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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 13: Bile Dem Cabbage Down

Posted by Josh Turknett on Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series


Episode 13: Bile Dem Cabbage Down


It’s great to be an old-time banjo player, isn’t it?

While the guitarists down at the local open mic are relegated to navel gazing songs about the pain of infidelity and the search for the meaning of life, we get to sing instead about things like chickens clucking and groundhog hunting.

And cabbage boiling. 

That’s right folks, for this installment in the core repertoire series, it’s time for everyone’s favorite homage to cruciferous vegetable preparation: "Bile Dem Cabbage Down."

First off, here's a sonical preview of our final arrangement: 


Note: If you'd like to get a free, downloadable ebook of Core Repertoire lessons 1 thru 7, and be sent the next book (lessons 8-14) when it's ready, just click here.


Step 1: Know Thy Melody

Most of you are probably at least somewhat familiar with how this one goes, and it shouldn’t take those of you who aren’t very long to get familiar with it. The melody here is simple, catchy, and tons of fun. Here are a few examples played on the devil’s box. Remember to try and listen here for the basic melodic outline of the tune. Start humming along whenever you feel ready:

Example One

Example Two

Example Three


Step 2: Find the Melody Notes

Now let’s see if we can locate the notes of our core melody on the 5 string. This tune is typically played in the key of A in jams, so go ahead and get yerself into aEAC#E (standard G with a capo at the 2nd fret). Ironically, the basic melody of this tune is so simple, it lends itself to lots of fanciful ornamentations and interpretation on the fiddle, which perhaps makes distilling it to its core essence a bit more challenging.

Here's what I hear as the essence of this tune, rendered on the banjo:

Raw Cabbage.mp3

And here’s what that looks like in tab:

Step 3:  Add Some Clawhammery Stuff

Now we’ll put the melody through the clawhammerizer by taking the notes that occur on the downbeat (the ones in bold in the above tab), and add a brush-thumb stroke (or a “ditty” stroke) after each one. Our resulting arrangement looks as follows:

And sounds like this:

Clawhammered Cabbage.mp3

And if we pair this one along with the fiddle, we find it already makes for nice company:

Corned Beef and Cabbage.mp3 


Step 4: Season to Taste

Feel free to spice this one up at this point any way you like. The simple melody here leaves lots of room for individual expression, so feel free to go to town. Try sliding into some of the melody notes, put in a few well placed hammer ons or pull offs, or perhaps see if you can mimic the fiddle from any of our earlier examples. 

Here’s the tab of my seasoned cabbage, which you can hear in the video above.  

Step 5: Practice Smart

Once you've got this one under your fingers a bit, head over to the and play along with the backup tracks there. After all, there's no better way to get ready for jamming than to jam!

6 comments on “Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 13: Bile Dem Cabbage Down”

andersendick Says:
Thursday, October 9, 2014 @4:19:00 PM

So far you have used off-string hammers rather than drop thumbing. I find it very hard to sound a hammer on the 2nd string, 1st fret with my index finger but your Bile song sounds OK with this move. Any comments or suggestions? Will lesson 8 cover drop thumbing?
Thanks for all the lessons.

Josh Turknett Says:
Friday, October 10, 2014 @1:01:18 AM

You could definitely drop your thumb on the 2nd string, 1st fret - I agree that it can sometimes be difficult to get that note to ring, depending in part on your particular banjo. You could certainly substitute a drop thumb there - for me personally, I like using the hammer on there just because of the rhythm it creates.

I won't be covering drop thumbing in lesson 8, as I want to stick to what I think of as the universal fundamentals (i.e. not all players utilize drop thumb); however, I am working on some extension lessons, including one on drop thumb, which I plan to finish up in the next few weeks - so stay tuned!

andersendick Says:
Friday, October 10, 2014 @2:56:16 PM

OK. Looking forward to lesson 8.

mbliss Says:
Saturday, October 11, 2014 @6:26:59 AM

So thrilled to hear the series will be extended beyond 8!
I thank you so much for your efforts on this entire project.

banjoclarka Says:
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 @8:03:36 AM

This is very well done, but you--like the majority of old time players--forgot the words. "Boil them cabbage down boys, bake them hoe cakes brown, the only song that I can (can't) sing is boil them cabbage down." The words help in learning the melody. Also the simple progression: I IV I V I IV I V I

Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 @8:47:24 AM

Forget the words - never! I love singing this tune (here's one attempt, for example:

Seriously, though, I definitely agree with the value of singing (or humming) a tune to help with learning a melody - it's invaluable.

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