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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Ain't No Bum Ditty?

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marx - Posted - 06/22/2009:  17:55:52

I've read more than a few comments that express the opinion that there
really shouldn't be any such-a-thing. Please allow me to bring this
subject to the forefront. Does this mean that there is only a constant
low and high melody with drop-thumbing and APO, etc
as the desired goal, leaving the basic clawhammer stroke behind
as soon as possible? Do I want to ditch the basic stroke ASAP?


I thought that I made a mistake, but I was wrong.

J-Walk - Posted - 06/22/2009:  18:06:38

There is no right or wrong and there is no "basic stroke." It ultimately boils down to what you want to play: Folk style banjo (bum-ditty) or old time style banjo (bump-a-ditty).

Clawdan - Posted - 06/22/2009:  18:43:40

Hi Marx,
What I refer to by that "ain't no bum ditty" is that when one starts out they look for a basic stroke and pneumonic (sound) to correspond to that stroke. Bum Dit Ty ("1 2 and" where the sound is down down up or in notes, quarter note, eighth, note eighth) note) is indeed "A" rhythm used later in playing old time banjo but doesn't reflect the fact that your hand goes down up down up. SO, I start folks with Bum Pa Did Dy ("1 and 2 and") so the sound matches the hand going down up down up or eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth note. A common reference for (and perhaps the originator of) the term bum did dy as the basic stroke is Pete Seeger's original banjo book which many folks still quote and respect. The problem is that if you read Pete's introduction today he says he regrets having ever written that as the first stroke.

SO, while there may be no right or wrong way, I would say that folks need a basic stroke to start with - one from which you can do most any thing you will want to later (including the bum did ty). Years ago I decided (and believe I was the first to use) it should be bum pa did ty (or say thump a thump a) to match hand down hand up; finger, thumb, finger, thumb etc. and developed an entire program/course and book from that which many of the folks here (and my students over the last oh, 15 years or so) say they find quite helpful. Hoe this clears some of that up and, IMHO, yes, I'd ditch the bum ditty for now.

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Clawcamp East is coming right up! Sign up at
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

Chris Via - Posted - 06/22/2009:  19:13:01

I wouldnt say that bum-ditty is folk style banjo. Here is a list of old time banjo players that used bum-ditty time, and dropped their thumb to the 2nd string. They Did not ride the 5th string at all.
Wade Ward
Jont Blevins
Dent Wimmer
Tommy Jarrell
Oscar Wright
Cecil Thompson
Matokie Slaughter
Stella Kimball
Enoch Rutherford

and I could dig up more if I had more time.
There is nothing wrong with all these styles, but I wouldnt say one is folk and the other old time. Every old recording I have tells me otherwise. The older people Ive known over the years tell me otherwise too. They based their pattern after the bum-ditty, and then dropped their thumb when needed.

Chris Via

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/22/2009:  19:54:25

Short answer - no practice is ever a waste of time. A lot of people do a lot of Bum Did-dying to boot.

Long answer:
Bum Did-dy is one way to play the banjo. Unfortunately, for a long time it was taught as THE way to play clawhammer banjo. Most actual clawhammer players do not use Bum Did-dy for the simple reason that it limits what you can do with rhythm. Further complicating matters, a lot of people teach the Bum Did-dy as if clawhammer were some upside down version of the Seeger Basic Strum - which is more about playing a loping, sing along accompaniment than about doing much else.

Finally - it is not the most basic stroke. There is in fact only one stroke used in almost all clawhammer. It could best be described as the "Did-dy" - which is a single beat as opposed to two. It takes a Did-dy, Did-dy to equal one Bum Did-dy).

However, just cutting out the "Bum" will not do much for you playing You have to practice the actual clawhammer stroke correctly to put real clawhammer drive into your muscle memory. This stroke involves both the frail finger and the thumb.

On "DID" The hand swings down and AS the frail finger sounds a string, the thumb comes down hard on another string (starting with the 5th). This catches and holds the entire hand until:
the "DY" when the thumb snaps forward, sounding the 5th string by being bounced back upward by the relatively unmovable string.

This is all explained in detail in Rocket Science Banjo and there are videos to watch on the basic stroke at my website:

You can also download the entire book free of charge - no kidding THERE IS NO CHARGE. You will need a reader file called TEFView to print the tunes separately or use them with your MIDI but that is also free of charge.

If you know the basics of rhythm and can read tab, Rocket Science Banjo is about all the clawhammer your family will ever need.

Looking for a tab? Ask The Woodchuck - If I''ve got it or will do it - you can get it for a buck.
If you are interested in what I say on the hangout you should download a free copy of Rocket Science Banjo - the Advanced Method For Beginning to Intermediate Clawhammer Players. Along with the full text in PDF you will also find the four current RSB videos and the "25 EZ Clawhammer tunes at:

Banjo Brad is still hosting "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" and some other material at:
A site chock full of interesting banjo material

Clawdan - Posted - 06/22/2009:  20:42:13

PS, Rather than an edit to my above, an addendum. One must remember that even when Pete Seeger coined the Bum Did Ty phrase, it referred to finger up on the first beat, hence, up finger (pause) down brush up thumb so the motion DID match the pneumonic. However it isn't really clawhammer style that is being played there.

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Clawcamp East is coming right up! Sign up at
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

Pluckin Mutha - Posted - 06/22/2009:  21:55:32

I don't know musical notation and stuff like that, so this is hard, for me, to explain.

