This is a public version of the members-only Banjo with Tony Trischka, at ArtistWorks. Functionality is limited, but CLICK HERE for full access if you’re ready to take your playing to the next level.

These lessons are available only to members of Banjo with Tony Trischka.
Join Now

Level 1: Beginner
Level 2: Intermediate
Level 3: Advanced
Old Time Fingerpicking
Classic Style Banjo
Celtic Tunes
30 Day Challenge
Video Exchange Archive
«Prev of Next»

Banjo Lessons: Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll

Video Exchanges () submit video Submit a Video Lesson Resources () This lesson calls for a video submission
Study Materials Music Theory
information below
Lesson Specific Downloads
Play Along Tracks
resource information below Close
Collaborations for
resource information below Close
Submit a video for   
information below Close
Course Description

This is only a preview of what you get when you take Banjo Lessons at ArtistWorks. Sign up today for unlimited access to all lessons, plus submit videos to your teacher for personal feedback on your playing.

CLICK HERE for full access.
Log In
like to talk to you now about the Foggy
Mountain Breakdown Roll, which is a hugely
important roll in bluegrass banjo playing,
because Earl Scruggs came up with it.
And I will just play a little bit of
Foggy Mountain Breakdown just to get into
the mood.
[COUGH] And the trick to the Foggy
Mountain Breakdown Roll is bringing the
thumb across to the second string.
And I'll talk to you about that in a
But let's just start with this.
We're starting with a two to three hammer
on, on the second string.
And let's do that about eight times.
You're gonna take your index on the second
fret of the second string.
Pick the second string with the index
And you'll hammer on to the middle finger
If you do it too many times,
you'll alienate everyone around you.
And do this with the metronome.
Click on each.
Time, each time hit the second string with
your index.
Okay, now here's the concept of bringing
the thumb across to the second string,
and I'll explain why you do that in a
So the first time you'll hit with the
Second time you'll hit with the thumb.
And they'll alternate.
Index, thumb, index, thumb, index,
thumb, index, thumb.
And I have you doing this kind of move, in
Boiling Cabbage Down,
when you get to the C chord where you go.
You don't have to but
it just feels a little bit stronger.
And so I got that concept from the Foggy
Mountain Breakdown.
Move here.
And I actually had a chance to ask Earl
Scruggs why he brought his thumb across to
the second string.
And he said, it feels better.
And there are two ways of taking that, one
of which is
When you're actually playing the full
Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll, which we'll
get to in a moment.
Doing that, this back and
forth between the index is just a patently
difficult thing to do for
almost everyone I've ever talked to,
including myself.
And I think for Earl also.
At least at fast tempos, it's difficult.
I mean,
it can be done, but it's difficult.
But by bringing the thumb across to the
second string, it's a lot easier.
I think it's just something about
the musculature or the tendons in the, in
the right hand.
Unless you're left handed, it would be
your left hand,
but that make just a little more
So it feels better because it's a little
just a little bit easier to play quickly.
Play with fast tempos with the thumb
coming across.
But then Earl said in addition to that,
he likes the fact that you're getting two
different sounds.
If you're going.
Just doing it open.
You hit the second string with the index
And then when you bring it with, thumb
I'm not sure if you can hear that
with these microphones, but.
You're getting a slightly mellower sound
with the thumb partly because with most,
in most cases.
Well, let's say,
Earl was saying that his thumb hits the
string in front of the index,
which is true of the way I play also and
for a lot of you, maybe not everybody.
But that's how it works for him.
So the index is a little closer to the
bridge, and
then the thumb's a little bit farther
[SOUND] So it gets a slightly mellower
because the farther away from the bridge
you get, the mellower the sound is.
Plus it's a metal pick with the index, and
for most people, not everyone,
there are metal thumb picks, but for most
people there's a plastic thumb pick.
So I think that's gonna give you a
slightly mellower sound.
So it's just very interesting that Earl
Scruggs heard that difference and
