Strumming Techniques

Strumming techniques enable players to create a variety of sounds.

Frailing and tremolo are both techniques used on the tenor banjo to play various types of casual music. Flailing is also commonly referred to as "beating the banjo" and "rapping." Proper posture, hand position and knowing how to use these techniques will effectively help you get the best sound out of your tenor banjo. These techniques take time to learn, but with consistent daily practice, you can develop your strumming ability.


Tremolo can be completed on any string by using a plectrum. The tenor banjo player picks a string he would like to create a tremolo on and quickly rocks the plectrum back and forth on the string. This creates a wobbling sound that is similar to the tremolo of other string instruments; the only difference is the tremolo is created without the use of a bow. Most commonly, this technique is used to create a wobbling melody sound that resembles a wide vibrato.


Posture is extremely important when flailing on the banjo. If you aren't sitting up straight with your feet solidly planted on the ground, you risk developing unhealthy playing habits and affecting the sound. As you become proficient it is okay to adjust your posture to provide a more stylistic approach. In the beginning, rest the banjo in your lap placing the resonator flush with your stomach. Using good posture will prevent premature cramping in your hands and reduce the risk of injury.


Frailing uses a downward stroke that plucks the strings while the arm is descending and plucks the fifth string on the ascending motion. On a tenor banjo, the fifth string is also called the drone string since it is often sustained as much as possible in performance. You can use any number of fingers to pluck the strings. The middle and index finger are the fingers most commonly used, but you can also purchase a plectrum and pluck the strings with the tip. Use the method that works best for you and gets you the best sound.


Bluegrass, folk and country music all use flailing to strum the banjo. The tenor banjo will often keep the pulse for the group although sometimes he is also given the opportunity to improvise on the melody. The chords capable of being played on the tenor banjo provide support for other melodic instruments. Most flailing occurs in a simple time signature with either two or four beats per measure. The tenor banjo player must learn to strike the even, stronger beats more strongly than the weaker, off-beats.


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