Breaking out of the basic stroke as described in Pete Seeger's book in the '60's, was an epiphany, (Epiphany #2) for me.

I started out using the "Up Picking" style, then moved to the "Frailing" style, (Epiphany #1).

A friend / acquaintance, who I encountered in my Banjo Quest, played a "lick", which caused me to say, "What was that?".

Here comes the lick I struggle to describe:

Index on open first string
Thumb on open second string.
Index on third string, second fret.
Frail basic stroke on open third string. (Index, Brush, Thumb on open 5th)
This is what I guess is the basic "Drop Thumbing" lick.

Anyhow it revealed to me, that the rhythm was 1, 2, 3, 4, and that the basic "Up picking" or "Frailing" strokes were:
1, pause, 3, 4, ("Bum A Ditty") rather than the proclaimed "Bum Ditty".

It took me forever to type this out, so I hope it makes sense, and helps someone,


Edited by - Pluckin Mutha on 06/22/2009 22:00:11

Dear Old Dad - Posted - 06/23/2009:  04:00:01

By limit rhythm do you mean this:

Or this:

or perhaps this:

The frailing technique is rhythmically variable and adaptable to virtually any genre of music.
Any time signature. Any tempo.

Here is a link to Patrick’s ”Frailing Practice Techniques”

No excuses.
No slogans.
No qualifiers.
Just music.

Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)

Edited by - Dear Old Dad on 06/23/2009 04:15:26

Jim Yates - Posted - 06/23/2009:  08:38:43

I use 1 & 2 &.
1 - back of nail on a single string
& - rest or hammer or pull or thumb on a single string lower than the one played in 1
2 - back of nail on a brush or single string
& - thumb on a single string (often the fifth, never the first)

There are times when these rules are broken, but this is a good start.


marx - Posted - 06/23/2009:  09:50:39

Being interested in playing clawhammer in the oldtime style, "ain't no"
could be interpreted as an almost constant thumb movement mostly
alternating between the fifth and other strings, with only an occasional
brush/chord stroke....a mostly syncopated style of approach is the
message I'm receiving.

Please excuse my interpretation; It's not my intention to make
something simple complex, or to light any fires.

Many thanks to everyone for the thoughtfulness of a reply.


I thought that I made a mistake, but I was wrong.

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  10:40:36

Marx, I don't hear anyone saying to get rid of the bum-ditty. Several are saying that it's best to learn to involve the thumb on both of the "&'s" of the 1 & 2 & right from the start. As Dan says, it fits with the up-down movement of the hand. There's no sense in NOT learning to use your thumb fully. Later, you can choose to leave it out whenever you want. As others have said, there are slides, pulls, hammers and other devices you can use to fill the first "&" or you can create a bum-ditty by using a REST there. There are a lot of pickers who never use their thumb on an inside string. There are others like Chris pointed out who drop their thumb but don't double up on the 5th string. There are endless ways to play the thing. The point some are making is just that the bum-ditty is not really the most basic element. And that it's sensible to learn to use your thumb from the start. If you listen to Dan or Woodchuck play the banjo you'll hear lots of bum-dittys.

"an almost constant thumb movement mostly alternating between the fifth and other strings, with only an occasional brush/chord stroke...."

It's true that most clawhammer playing doesn't involve a lot of brushing. But dropthumb or double thumb doesn't preclude brushing. You can drop your thumb on the first "&" and still do a four string brush on the "2" if you want to.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  11:01:50

whitetopbanjo, You say "However, that being said, "bum ditty" WITH DROP THUMB was much more common in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia
than the bump-a-diddy."

What do you mean?? Bum-ditty with drop thumb added IS bump-a-ditty. Strike, rest, strike, strike makes a bum-ditty. Strike, strike (your drop thumb) strike, strike is bumpaditty. None of this has anything to do with modern clawhammer, Hippie style or festival style. Players down through the last 125 years have chosen to drop the thumb or not drop the thumb. Some like Grandpa Jones used heavy brushing and little or no dropthumb. Some like Hobart Smith and Wade Ward used drop thumb along with left hand devices and very little brushing to play a bumpaditty rhythm when the felt that a tune called for it.

The talk here of a "basic stroke" isn't meant to say "original stroke" but rather to say the most basic element(s) of the clawhammer stroke. I could say that the basic element of my kitchen table is wood but I wouldn't be saying that the first kitchen table in history was made of wood. Or even that you need a wooden table if you want to be cool :-)

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  11:44:58

Kilby, I wasn't picking a fight :-( I was trying to point out that in this thread "basic stroke" has been used to mean more than one thing. Some are using the words to mean something like least common technical denominator while some seem to mean "historically original." Instead of clearing up the water, I seem to have made it muddier.

"The traditional older ways should still have some practitioners and people standing up for them ,even if alot of folks (like you apparently), don't agree."

Actually, I do agree. I play a style that takes a lot of flack from a lot of revivalists who think that clawhammer is the only valid old time style. I keep playing and when I play with the old guys that are still around, they know what I'm doing and a lot of them say something like "Uncle Otis played like that."

As for tradition, this music has been growing and changing all along. The best anyone can do is to cherry pick a window of time and a place on the map and try to preserve that. What was being played in S. Va. in 1927 was very different from what was being played in N. Ga. in 1934. I'm glad there are those who have chosen a banjo style from the past and are trying to preserve it. I'm trying hard to preserve and to teach to others a style that I love. But I also am happy to see folks who couldn't care less about "tradition" and simply play what feels good to them.

