Kickoffs and Potatoes

A kickoff is something you play as a way to start a tune. Different tunes might call for different kickoffs depending on things like the starting note, the key, the time signature, and the overall vibe of the tune. This lesson will cover some basic kickoffs that you can apply to songs with different starting notes as well as how to do potatoes on the banjo in place of a count in.

Starting Note G

This is a pretty standard kickoff for songs with a melody starting on G (on the open 3rd string). Notice that the first note of the kickoff comes in on the and of 1, which is a pretty common thing to do. So the count for the phrase is “& 2 3 4 1”

You can use this as a template to make your own variations. This is basically the same kickoff with a little extra. In this case you add a hammer on which gives you time to play an A before dropping back down to G.

If a song has pickup notes you can use those to create a kickoff and you can also use those pickup notes create a kickoff for songs that don’t have pickup notes. The starting notes to the melody of Little Maggie (as I know them) are descending from B to A and them G with G landing on the down beat.

If you make a little lick out of it you might get something like this:

Start note of A, B, or C

This is the same type of figure from the first 2 examples but reshaped to kick a melody starting on A:

The same idea works for a starting note of B:

You can definitely use the same kind of ideas to kick a song starting with a C:

Starting on D

This is a classic for a starting note of D that gets used a lot, almost to the point of being cliché, but it’s still very good. It works well on fast tunes but its also nice on a slow waltz like “Blue Moon of Kentucky”:


There is a certain type of kick-off that is commonly called “potatoes”. They are done on mandolin, fiddle and guitar quite a lot. This is how I like to do them on banjo:

Unlike the other kickoffs which still require a count on or at least some prior discussion, Potatoes can completely replace the count in and experienced players while know to start after the 4 four measure intro. I like them for fast fiddle tunes like Salt Creek or Blackberry Blossom. If it is Salt Creek you would probably want to change the F# to an F to start the slide:

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