Square roll is the simplest rolling pattern you can play on the five string banjo. It consists of only four notes played round and round in a loop and you can play an incredible variety of music with just this simple four note pattern. This style of playing is also called ‘Double thumbing’ or ‘Thumb lead’ and it’s as important for Bluegrass as it is for Old-Time banjo playing.
Which Strings to Play?
Start by playing the 3rd string with the Thumb, then play the 2nd string with the Index finger. Next the Thumb plays the 5th string, and you finish off by playing the 1st string with the Middle finger.
Once you have got used to it, you will notice the Thumb alternates between the 3rd string and the 5th string – this gives the roll some other names, such as ‘Alternating thumb roll,’ ‘Thumb in and out roll.’
Square Roll is an easy way for beginners to start learning to play the banjo, since the Thumb is always on the beat. In many styles of banjo fingerpicking, especially Bluegrass, you will need to play by leading with any of the fingers on the beat. As Earl Scruggs said ‘You gotta get used to playing the melody with different fingers.’ However for a beginner it’s much easier to keep the Thumb on the beat