You mentioned Tom Mylet. Will you be at the house party Thursday night? If you are, let's share our picking styles a little.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/23/2009:  13:28:44

The main problem with Bum Did-dy is that of muscle memory. Many Bum Did-dy teachers are unaware of how clawhammer works because for two generations now Bum Did-dy has been taught as if it was the basic stroke, and since the thumb motion is not specified after the "Bum" the thumb tends to be left hanging in the air. This leads to the loping rhythm I referred to earlier - good for sing-alongs around the campfire but not rhythmic enough for fiddle tunes and real hardscrabble songs.

Start with the Did-dy stroke -- complete with the hard driven thumb on the off beat and you have the basis for doing ANY claw stroke. Those who start with Bum Did-dy end up building that rhythm into their hand for a year or more and ever after have a hard time breaking that lope to get to clawhammer. By starting with the real basic stroke (or switching to it early) you can later go to any rhythm - including Bum-pa-did-dy, Bum did-dy, Did-dy bum, Did-_-_dy (that's playing 1 and 4 out of the Bum Did-dy pattern you currently know.

Playing tunes and song accompaniments turns very repetitive with the continuous bum did-dy droning on and on - especially if every "DID" stroke is a brush. Think of is as "bum DID-dy" since the brush tends to be louder than the initial stroke. It also is sort of wimpy in the rhythm since the Did comes out more as a Diiiid. Most of the players who use the Bum Did-dy stroke have changed that brush to a fast BANG to avoid rhythmic drooping and slowing of the song. Unfortunately that leads to and even louder DID that becomes annoying to many listeners - turning them off to banjo playing.

While there is certainly lots of room for campfire banjo players, remember that if all you learn is campfire banjo you are not exactly going to have a lot of room to grow as a musician. You won't have the moves to do anything else. While I prefer to use Seeger's Strum for sing-alongs (it is a more natural loping rhythm and actually works better) I can certainly play Pat Cs pseudo-clawhammer campfire stuff anytime I wish. The the reverse is not true. He cannot play my stuff. It might seem like more work in the beginning, but later you realize that it is better to stay on the main road and not turn off into a dead end.

Looking for a tab? Ask The Woodchuck - If I''ve got it or will do it - you can get it for a buck.
If you are interested in what I say on the hangout you should download a free copy of Rocket Science Banjo - the Advanced Method For Beginning to Intermediate Clawhammer Players. Along with the full text in PDF you will also find the four current RSB videos and the "25 EZ Clawhammer tunes at:

Banjo Brad is still hosting "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" and some other material at:
A site chock full of interesting banjo material

Edited by - oldwoodchuckb on 06/23/2009 14:42:15

Dear Old Dad - Posted - 06/23/2009:  13:55:18


Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)

Clawdan - Posted - 06/23/2009:  14:01:09

First Chip, Thanks, You said what I was thinking. As to other older players, Rufus Crisp comes to mind. Finally recorded in the 40's but started playing when he learned from his Grandfather which would put that in the very late 1800's

Originally posted by whitetopbanjo


You don't drop you thumb constantly or hit the fifth string all the time with bum ditty, is what I was meaning,...

Ah, but I DO. I just don't always SOUND it. Thumb does go up and down (WITH the hand, not independently) and regardless of which string it touches, sometimes it sounds, sometimes not. This is why I consider it a later rhythmic texture and not the "basic stroke".

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Clawcamp East is coming right up! Sign up at
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

Chris Via - Posted - 06/23/2009:  14:19:47

Explain how regular old time clawhammer is not rhythmetic enough for fiddle tunes. A lot of this seems to go towards past battles, with different folks on here, which Im not a part of that, but when you label bum-ditty, and basic strokes as you do, you cut into a lot of other folks who try to preserve the music as it was, and not how it is. In country music there is a core of folks that dont like pop country. In bluegrass you have the same thing. Old time is the same way. It has evolved int to a very modern sound. Thats great, there is room for everyone and everything. But probably 99% of old time banjo players pre-1960's played the style you are so dead against. I like all of this music. I walk around Clifftop and listen to everyone. I just want to preserve the music, and keep it close to the way it sounded before the folk revival. This all just boils down to taste anyway. Wade Wards bum ditty was plenty rhythmetic enough for Charlie Higgins fiddle tunes.

Chris Via

pastorharry - Posted - 06/23/2009:  14:48:39

I'm with Chris on this one...besides, why would anyone want to make the plain,sophisticated and the simple ,hard? Some of us seem to be verging on newgrass mentality for old-time music. Some of the old tunes are best played up picking, some basic frailing and riding that old 5th, some the thumb is dropping constantly because it is really almost a thumb lead, but let's not get too hung up about who's right and which ways the best...pick the sound you like the best, learn it, and put yourself in it.
"Ain't no New York city"

Isaiah 38:20

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/23/2009:  15:10:37

Clawhammer is not a style - it is a technique, and as such can be used for any style. Limit yourself to Bum Did-dy if you wish, but you are not being "faithful" to more than a small portion of the older players. There is nothing traditional in limiting your rhythm, and it is anti-traditional to soften up or smear out the stroke with brushes. The strong brush was used mostly by the Stoneman family and taken up by those who replaced Uncle Dave Macon on Grand Ole Opry - guys who were better at the comedy than the banjo playing. Uncle Dave himself did some brushes but they were for emphasis, not as a regular monotonous rhythm.

