Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: Banjo Backward Roll Study

You have the forward roll down? Now you’re ready to focus in on the backward roll. I have 3 variations of the backward roll that will keep you brain from forming bad habits and misconceptions about the roll.

Tricky switching the roll pattern. Finger 1 didn’t like it at first…

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Good! That means we’ve tricked it to do what you want it to do. I love to hear that.

That has become one of my favorite accomplishments. When I find a pattern that my fingers don’t like, but then train them to the point where it feels natural, I feel like I’ve really achieved something.


Hey there. I’m a banjo beginner - just started this year. I spent a lot of time practicing the different roll patterns in the beginner track, As well as some I had found on YouTube. The backward roll in particular Is giving me a tough time for some reason, particularly the reversal at the end of a 4/4 measure. Most other rolls are getting smooth at 220+ BPM, but this one still feels weird at 180, and sometimes sounds choppy and out of rhythm between beats 4 & 1
Any advice for catching up this roll pattern to the others? Also I feel like I’m spending too much time on this one roll pattern for that reason. Is it important that I master the backward roll pattern before moving on? Or should I keep rolls as at least half of my practice time, focusing on backward until it feels as comfortable as the others?

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Hi Buddy
This is a great post. Sounds as though your making great progress. Don’t beat yourself up with the backward roll speed wise, it’s one of the more tricky roll patterns and when you start to push the speed it will always sound choppy until you’ve master it. It’s a bit like the Alternating Thumb Roll or Square Roll if you play it too fast too soon you loose it.

When I was a beginner I was always encouraged to practice my roll patterns slowly no faster than 70bpm. And I offer that advise to you. The goal should never be to play fast as your learning, that comes later once you’ve gained some level of experience. Speed will come when your brain is ready to instruct your fingers to play faster. It’s important to LISTEN. Feel the timing.

To help you improve your backward roll patterns you should spend way more time on them than you do on the forward roll patterns which from your comments in your post you have already mastered. In the beginning you will experience periods of frustration at your seemingly lack of progress but you have to push through this. If you spend just 15 minutes each day practicing the backward roll over the course of two weeks you should have it pretty much nailed.

Having said that don’t turn your practice session into a chore, practice is about having fun and achieving goals. So don’t let the lack of progress on your backward roll hold you back, move through @BanjoBen 's learning track but also keep on with practicing the backward roll patterns you will need them later on as your playing skills develop.

Hope this helps, Happy Pickin


Can you post some video of your picking hand playing the roll? I want to see what the issue is. This could even be an issue with how you’re wearing your picks. Also, I can perhaps discern where the issue is happening in the roll sequence: between the middle and index notes, or between the index and thumb, etc. When we diagnose that, I have ways to fix it.

You need to keep moving on and this roll will develop as your playing develops.

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Hey Buddy! im no expert like the others. only played for almost 1,5 years.
but what worked for me is. take 5 min in the beginning of your practise and just do that roll. play it as slow as you need to play it clean and without hickups. even if it is as slow that you can think between. if you do it every day you will develop muscle memory to go faster. 5 mins a day isent that much, and then you can practise more funstuff after.
im at the same situation with the middleleadroll or the dillardroll. dont know the correct name. thats messing with my brain atm.

@buddy.hicks If you move on in the courses, that roll will keep finding you over and over in Ben’s arrangements, so you’ll inevitably keep working on it from different platforms. This can help practice not be so monotonous as just sitting there doing backward rolls. However, there were times in my beginnings that I would just sit there and mindlessly work on rolls while watching TV or listening to a sermon on my iPod, etc.

If you wanted to specifically work on it, I recommend using a feature with the .tef files. There is a setting where you can select a set of measures and then put them on a loop. Within that loop, you can set the .tef file to increase in speed by a certain percentage. This will help you start slow, and then gradually increase in speed to push yourself.

In order to do this in TefView: click Play then Relative Speed. In the box that opens set your tempo at the top (this will be your beginning speed), then select which measures of the .tef tab you want to loop, then select how fast you want the speed to increase with each loop.

Once you put all of those in, you have to hit Play instead of OK. For the longest time I just kept hitting OK and then got frustrated when it didn’t loop like I wanted it to.

I hope this helps!


Hey, Thanks for the advice and sorry for delay. Had a couple busy weeks and haven’t had a chance to practice much. Anyway, I think I uploaded one video picking through the tab from this lesson, and one with of just the backward roll starting with middle finger (the one I have the most problems with). Hopefully you’ll see a few things there for me to work on.

I’ve been working on the backward roll longer than I’d like to admit and seeing little progress, So i decided to post some questions on this lesson. After reading these post you guys have answered and helped me with some problem areas. Sometimes you just need to dig a little deeper (meaning reading some postings or posting a video :sweat::cry::cry:)
Thanks Gene

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Having only learned and practiced the forward roll for Boil Dem Cabbage Down, this is really throwing me off.

Ahh, yes, then my mission is almost complete. Keep going till it doesn’t throw you off, then a new avenue will have been built within your brain!

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