Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: Intro to Potatoes

If you don’t know how to play potatoes, you might get hit in the head with one at your local jam.

Potatoes. I have to admit I noticed this title a few weeks ago and wondered what it might be. Turns out I’ve been listening to potatoes for a long time and I didn’t even know it. This provides some good ideas for more polished kickoffs. Now - pass the corned beef and mustard.

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I’ve always noticed how Scruggs would start with what I thought was the B part on Cripple Creek. I didn’t know why he did that until now. Thanks!

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In Scotland we call them Tatties they go well with Neeps and Haggis



Oops. I didn’t do this for Cripple Creek at Thursday jam. Will do better next week.

And apparently I’ve neglected to learn the chord structure properly (embarrassed).

Took this one too much for granted, I guess.

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I found myself wanting to use my index finger for the G quarter notes before the pinch. It seems different tabs go back and forth as to whether to use thumb or index for that note. Is there any reason for one vs the other or completely up to the musician? I want to be making good habits early, so I am curious if I should get used to using thumb in certain circumstances vs index for others.
Also, I like using the top G string along with the bottom D string (E note) instead of just the E note by itself. Any reason why it was not written that way instead?

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Good question Joe,

It’s ok to use either but when the opportunity arises use the thumb. i.e If you just used the thumb to play a fifth string eighth note then your forced to use the Index. However if the fifth string note has a duration of a quarter note or greater it would be acceptable to repeat the thumb. You will find it’s easier to use double thumbing on slow tunes.

The thumb seems to have much more punch. and is used to emphasis the melody notes.

Earl is said to have favoured the thumb while Janet Davis seemed to favour the index, this can be seen in her TAB instructional books. Although on occasion she would use a pronounced thumb break. If you have worked with Janet’s books you will have a tendency to use the Index,

@BanjoBen seems to favour the thumb and as you work your way through the lessons you’ll see he makes many references as to why he favours the thumb. The more I study the more I have come to favour emphasising with the thumb. One reason being that I don’t have as many train wrecks as I used to, my fingers just seem to flow more naturally across the strings.

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It is fine to do either and good to be proficient with both, but many players advise to use thumb whenever possible, and I’ve gravitated toward that. However, it’s good to learn and play with your index in these instances so you can strengthen it. You’ll settle into a pattern. When it really really matters to use your thumb, I’ll make it plain in the videos to do so.


Up here in Appalachia we call it “Taters”


Hi Les There are a lot of Scot’s hiding in them there hills. The English call them Potatoes with a posh accent.


Lots of fiddlers as well, even have me stroking a bow!

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Don’t judge it till you’ve tried it! And if you don’t like it, haggis hurling is a real sport. Just sayin…


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