Below is Pete’s response on Banjo Hangout to a thread about playing backup behind a guitar break.

I think that any player’s backup should be determined by what will make the music sound best as it goes along (and it may change pretty often). Certainly it should leave space for “the main thing” (singing or soloing), and help energize it if the material calls for that.

I don’t think anyone’s mentioned that there are different ways to chop. Behind Charles Sawtelle’s or Bryan Sutton’s solos in Hot Rize I often stuck to a 2-note chop, just on strings 1 and 4, while making an F shape, so both notes are roots. If you play say a G at the 17th fret, it makes a quick ping that helps pinpoint the beat, and Tim O’Brien would generally play a more full-bodied mandolin chop, sometimes with open strings, and the combination worked well. OK to leave lots of space if the guitar has nuance and big tone. I liked thinking “Charles is the picture, we’re the frame.”

A not-clipped, ringing chop behind a guitar can make a smoother, sustained sound which might work when it’s just 2 instruments and the banjo can sort of sound more like a backup guitar that way.

Once, just before playing a set with Tony Rice, I asked him what he likes from the banjo behind his soloing. I expected he’d say just chop, though Crowe would sometimes keep a roll behind him (like on Sally Goodin recording), a la Jimmy Martin. Tony said, play rolls, do anything. In other words he didn’t seem concerned. I think his ultra-high definition playing was strong enough to stand out over even a rolling banjo. But I couldn’t bear to do that, so I just did my quick 2-note chop most of the time. And leaving more space, I could hear him better.

I find it’s best to avoid absent-mindedly playing something syncopated or notey the way you might when playing lead — bad news behind singing or soloing as it can conflict with the singer’s nuance or the soloist’s flow.

I haven’t seen anyone mention staying out of the tonal range of the singer. A banjo’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings are tuned just like a guitar’s. If the guitar’s using open strings, move up the neck.

Another factor — in a jam, if you’re facing the guitar, watch your volume. You hear yourself quieter (behind the banjo) than the guitar does. You might be at the right volume for your ears, but the guitar player is hearing you louder, so watch out! Singers especially don’t like the banjo facing them when they’re singing, can definitely distract even when it’s supposedly being quiet. So… point away. They’ll appreciate it.

Banjos are great, but we need to know our place!