There are about 20 banjo players represented on the County Clawhammer series. Of them ,the only one who played Bum Did-dy was Old Man Stoneman on the first of the series - I remember sitting in the shop with customers and fellow workers when that record came out - none of us could figure out what tune Stoneman was playing at any time - even knowing the title. I know that record was the end of "Bum Did-dy" playing as a style around the Albany/Saratoga region of upstate NY.

I also have batches of Galax, Union Grove etc records from before the revivalists took over from the older generation - very lacking in bum did-dy they are. The same is true of my piles of field recordings (many anthologies) there are people like Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Wade Ward, Glen Smith (of Galax) and many more. Not a lot of bum did-dy save for those who used the banjo as quiet accompaniment for rather soft female voice.

Buell Kazee OTOH did use the Bum Did-dy - but there was always a "Pa" between. He mostly used a hard pull off on the 1st string to drive his song accompaniment rhythm - there are a couple examples of this in Rocket Science Banjo - look for the "Brain Surgery Banjo" section. Kazee's strongest rhythmic element was in fact the "Pa" so the sound came out bum-Pa did-dy, bum-Pa did-dy etc.

Look to Dan's post above about the thumb hitting on every stroke. Dan considers it to be "texture" while I consider it to be "basic". He operates a four stroke clawhammer engine and I operate a two stroke - we both get the lawn chopped down. Those who limit their playing by not using the thumb as the counter to the hand have a harder time using the thumb for either texture or as a basic stroke.

The air thumb can in fact lead to rhythmic degression. THe thumb hits a little late each and every time it hits. The band depends on the banjo for tempo and catches this slowdown subliminally. the next stroke is the weaker "Bum stroke and whether the banjo does it on time or late doesn't matter as much - the group is already using that late thumb as the "correct" tempo. Next time around the thumb is late again, and the tempo slows again. The tune loses speed every time through since unlike a song there is no place to inject steam into the proceedings.

Looking for a tab? Ask The Woodchuck - If I''ve got it or will do it - you can get it for a buck.
If you are interested in what I say on the hangout you should download a free copy of Rocket Science Banjo - the Advanced Method For Beginning to Intermediate Clawhammer Players. Along with the full text in PDF you will also find the four current RSB videos and the "25 EZ Clawhammer tunes at:

Banjo Brad is still hosting "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" and some other material at:
A site chock full of interesting banjo material

Banjowik - Posted - 06/23/2009:  15:27:28

If I could chirp in here,
No one said "dead against" the Bum ditty it can and is used but i think the point is the "bum pa dit ty" is useful to learn as a "basic stroke" before getting too involved and limited by the "Bum Ditty". If you learn and ingrain the "bum ditty" without any "bum pa dit ty" beforehand its like learning to run before you can walk. Whereas if you begin with
"Bum pa Dit ty" and move to "bum ditty" your walking then running which means its easier to go smoothly from running to walking and back to running as part of your skill set. Both are valid useful and handy it just makes sense to walk then run.

Hope this makes sense cause my wife just read over my shoulder and thinks i've lost it

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  15:36:08

Again, I'm not interested in a fight. I'm not a banjo historian. I'm just a banjo picker. And I play the way I play whether folks like it or not..because it's what wants to come out of me.

A bum-a-dit-ty can be produced with either hand. I just listened to all the sound files you posted and I gotta' tell you, there's a lot more bum-a-dit-ty than bum ditty. Some are getting that extra note (the "a") more with the left hand than the right. I hear them getting it with a drop thumb too. Either way, those fellers wanted to play a lot of bum-a-dit-ty in their tunes. If they didn't do it with the right hand, they did it with the left. Not solid bum-a-dit-ty all the way through the tune but at least half of each tune is not bum-dit-ty.

Edited to remove an offensive statement. Sorry to any whosse toes I stepped on.
Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

Edited by - chip arnold on 06/23/2009 15:59:20

bluemule_77 - Posted - 06/23/2009:  15:57:58

A couple of those tracks are sure heavy on the brush, and a little tough to listen to. The others are great, but as Chip says, ain't just bum-ditty.

Seems to me that it's easier to learn "bum-pa bum-pa" and later opt to leave out a pa -- or a bum. [These terms are really silly, aren't they?] No reason to argue about which comes first though -- whether you add it, or drop it, it seems that all involved parties agree that playing the upbeat or not playing it is valid.


bluemule_77 - Posted - 06/23/2009:  16:24:32

I'm neither a hippie nor a northerner, but I'm also not trying to argue with you. I'm completely clear on your point, Kilby, and I also have concerns about homogenized festival-style music steamrolling regional, traditional music. Where I live, in a sparsely populated piece of cow-country in southern NM, there is a fiddle tradition that continues even now. As best I can tell, it was altered somewhat in the middle of the last century with the arrival of radio and records. No one ever recalls anyone playing banjo around here, but for that reason I don't often bring my banjo to a fiddlin'. (Key changes are constant anyhow.) I really need to learn to fiddle a lot more of the local repertoire, but that's another issue. Anyhow, the point of that is just that I know the value of the old-timers and what they played, and how, and where.


Chris Via - Posted - 06/23/2009:  17:12:05

I think we all have different ideas on what bum pa di ty means. What Im saying is that these old guys, started their tune with the standard bum dity pattern. Everything was built off that. Drop thumbs naturally created an extra note, as did hammers and pulls. But they stayed with that rhytmetic pattern. They did not start out bum pa di ty and base their pattern hitting the 5th string every other note, as some call popcorn picking.. If anything that takes rythym out. That is all that is being taught anymore, and its being taught as the genuine old time lick. People can teach how they want. The only dissagreement I have is how they brand it.