that was part of why he did that.
I thought that was really amazing.
Anyway, so, right now,
we're at the point where we're just doing
the hammer-on.
Alternating index, thumb, index, thumb,
index, thumb, index, thumb.
Now let's add in the first string.
Now when I do this I usually
anticipate the first string as if they're
two 16th notes instead of eighth notes.
Instead of going.
I go.
It has a little more of an edge,
and I like that sound.
That's how I do it.
Listening to Earl slowed down playing
Foggy Mountain Breakdown,
I think he does it both ways.
I think sometimes he goes in the
simultaneous hammer-on
to the first string.
I mean, he hammers on and then hits, and
he hits the first string simultaneously
with the hammer-on so it's more relaxed
And then other times, I think he does it
as two 16th notes for the hammer on where
it's anticipating the first string.
Either is fine.
I chose not to write it out as two 16th
notes cuz I found,
especially when you're writing out Foggy
Mountain Break Time, when you write out.
Write it out as two 16th notes you create
a world confusion.
Because you get tight notes and it just
looks really confusing.
So this is sort of a code.
When you see the two to three as to eighth
notes, you can either anticipate or not.
So it's not fully accurate but I just
wanted to explain that.
So let's do it with the first string.
Index, middle, thumb, middle, index,
middle, thumb, middle.
And just do that with the metronome a
number of times.
And if you,
before that, if you wanna do it actually
without bringing the thumb across, just go
index, middle, index, middle,
index, middle just to get used to that.
Do that first.
And then bring the thumb thumb across on
every other one.
So index, middle, thumb, middle, index,
middle, thumb, middle.
Now, let's try the roll itself for the
Foggy Mountain Breakdown roll.
I'm just doing it open.
It's gonna be open second, open first,
index and middle, and a forward roll.
I'm sorry, I'm wrong.
Index, middle.
Then thumb, middle.
And then the forward roll.
Index to middle, thumb, middle, thumb,
index, middle, thumb.
No, left hand at this point.
And work with the metrome, do the
Two notes per click.
It's such an important basic roll.
You really wanna get that timing really
good with that before
you add in the middle finger, index,
middle finger, hammer-on.
But let's do that right now.
If you don't feel comfortable with your
timing, just wait a little bit till you
get that really locked in, and then add in
the two to three hammer-ons.
So now we're just going to incorporate
Hammer-on to the first using the index,
middle, and then thumb, middle, for the
second hammer-on.
then forward roll keeping the middle on
the third fret of the second string.
Slowing it down just a little bit.
So that's one of doing it.
Where you have second string, first
string, second string, first string.
Index, middle, thumb, middle.
On the original Foggy Mountain Break Down
Early does this.
[SOUND] He doesn't hit the first string
the first hammer on he just does the first
hammer on.
And then the second hammer on that's where
he adds the middle finger.
Now let's just try it for a moment,
keeping the middle finger down on that
third fret of the second string.
again, when you start it, the first
hammer-on's just by itself.
Then thumb again with a hammer-on to
the first string.
Hammer, hammer first.
in the original recording of Foggy
Mountain Break Down Earl goes.
He has the open second string for
the forward role.
He lets go of the three.
Here as he has the fifth string and
it's open second, open first, fifth.
I kind of like doing.
Doing that for Foggy Mountain Breakdown,
so you have a choice of doing that.
Or not, just keep the middle finger down
on the third fret of the second string for
the forward roll, or take it off.
Now, moving beyond the Foggy Mountain
Breakdown roll for a second,
this hammer-on is still very important for
bringing out melody notes
Sometimes you'll just do to,
do the two to three hammer-ons to the
first string and then of,
two forward rolls.
Five two one, five two one, those are the
So you can practice that with a metronome.
And, leading with the index.
sometimes, you might wanna do something
like this.
A pinch on the first two strings where
you're holding onto the, the third fret of
the second string.
Okay, hammer-on on the second, first,
fifth, second, first, fifth.
Pinch, quarter note.
Or you could sometimes go.
Just open pinch on the first two strings.
Okay so
there's the Foggy Mountain Break Down