Intermediate Banjo Rolls

You’ve mastered your four basic banjo roll patterns and now you are ready for the next level of banjo rolls? Today I’m going to share with you some new ones. Some of these will be much harder and some will fall under your fingers pretty easily. I call these intermediate banjo rolls because they aren’t used as much. They are useful to know, but understand you encounter them less.

Five Intermediate Banjo Rolls

Forward Two

I’m calling this the Forward Two roll because frankly Scarlet, I have nothing else to call it.  It goes like this

3 2 1 2

Where can you hear this roll?  In Don Reno’s “Dixie Breakdown.”


Crossover Roll

I call this the crossover roll because the index finger must CROSS over to the first string to play it.  It goes like this:

1 3 2 1      1 3 2 1

You start with your middle finger on the first string; however, on the third “first string”, you use your INDEX finger.  If you don’t do this, you’ll use your middle finger twice in a row, seriously hampering your speed.  Here is a video I did on the topic.  Be sure to check out Don Reno’s “Little Rock Getaway” to hear it in action


Inside Roll

This roll is different than the others because it is a two bar roll.  This was made famous by my banjo hero Allen Shelton.  Check out “Shelton Special.” to hear it in action.  Here is the roll

43232143 23213241

Now, that looks like a garbled up mess so let me write it out so you can see the patterns:

432 321 432 321 3241

Rhythmically, that isn’t the way it is played or sound.  However, it let’s you see the different components.  You have four sets of FORWARD roll motions followed by an alternating thumb roll.  You may wondering how on earth do I do this?  The reason this is called an inside roll is because your middle finger must come in to the 2nd string.  The right hand pattern is as follows:

Thumb Index Middle – Thumb Index Middle

It’s like you are doing a forward roll right across the strings.  This will take some time, I know it took me awhile before I was able to do it smoothly.  Here is the video where I cover the inside roll in greater detail:

Click on Picture to play video

guy in blue shirt playing a banjo

Reverse Roll

Some teachers prefer to teach the reverse roll in the beginning.  However, I usually wait until later.  By the way, you might also hear this called the backwards roll.  Remember rolls are finger motions, so a reverse roll is driven by this motion:


It can be any combination of this pattern.  Here are a few

  • 1 2 5 1 2 5 1 5
  • 1 2 3 1 23 1 3

Some great songs to listen to for examples include:

  • Groundspeed by Earl Scruggs
  • Home Sweet Home by Earl Scruggs


Two Forward

Another name of my making because I can’t think of anything better!  This was also used by Allen Shelton.  It goes like this:

2 3 2 1    2 3 2 1

Here, you start with your index on the 2nd string and then you do your basic forward roll.  This one shouldn’t present too much of a challenge if you’ve mastered your basic banjo rolls.  Allen Shelton used it a ton in his backup playing.  I cover it in greater detail in my Allen Shelton Ideas Teaching Video

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Jody Written by:

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