Chris Via

groucho - Posted - 06/23/2009:  17:15:29

the problem starts when any of them think they are the only ones saving/preserving the music for us and they know more than all of us put together...

I'm not sure who you're referring to, but that description doesn't seem to fit anyone who hangs around here, whitetop. I'm new to the hangout, but my impression so far is that the teacher types here are very helpful and pretty non-dogmatic. You're really the only one coming off as having an "axe to grind" in terms of what the "right way" is.

Myself, I've found that I can take a little bit from everyone's input here... I use Tony's RSB "anchored thumb" technique in certain instances - and I've found that for other kinds of music I need more of a "floating thumb" to get the effect I want. I've picked up tunings and strums from various posts here, and I'm working it all into my own thing - which is how I think most musicians approach instructional materials: take what you need and leave the rest.

Some here might espouse a particular method above others, but that's because they've found it to work best. It kinda goes without saying that this is just one guy's opinion, forged out of their experience, and you're free to take or leave it.

but I just hate the state old-time music is in and where it's headed.

It's all well and good to have a friendly quibble about teaching methods, but it might be a little hysterical to imply that the fate of the music hangs in the balance, doncha think?:)


groucho - Posted - 06/23/2009:  17:35:28


but the real old-time will be dead if the style Chris and I are arguing against continues to be taught as the "real deal".Everyone will end up playing it, and it's not far from that now.

Aw c'mon, man! I totally get wanting to preserve a regional style, but y'all are arguing about whether to teach beginners the "bum-diddy" or the "bump-a-diddy" as a starting point!:)!

You're not arguing with "modern/hippie" types here - you're debating teaching methods with other OT fans.

I'm not saying you don't have a legitimate ax to grind (that's a whole other topic), but I think you're definitely grinding it in the wrong place. Your beef isn't with anyone here as far as I can see.

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  17:36:27

In the FWIW department, I've found some OT 2-finger players that ride the 5th string quite a bit. They're usually players who don't use dropthumb. Marvin Gaster is one who does it all the time. I've never seen his thumb on an inside string except for waltzes. I use a lot of drop thumb but almost never ride the 5th string. Not because I don't think it sounds good but because I just never got around to doing it. That "popcorn picking" where the player goes up and down the neck like a dulcimer player with a noter stick fretting the 5th and 1st strings sounded really good to me the first time or two that I heard it. Then I got where I couldn't stand it :-) To each his own.

I like playing melody and I like some of the slower, prettier songs and tunes. Talk about the old guys, they used to do a lot of songs and a whole variety of stuff that's fallen by the wayside over the years. You can go to a festival and never hear a song all week. Maybe you'll hear one waltz to every 200 fiddle tunes. But it wasn't always that way. Just like today, the average picker 75 years ago played at home alone or with any family that picked. Maybe if he was good enough he'd pick with neighbors too. But only a few in a community played for dances. So while there were lots of dance tunes played and every picker knew some, there were also all the old ballads to be sung and played. Now they're gone except for among the few folks that have tried to preserve them.

I try to keep Will Keys style going so I play some of his tunes in a style a lot like his and I teach his stuff to anyone who'll sit still for a minute. And I like to keep the old, old N. Ga. 2-finger style going, so I play that way some too. But otherwise, I just play the way I want to play and if it's part mine and part tradition, that's just fine. I've found that tradition is a slippery word and a fast moving target.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

bluemule_77 - Posted - 06/23/2009:  18:04:30


I'm asking these things completely without facetiousness -- so don't misread this as argumentative. Just an opportunity for you to make things more clear for everyone reading this thread.

Is it really the teaching of "bum-ditty" vs. the teaching of "bump-a-ditty" that is creating the generic, homogenized, and pasteurized old-time? Since everyone has agreed that drop-thumbing, double-thumbing, and left-hand techniques can be used to build a "bump-a-ditty" out of a "bum-ditty" and left out of a "bump-a-ditty" to make it a "bum-ditty," doesn't that mean that either starting point CAN arrive at the same music (even if it doesn't always)? Could it be something else about the festival culture that has created the modern sound?

There are a lot of people who discover that they enjoy fiddle tunes and stringband music and old-time in one form or another who weren't lucky enough to be of the tradition themselves. They may not live near anyone who plays a local traditional music, but they may want to learn to play fiddle or banjo. What should they do? Relocate? Or find what's available to them by way of learning resources and recorded music and pursue it as best they can?

I'm not a festival-goer, but if I didn't have people all around (including here at home) to play with, I can see the appeal.

It seems to me that the push ought to be for young people in a place where there is a traditional music to grab up their instruments and spend some time with the older generation and keep that going. Telling others that they are on the path to destroying your regional style because they're being taught through mass-media sources doesn't strike me as productive. Everybody on this site who has learned or is learning from Dan and Tony could throw down their banjos tomorrow but that's not going to help your regional tradition one iota.


switzforge - Posted - 06/23/2009:  18:14:29

Seems to me that most folks are argueing the same thing but wording it differently. I know that Dan and OWC teach bum pa dit ty as the starting point but that doesn't mean they never play bum - dit ty. Others teach bum - dit ty as the starting point but still play bum pa dit ty. and any other combination you can think of. To me this is really like arguing about whether you should use the front door or the back door to enter the house when your headed to the bathroom right in the middle.

Me I learned bum - dit ty, but never thought it held me back from playing bum pa dit ty, however I see the logic in teaching the bum pa dit ty first and then playing bum - dit ty when it's what you want.

Will play Banjo for food, will stop playing banjo for money.

John Switzer
Beulah, Colorado

robertsart - Posted - 06/23/2009:  19:16:03

Originally posted by whitetopbanjo

I don't want this to turn into a hippie/northerner vs. southerner thing, as it seems to be headed....

Hey Chip,

Didn't you use to be a hippie/northerner a long time ago?

Scott Roberts

RG - Posted - 06/23/2009:  19:36:14

Kilby-Rufus Crisp's recordings are on might want to double check the catalog since you seem interested...and his playing style goes back to the 1880's so it sure ain't no festival should check his playing out, very archaic and interesting seeing as he was recorded in the 1940's when he was over 70 years old and started playing before he was 18...

A southerner who moved to the northwest and then rocky mountain states and finally the left coast but has never been a hippie...

Edited by - RG on 06/23/2009 19:38:03

pastorharry - Posted - 06/23/2009:  19:40:30

[quote]Originally posted by switzforge
. To me this is really like arguing about whether you should use the front door or the back door to enter the house when your headed to the bathroom right in the middle.


You got a bathroom IN the house??

Isaiah 38:20

chip arnold - Posted - 06/23/2009:  19:43:46

I was a hippie/northerner before I was a Southern mountain back to the lander! Now I'm just gertting old :-) But I did pay a few dues in the south. I built our cabin with an axe, a hammer, a maul and a borrowed chainsaw. We raised our food. Canned and dried our food. Cooked it on a wood cookstove by the light of oil lamps. Heated with wood. Drank cold gravity water, walked across the branch to the privy (outhouse to you southern boys) Sawmilled. Not one of those new bandmills with everything automatic. An old Frick with a 54" headsaw. I turned logs, offbeared and finally ended up running the edger. I rolled Prince Albert for years. When we sawed pine I'd roll several and have them handy so I could grab one and smoke. You can't roll cigarettes with pine rosin on your hands. Worked outside when it was zero degrees and windy and when it was ninety five and just dead air. Laid up my first banjo pot with an 11" brake drum for a mold. And delivered several of my baby girls myself at home. This place has changed an awful lot and I have too. But I know where I came from and I'm pretty confident about where I'm going. Where I was raised in Massechusetts the city people started moving in during the late fifties. Pretty soon there were enough of them that they could out vote the locals at town meeting. They thought they knew better how to run things than the local folks did. My family had been in that town for over 300 years already. So I try not to be that way toward the locals here in my adopted home. And I try to remember that everyone has something of value and it ain't where you come from but who you are that matters.

Okay Scott, Sorry you asked? :-)

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

robertsart - Posted - 06/23/2009:  19:53:44

I knew my prod would elicit a story... and a good one at that!

Scott Roberts

Clawdan - Posted - 06/23/2009:  20:55:38

First, me either. not a northerner nor a hippie though i have been led into hippie tendencies now and then. next, never said ANY version of "my way or the highway" and just a fyi, owc and i are pretty much on the same page - semantics aside (texture, basic, whatever, doog a doog a or just one dooga - I just agree if you want most basic, one down, one up). Many ways, many sounds, lots of ways to skin the possum, clawhammer, frail, double thumb, drop, two finger, three, more...

BUT the issue that I think is being raised here and is raised often - and MOSTLY by folks starting out is, WHERE do I start? No musical background (what's a quarter note? i just want to know how to hold the dang thing), little exposure to any music especially old time, us all pontificating on history and philosophy, WHERE does a person start. My solution after YEARS of seeing what is written and "said" in workshops bearing little to no resemblance to the music I was hearing said it was time to write My own method and one that corresponded to what was being played, what I heard (in recordings old and newer) and what I saw being done. So I did. It is just the tip of the iceberg. Those old folks put their OWN innovation on it. It really doesn't matter. No, I'm no preservationist nor historian, but my style does take from the old folks - some I was lucky enough to meet in person but it is my style. I believe my method lets you play any style and yes, I do introduce the oh so holy to some bum ditty - as a rhythm, AFTER you learn how to "make it go". AND my tunes fit current festival style in most cases, 'cause, well, that is the folks most of us want to play with.

Pick and choose, it is up to you. I hope Marx isn't getting discouraged by our "discussion" which has gotten a long way from explaining why some say "ain't no bum ditty" to becoming some seemingly not so kind accusations as to why it is wrong to say "ain't no bum ditty". Well, Marx (and others) I do hope my earlier posts have given you one reasoning for it.

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Clawcamp East is coming right up! Sign up at
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

caintuck - Posted - 06/24/2009:  02:24:34

In some respects, this could be an argument about onomatopoeia. I prefer to express my basic stroke with the onomatopoeia Bump dit-ty or Boom chuk-ka, which becomes Bump-pa dit-ty or Boom-pa chuk-ka, with pull-offs, hammer-ons, or drop thumbs. But your dit or your chuk has got be sharp and not to loud (and of course can be on one, two, three or all four strings) or you're screwed time wise.

I believe there is a difference in the onomatopoeia. If you're thinking "bum" for that first strike, you may cut it short and not give it it's full value.

I think onomatopoeia is very useful for expressing a rhythm or rhythmic quality. In another life, I lead a small blues combo. And the rhythm section, after so much belly-aching from me, has come to understand the difference between a wimpy "boo chukka" and a powerful "Boom chuk-ka".

This post may not make sense to many of you.


Edited by - caintuck on 06/24/2009 02:29:18

chip arnold - Posted - 06/24/2009:  06:30:19

Bye, bye, gone to Elk Creek to banjer the week away :-)

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

Clawdan - Posted - 06/24/2009:  06:53:57

Dang Chip. Can you guys pick me up on the way? Only a few days drive out of the way...

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Clawcamp East is coming right up! Sign up at
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

Ron Ortegel - Posted - 06/24/2009:  07:22:10

"it ain't where you come from but who you are that matters."

Words of wisdom.

Chip, your posts are always good reading.
They are both respectful and respectable at the same time.

Thanks for making this a great place.

marx - Posted - 06/24/2009:  08:12:37

Well then,... I had no idea that this particular subject could evoke such
an "active" response from the Hangout community, but what a educational trek it's been. It's incredibly encouraging for us beginners and novices to be able to draw from these varied resources and opinions.

Dan, I believe "pick and choose" is the way to proceed although I will
move forward into the "ain't no" myself. Although many traditionalists will strive to preserve the venerated "old" way, most players will interpret
and play the music how they hear it, won't they? Kind of like "whisper
down the lane I'm thinking, it's the human in us.

While reading through this thread I'm thinking to myself "do I ever have
a lot to learn about this musical tradition, not just the mechanics
of learning the instrument"

This learning experience is becoming more "funner" all the time; I've sure learned a ton just from this thread alone, I'm certain other beginners and novices have too!

Many thanks for the education!


I thought that I made a mistake, but I was wrong.

tom clunie - Posted - 06/24/2009:  09:13:25

You want "words of wisdom" from Chip? How 'bout "tradition is a slippery word and a fast moving target." ? Wow! So true of this "debate/discussion/whatever and many other situations. Yeah Chip! TC

RatLer - Posted - 06/24/2009:  09:34:26

One time there was a feller, just before I got onto the BHO, that was listening to me play banjer, said: you play Bum Ditty. I didn't know if he thought a banjer was called a Bum Ditty, or asking me to play a tune called Bum Ditty, or if he just insulted me!! 'Course my responce was ...huh...? I scratched my head...and said... sir...I just pick-a-banjer.....

Reckon if I'd ever cracked open a Pete Seeger book, I'd have known what he was talkin' about....

This Bum Ditty feller sure causes alot a fuss...I'm just goin' to stick with pickin' a banjer...


twelvefret - Posted - 06/24/2009:  10:17:28

n response to BlueMule, I will say that in my opinion, it would be better for the music to either die a slow peaceful death rather than turn into what most of it is these days.


I want you to know that on many points I can agree with you, but not this one.

While folks from your area might have developed a way to play a tune or song, many of the melodies date to before the Europeans ever came to the New Country. And also, your ancestors did not play those tunes the way they were played in Scotland, Ireland, England, etc. where they originated most likely. Therefore, we need to be careful about how far we take these thoughts.

However, I do appreciate that you do not need someone new in town telling you how to play a style from your area. One that, I do agree. I also appreciate the folks in your area that are carrying on the traditions.

Chuck Naill

For Charles J. Horner Violin and Mandolin Inquiries,

robertsart - Posted - 06/24/2009:  11:15:03

Originally posted by whitetopbanjo would be better for the music to either die a slow peaceful death rather than turn into what most of it is these days...

Originally posted by twelvefret

...your ancestors did not play those tunes the way they were played in Scotland, Ireland, England, etc. where they originated most likely. Therefore, we need to be careful about how far we take these thoughts....

Very good point, Chuck.

Just curious folks, did Tommy Jarrell play exactly like his Round Peak predecessors (only with more skill) or did he bring something "new" (in terms of style or technique) to the music?

I'm not looking to derail the topic at hand, I'm just asking a question.

Scott Roberts

Edited by - robertsart on 06/24/2009 11:20:25

groucho - Posted - 06/24/2009:  11:21:10

The whole idea of what constitutes "tradition" is a long-running question in roots music circles. But as a guy who has watched his first love (blues) degenerate into a puerile mockery of its roots, I guess I can relate to whitetop's grousing more than I'd care to admit.

However, I really believe that the best way to promote the music you love is simply to DO it - that is: to PLAY it - it in a powerful and heartfelt way. People will respond, and moving the people is the way ALL music stays alive - not by polemics or "taking a hard-line stance" against change (as if such a thing were possible!).

Running down other musicians just because they find pleasure in taking the music in other directions (or have a different - or "looser" - definition of "old time") will just never get you anywhere. And the constant harping on "hippies" and "modern" and "northerners" really makes it sound like what's at play here is more CULTURAL resentment than any true musical quibble - as evidenced by the hilarious nitpicking of the actual MUSICAL discussion here ("bum diddy" vs "bump- a- diddy").

Any tradition that was seriously imperiled by such a minuscule distinction probably deserves to go the way of the dodo...:)


Edited by - groucho on 06/24/2009 11:27:07

jimpote03 - Posted - 06/24/2009:  12:40:27

Well, I trying to learn the clawhammer style and all of this is just plain confusing!!! I've read many posts about clawhammer and old time styles and I'm more confused then ever. SO - I've decided to stay with the bum-dity for now. I think.

Jim P

groucho - Posted - 06/24/2009:  12:42:13

Originally posted by whitetopbanjo

I never ran down these folks music if that's what they want to play,

I beg to differ:


As "modern style/hippie style" old time bands paraded across the stage , he said "not one of them gets it and they never will, they all already know too much."

