Playing fast!


Hey banjo ben, I’m a gold pick member and love everything you post. If you found time, I dont feel it would be too hard of a lesson but I have difficulty playing rhythm at 180-195 bpm and as a primary rhythm player. It’s important that I’m able to keep up with the banjo and Mandolin players at this speed. I was curious if there was a different rhythm technique at these speeds?


Great question! One thing is for sure, there’s no technique that will work if you’re not used to playing that fast…it’s just crazy fast. If I had to play something that fast again, it would take me a while (days/weeks) to work up to it. If you try to do it with your arm/shoulder, it won’t work. This is mainly a wrist thing with some forearm, of course.

I find that I cannot do any upstrokes in my rhythm going that speed, not consistently, anyway. For the 4 beats in the measure I resort to a Bass-note/strum/rest/strum, sometimes a bass/strum/bass/strum, but even then it may be too fast/busy.

What you must remember is that the band, at that speed, does not require much from the rhythm guitar. The faster the speeds are, the less important the guitar rhythm is. It’s still important, just not as important. And if you try to take you fullish slower rhythm techniques and simply speed them up, they will be too much and too busy at those speeds, even if you can execute them.

I also will resort to big downstroke brushes on the downbeat of chord changes that will carry over the beats 1-3 of the measure: Strum/rest/rest/strum. So, two measures might be:
Strum/rest/rest/strum bass-note/strum/rest/strum

Also, bass note walks and runs are so very important and can add a lot, plus they’re not that hard to play even at these speeds. Make sure to do simply walkups and walkdowns from the G to C, D back to G, etc.

Let me know what you think of this advice, and I’ll try to get you some video later this week. I’m not in a place to record right now.


Here’s Tony doing John Hardy - I think probably at about 155-160bmp. It’s all from the wrist to the finger tips. I think he’s also grabbing some strings with his right hand digits here and there - it’s more than just the pick.


Incidentally, you can see Sam Bush chopping his mando and he’s doing a phantom stroke between each down chop.

By the way… what on earth are you playing at that speed, anyway?


I don’t think I’ve ever heard John Hardy played that fast. That was AWESOME!


Thank you banjo ben! I took your advice and we played around 185 last night and I could basically keep up! Everything you said helped me a ton! that video is the goal for what were trying to accomplish. I’ve still got a little more practicing to do before I can keep up with those speeds using a metronome. But I’ll get there!


I may be in the minority here, but I think in that last link…


As far as metronome goes, that’s 195bpm… it’s pretty hot! I bet he wanted to go 200 but it was too fast for the guitar player lol


LOL forgot about that quote. What a hoot. (Excuse my rambling after thought, following here…) There are technicians out there who are mind boggling fast, but one seems to run the risk of losing musicality when at great speed. IMHO, with great speed comes great responsibility of not out-running the music. Mr. Rice comes to mind as one who has been very successful at this. :wink:


Is it just me, or does Mark manage to stand out in that particular song even when surrounded by legends?


I know I am definitely in a minority here but I think many modern bands play Bluegrass way to fast. Once you stop hearing the melody it’s just noise. Some tunes suit speed others do-not just my 2 cents.


i agree archie. like Shenandoah Valley Breakdown thats a barnburner. and that should be played fast.
i saw jeff scroggins play it really fast, it was nice. but often slower songs are more pleasant to listen to. at least for me.
like home sweet home. nice melody and thats not a fast song.
i havent heard that many waltz but the one i liked most so far is “the boxcars - old henry hill”


I definitely agree…there is something to be said for playing tastefully and with sensitivity…Doc Watson, James Allen Shelton, Will the Circle Be Unbroken Album for example. Many jam sessions I go to I encounter the same thing. Not playing fast so much as playing to loud. A guitar break can’t even be heard ( which is a good thing sometimes ) and my strings hang limp and out of tune just trying to bang rythym and be heard.


I, personally, am not attracted to super fast playing NEAR as much as I used to. I love a good, groovy temp.


Hey @BanjoBen can you make a banjo lesson for home sweet home?


Let me do some copyright research on that one and see!


Speaks volumes



Instant fan! Thanks Archie!


home sweet is home public domain.


The guys I play with do a rendition of Cripple Creek and the ending jam continues to ramp up tempo until either the fiddle player or mandolin player can barely keep pace. Not sure the exact tempo but it’s rippin’ fast. We end it when the fiddle player plays “shave and a haircut, two bits”. I find that my rhythm playing has to change as the tempo increases. I’ll start with picking then when we hit a faster tempo, I’ll switch to a boom-chuck. Toward the end, I drop the boom and only play the chuck or the “ands” if you will.