Bluegrass Instruments and Picks Trivia

This Contest is Closed
The winners are:
Andy Bing
Pat Dinges
Danny DiPaola
Bill Walsh

click photo to enlarge


Speaking of bluegrass instruments and how they are “picked” (played) here’s some basic trivia about what bluegrass instruments call for what picks. Match up the picks for each instrument. The list of picks is provided to help – choose from this list to go with each instrument.

List of picks: Flat pick, thumb pick, bow, thumb pick plus 2 finger picks, no pick

1. Guitar ___________________
2. 5 String Banjo _____________________
3. Fiddle ___________________
4. Bass Fiddle ______________________
5. Mandolin ___________________
6. Dobro™ __________________

Answers are:

1. Flat pick OR thumb pick
2. Thumb pick plus 2 finger picks,
3. Bow
4. No pick
5. Flat pick
6. Thumb pick plus 2 finger picks

Additional Bowden Comments

Well done everybody and thanks for playing.

Yes, some instruments have more than one correct answer.

Speaking to two, “no pick” for the guitar isn’t correct for the bluegrass style. Also “bow” for bass fiddle used to be incorrect, but since Tom Gray broke the mold bowing the bass on a Seldom Scene record in the early 1970s, well, the demons have been let loose and you see it occasionally in current days. I think of the amazing Nate Sabat with Mile 12 for an example. So the judges have to allow it.

Technically the bluegrass banjos is known as 3-finger picking, calling for yes, the thumb pick but also two metal finger picks. Earl Scruggs didn’t invent that — Snuffy Jenkins was the first man to put on three picks to play banjo on the radio in the 1930s. (Previously 5 string banjo was played with no picks.) Use of 3 picks originated outside of hillbilly music, with HAWAIIAN steel guitar!

The correct answers I had in mind FOR BLUEGRASS were:

guitar — flat pick, or thumb pick (plus sometimes one finger pick…)
banjo — thumb pick and two finger picks
fiddle — bow
bass fiddle — no pick
mandolin — flat pick (except one novelty number when Ralph Stanley played mandolin with thumb and finger picks, like a banjo)
Dobro — thumb pick and two finger picks

I hope everyone had fun with this one!

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

4 Responses

  • List of picks: Flat pick, thumb pick, bow, thumb pick plus 2 finger picks, no pick

    1. Guitar _flat pick, thumb pick, no pick
    2. 5 String Banjo thumb pick plus 2 finger picks
    3. Fiddle _bow
    4. Bass Fiddle _bow, no pick
    5. Mandolin __flat pick
    6. Dobro™ _thumb pick

  • Guitar – Flat Pick
    Banjo – thumb and 2 finger picks
    Fiddle – bow
    Base Fiddle – bow
    mandolin – flat pick
    dobro – thumb and 2 finger picks

  • flat pick – guitar and mandolin
    thumb pick – 5 string banjo
    bow – fiddle (though sometimes used on bass fiddle…)
    thumb pick plus 2 finger picks – Dobro
    no pick – bass fiddle

  • Boy this is a tough one. There may be more than one correct answer for some instruments:

    Guitar-flat pick, followed by thumb pick and one finger pick (I know that’s not an option listed above, but many leading bluegrass guitarists have used that approach).

    5 String Banjo-thumb pick and two finger picks (limiting this to bluegrass, not including old time banjo players who play clawhammer style)

    Fiddle: bow (here assuming that the “no pick” option means “no pick or other implements in the picking hand)

    Bass Fiddle-no pick

    Mandolin-flat pick

    Dobro-thumb pick and two finger picks; flat pick (if you are Tut Taylor)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *