• Learn More About Bluegrass Music
Grade 5, Log On
Today, most people think of the banjo as the most important instrument in bluegrass. However, it didn't become part of the bluegrass ensemble until 1946 when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's group. Scruggs had created a new style of playing banjo that fit right in with the sound of Monroe's band. Called "three-finger style" or "Scruggs style," a banjo player uses the thumb, index finger, and the middle finger on the right hand to play rolls, or patterns, on the strings. If you watch a bluegrass banjo player's right hand, you'll see these fingers moving so quickly you can hardly keep up!
The resonator guitar, sometimes called the Dobro®, is another instrument found in today's bluegrass bands that wasn't always a bluegrass instrument. The Dobro was added in the 1950s, long after Bill Monroe formed his first group. The Dobro looks like a guitar and it hangs around the neck like a guitar, but it lays flat in front of the player. Instead of fingering chords, the player uses a slide to move along the strings. A musician named Burkett Graves invented this style. He listened to three-finger technique Earl Scruggs used to play banjo and decided to try it on the Dobro.
Click here to see a video of the song "John Henry" played on Dobro.
Look at the finger technique of the Dobro. How is this similar to the finger technique of the guitar or other string instrument? How are they different?
Which instrument would you like to learn, the Dobro or the banjo?