Tips for Pull-offs and Chokes

Banjo Pull-offs and Bends

Do you find your left-hand technique isn’t quite up to par? 

Do your pull-offs not sound like JD Crowe’s?  Do your bends not sound QUITE like Earl Scruggs’ on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown?” At least your in good company, because most people’s don’t!  Let’s make you into an elite banjar picker.

The First Key to correcting your banjo pull-offs: Usually one of the main causes of incorrect sounds is doing things too fast and being in a hurry.  You’ve got time to get there 🙂

In this banjo lesson video, I go over some tips to help out with your pull-offs and chokes for the 5-string banjo.  Many beginners struggle with pull-offs on the banjo and here are the primary things to be on the lookout for:


BANJO PULL-OFFS:

Pull DOWN, not UP

By pulling down instead of directly up, you can apply more force and work with gravity.  This results in a much stronger sound.  Yes, some people push UP and that isn’t wrong; however, if you are trying to do a pull-OFF, you need to pull down and not just lift the finger up.  Think SNAPPY and don’t be afraid to use some force.

Check the Speed of your fingers

See what happens if you put your fingers down one at a time, as opposed to trying to put them both down at the same time.  I’ve noticed a lot of students pull-offs suffer from attempting to put both fingers down at once.  Go slow!

Make sure you are applying enough pressure with your index finger.

If you don’t apply enough pressure with your index finger, you’ll bend the string out of tune.  This is one of the most common errors with beginner banjo students.  If you hear the pitch of the second note changing as you do the pull-off, then this is something you must look into.

Don’t over-do it

It is easy to get your fingers feeling sore after a session of many pull-offs.  Ease into it; particularly if you haven’t built up a nice set of callouses yet.

Lastly, sometimes Crowe and Scruggs caught a bit of the fingernail with their pull-offs, this can result in a sharper/crisper sound. 


Banjo Bends & CHOKES

I don’t know who came up with this term-banjo CHOKES; they must have been a violent fellow.  Bends, Chokes, call them whatever you’d like, just keep your hands to yourself and get those dudes ta’ sounding right.

Don’t bend too fast

For chokes, make sure not to go too fast.  If you go too fast, it will sound erratic.  Here is something to help. Instead of saying the number one like this: one……..think more like this.  oooooonnnnnee.  Make the bend LONG, you want it to fill up the proper duration of time.

Don’t bend too much

Don’t bend the banjo string too much; otherwise, you’ll bend it out of pitch for the key.  Settle down hotshot, you’re getting the hang of these bends but don’t overdo it.  I recommend recording yourself and listening back to see if your bend sounds in tune to you.

Don’t Ignore the release

The release of the bend is as important as the initial attack.  Think SLOW here.  

A recording is worth a thousand words:  I recommend listening to Earl Scruggs’ “Mama Blues” from the Live at Carnegie Hall album to hear how a good bend or choke should sound.


If you enjoyed this lesson, here is another lesson on LEFT HAND TECHNIQUE for banjo:

Increase your Left Hand Speed

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What is a Pull-off on a banjo?

A pull-off is when you pluck a fretted note and immediately bring another finger down to a fret lower than that without plucking the note with your right-hand again. If you know what a hammer-on is, it’s kind of like one in reverse. Pull-offs always go from a higher to a lower fret unlike hammer-ons that go from a lower to a higher fret.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.

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