A Book Of Five Strings - online tutorial

Strategies for mastering the art of old time banjo.

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Timing And Phrasing
In order to play melody with the frailing strum we have to be able to shift the rhythm into different patterns, sometimes from measure to measure, while keeping a steady beat.
Quarter Note Patterns
In the basic 4/4 time frailing strum we play a pattern of one quarter note and two eighth notes twice in each measure.
The count for each measure is "1 2 & 3 4 &" or "bump dit-ty, bump dit-ty"
In this next example we are going to play three quarter notes followed by a strum-thumb (dit-ty).
Example One:
The count for this new pattern is " 1 2 3 4 &, 1 2 3 4 &" or "bump bump bump dit-ty".
We can get away with this because playing three quarter notes and two eighth notes gives us the same time value as two frailing strums. That's the trick to rhythm. You can play any combination of notes and/or rests in a measure as long as their total added value matches the time signature.
That's the theory, now we have to look at the technique.
The big issue here is control. With the basic frailing strum we have a repeating pattern to work with so it's fairly easy to maintain a constant rhythm. When we start changing one or more measures in a song we are intentionally throwing ourselves out of this rhythmic pattern and that can make it easy to lose control of the rhythm.
This control issue is the reason I stressed driving the motion of the strum from the forearm with the thumb resting on the fifth string. If you are playing with a lot of wrist movement or flicking your fingers you wind up adding in a recovery period after each motion and that makes it extremely difficult to keep things together when you start breaking up the measures.