Maybe you don’t like bluegrass. Maybe the banjo does nothing for you. Fair enough. Even if that’s true, you must recognize when you see a maestro at work. When it came to the banjo, Earl Scruggs was that maestro.
You heard his work, his mind-blowing playing style (estimated to top 10 notes per second), way back when during the opening credits of both the Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie and Clyde. What you heard was a game-changer, a completely new approach to playing an instrument that was invented at least a hundred years before he was born. The three-fingered picking pattern which is nearly universal among banjo players today was developed solely and independently by him, when he was barely out of his teens and working for 40 cents an hour in a North Carolina textile mill. That method has been and will forever be known as Scruggs Style.
I’ve never picked up a banjo. I’m not sure I even much like their sound. I mess about on guitar from time to time, though, and when I do I prefer to play fingerstyle. Not because I’m particularly good (or even vaguely competent) but because I think it’s fun. It’s a fun way to play.
That’s what I see when I watch Earl Scruggs play. And it makes me want to play too. It looks like it’s a blast, and this late, beloved maestro looks like he’s having the time of his life. I might yet get me a banjo, learn how to play it and have a bit of fun. But I don’t kid myself that I can ever come anywhere close to this: