Most players wear picks on the fingers and thumb of the right hand to make it easier to play. Wearing fingerpicks gives you more power, a brighter sound and the potential to play more quickly if you want to.
Which Finger to Play With?
The thumb and first two fingers of the right hand are used to pick the strings, this is called ‘Three finger picking.’ The other two fingers rest on the head of the banjo to give stability and support.
The middle finger normally plays the first string – although you can play other strings with it if you want.
The index finger normally plays the 2nd and 3rd strings.
The thumb normally plays all the strings.
Learn More about Banjo Fingerpicking
Fingerpicking is the most popular way to play the five-string banjo and especially the Scruggs style. When you play slowly it’s possible to use any combination of right-hand fingering you like, including using the same finger over and over again, and that makes it quite easy to play a few simple songs on the banjo in the key of G major. But to get the quicksilver rolling sound of Bluegrass banjo you need to pay much more attention to the fingering. ‘Fingering’ means the choice of which right hand finger (including the thumb) to use for which note, and the sequence or order in which you play notes with the right hand is very important too. This is called a ‘roll’ pattern and the choice of rolls is key to getting the distinctive banjo picking sound that many beginners want to achieve when they first take up the banjo. Of course it’s possible to play many other styles of music with fingerpicking technique on the banjo including Classical and Old-Time fingerpicking styles. Some old 2-finger picking styles are very popular and it’s possible to replicate the sound of those old styles with three finger picking techniques as well. Jazz was traditionally played on the four-string but it’s possible (although difficult) to play Jazz on the five-string as well. Bill Keith and Bela Fleck are the leading pioneers of fingerstyle jazz banjo. There’s a resurgence of popularity of Blues played on banjo nowadays and it’s possible to play blues with both the fingerpicking techniques and the frailing techniques.