I will say that in my opinion, it would be better for the music to either die a slow peaceful death rather than turn into what most of it is these days.


If it wasn't for some of us being close-minded and taking a hard-line stance against the modern style of old-time, I feel like everyone would think it's OK to play that way,

I could go on, of course...


just don't try to preach that it's the way so-and-so played when that's just not the case, with proof to back it up!

Again, having the feeling that you have some larger issues that have little to do with anything anyone here has said...


So to me, it's not really a tiny argument, at least if you have listened to much banjo music.

Ok, let's see if I'm understanding you on this...

As I understand it, "bump-a-diddy" is really only a "bum diddy" with a hammer-on or slide or drop thumb or some kind of extra note in there before the "diddy". Are you actually suggesting there is a whole style of music based exclusively around the bum-diddy, that NEVER utilizes any other strumming technique, and that THIS style is the "real" OT music and that anyone using anything other than the basic "bum diddy" strum is somehow a "modern hippie brutalizing the music"? And are you saying that the songs you posted on your music page are supposed to illustrate this?

If so, um... well, let's just say you've failed to convince me.:)


And I never said I was trying to "get anywhere"

Sure you did. You're on a mission to preserve a kind of music that's special to you. And you're going about it in an entirely unproductive way.

If any of us speak up, it's "cultural resentment."

You might want to consider the possibility that the way you're being perceived has something to do with the way you're expressing yourself.


I think alot of it boils down to the fact that it just burns up "outsiders" that there might be some real old-time music left, and they aren't it.

Or you could just stick to that attitude of "they're all just jealous." See if it works out for you...

He says something to the effect of "What is so horrible about all these folks' own cultures that they want to adopt someone else's?"

What was so horrible about those early banjo players that they had to adopt tunes from ENGLAND and IRELAND? What was so awful about Tommy Johnson's culture that he had to imitate WHITE PEOPLE with his yodeling?

Do you really not get that the traditional music you love is BASED around one culture adopting aspects of another, and the wonderful hodgepodge that results when cultures collide?:)


Edited by - groucho on 06/24/2009 12:48:40

frfiddle - Posted - 06/24/2009:  12:50:42

As is usually the case I find myself in total agreement with Whitetopbanjo, although I am not sure I understand all this 'bumdidy' business. But what I do know for sure is that ever since I first heard Wade Ward, Glen Smith, Calvin Cole, Enoch Rutherford, Ward Jarvis, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Roscoe Parrish, Dix Freeman,Oscar Wright, Sidna Meyers, Lawrence Russell, Jont Blevins, Gilmer Woodruff, Esker Hutchins, Rufus Quesenberry, etc I have wanted to play like them. I cannot say that I have succeeded but I have never stopped trying and I know that whatever is good about my playing comes from them. I have never had a desire to play like a revivalist, except to the extent (rare) that they have caught the genius of these old players. However, you bum your ditty, listen to the masters and listen hard and "you will [might] sow what you reap."

Chris Via - Posted - 06/24/2009:  13:26:46

Ive tried to explain what this bumpa ditty stuff means from my side of it, and it didnt work. Forget bum pa ditty. Its double thumbing. When you base the whole pattern off double thumbbing, it changes the timing, the style, the sound, and it comes out totally different than all of the banjo players mentioned, even Rufus Crisp. One thing all of these banjo players mentioned above had in common, was if you just listen to the thumb string, while they play, it only rings 1 time per measure. Sure they added notes, and dropped the thumb. But the thumb didnt constantly hit that 5th string, as in the bumpaditty techniques being taught. This is a huge difference between the 2 ways of playing. There is room in it for everyone and every style. Im just telling folks be careful how you lable it, and if I fell its being labled wrong, or missleading, then I will speak up. For someone to say a bum ditti rhythm is folk, and the other is old time, well, then I feel like they have it backwards, and I spoke up. I like it all, I just love the older styles more.

Chris Via

groucho - Posted - 06/24/2009:  14:02:14

Chris, so, what I'm hearing you and whitetop saying is that, although the players you're referring to were not exclusively limited to "bum diddy" it was the foundation of their style, and what they used as an initial building block.

The other point of view - espoused by some in this thread - seems to me to be that you might as well learn those other techniques characteristic of "bum pa diddy" early on, since you can always leave them out if you want, and that way they will be more smoothly and rhythmically incorporated into your playing from the get-go.

So basically we have everyone agreeing that a variety of techniques are used once a player moves past the beginner stage, and the real argument here is pretty much whether to learn those techniques early on or later on.

Whitetop seems to be saying, though, that learning them early on will somehow irreparably damage/alter the feel of the music, rendering it inauthentic in some way.


Im just telling folks be careful how you lable it, and if I fell its being labled wrong, or missleading, then I will speak up.

That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Whitetop: your denunciations, on the other hand, seem to have little to do with what's actually being discussed, or anything specifically musical, and much more to do with larger cultural issues. And yeah, when I see that stuff, I point it out. See - it works both ways?

If it's more convenient for you to write me off as not understanding what's being discussed, that's your prerogative. I notice you're a relatively new banjo player - as am I. But I assume your history with this music goes back a lot further than your banjo history does. Mine does too, and when you feel you're not being understood, it's sometimes wise to consider that perhaps you're not being clear, rather than that the other person is a fool.

Of course, that attitude seems consistent with the others you've displayed on this topic, so I probably shouldn't be surprised.


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