Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Cosmic Country: Finger Rolls

Cosmic Country: Finger Rolls

Crank out rapid-fire licks by taking inspiration from the banjo.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to increase your speed with hybrid picking.
• Understand how pedal tones work.
• Develop lines that combine chromaticism, string skipping, and diatonic triads.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

If you’re a player who moves between using a flatpick, hybrid picking, or just plain fingerstyle, the concept of finger rolls might not be all that new. It’s a simple idea, but can be stretched to work in many different styles. In this lesson, I’ll walk you through some basic exercises and then demonstrate how to incorporate finger rolls into your own playing.

To kick things off, let’s explore some exercises. I suggest using a hybrid-picking approach for these, although a thumbpick or no pick at all would be fine too. Two things to keep in mind: Make each example sound smooth and start slow before working up to speed. It’s important to avoid creating tension in the picking hand, so don’t play any faster than you can without straining. In Ex. 1, I’m doing a pattern I call “down, up, up,” which basically means I’ll use a downstroke first and then alternate between my middle (m) and ring (a) fingers using upstrokes.

Click here for Ex. 1

To work this technique up to speed, you’ll want to keep things simple. Ex. 2 expands the technique to descend through a series of triads starting with A.

Click here for Ex. 2

In Ex. 3, we move from the chordal to something more melodic. The example also features a very bluesy F (b7), which would make this lick sound great over a G7 chord. Don’t forget: When a phrase doesn’t have any open strings, try moving it around to different keys—it’s good practice.

Click here for Ex. 3

I often use finger rolls in my soloing because it makes basic arpeggios sound hip, plus the technique can add flash to more up-tempo tunes. Ex. 4 is one of my favorite phrases.

Click here for Ex. 4

Ex. 5 weaves some string-skipping elements into the mix, which is built on strings 5, 3, and 2. Notice how the bass line moves around chromatically before resolving to A.

Click here for Ex. 5

Great bluegrass banjo players are undoubtedly the single biggest inspiration behind the finger roll technique. In Ex. 6, you can see how I took a stock banjo phrase and simplified it to make it work on guitar. I finished the phrase with a flourish in the style of flatpicking giants Tony Rice and Clarence White.

Click here for Ex. 6

Danny Gatton—one of my favorite players—definitely stretched the limits of what you can do with banjo-style finger rolls. He discovered several ways to take the concepts belonging to that instrument and apply them to the Telecaster. You can see an example of something Gatton might play in Ex. 7.

Click here for Ex. 7

To finish this lesson, I’ll leave you with a lick I think you’ll dig. Ex. 8 incorporates rolls, chromaticism, implied harmonies, and a series of descending triads. There are a couple of transition points to keep in mind when working this up to speed: Make sure you fret that G in the beginning of the second measure with your fourth finger. Also, try to fret the A at the end of the second measure with your first finger. This will set you up nicely for the rest of the lick.

Click here for Ex. 8

The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview
The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview on Johnny’s New Songwriter Album

The Man in Black returns with the unreleased Songwriter album. John Carter Cash tells us the story.

Read MoreShow less

This 1968 Epiphone Al Caiola Standard came stocked with P-90s and a 5-switch Tone Expressor system.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

The session ace’s signature model offers a wide range of tones at the flip of a switch … or five.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Not long ago, I came home late from a band rehearsal, still overly excited about the new songs we played. I got myself a coffee (I know, it's a crazy procedure to calm down) and turned on the TV. I ended up with an old Bonanza episode from the ’60s, the mother of all Western TV series. Hearing the theme after a long time instantly reminded me of the great Al Caiola, who is the prolific session guitarist who plays on the song. With him in mind, I looked up the ’60s Epiphone “Al Caiola” model and decided I want to talk about the Epiphone/Gibson Tone Expressor system that was used in this guitar.

Read MoreShow less

Slinky playability, snappy sounds, and elegant, comfortable proportions distinguish an affordable 0-bodied flattop.

Satisfying, slinky playability. Nice string-to-string balance. Beautiful, comfortable proportions.

Cocobolo-patterned HPL back looks plasticky.


Martin 0-X2E


Embracing the idea of an acoustic flattop made with anything other than wood can, understandably, be tricky stuff. There’s a lot of precedent for excellent-sounding acoustics built with alternative materials, though. Carbon-fiber flattops can sound amazing and I’ve been hooked by the sound and playability of Ovation and Adamas instruments many times.

Read MoreShow less

The GibsonES Supreme Collection (L-R) in Seafoam Green, Bourbon Burst, and Blueberry Burst.

The new Gibson ES Supreme offers AAA-grade figured maple tops, Super Split Block inlays, push/pull volume controls, and Burstbucker pickups.

Read MoreShow less