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Bluegrass Banjo Classics, Episode 5: "Bile Dem Cabbage Down"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fingerstyle Banjo Core Repertoire Series - "Bluegrass Banjo Classics" Edition

EPISODE 5: "Bile Dem Cabbage Down"

by Josh Turknett,


Click Here To Get The Tab



Something tells me that when this tune first came known as "Bile Dem Cabbage Down", it's usage in describing the unappetizing greenish substance emitted by the gallbladder wasn't widespread. In this instance, the use of the word is not as a reference to a liquid aid in the digestive process, but rather a phonetic spelling of the way in which some folks might pronounce the word "boil."

In other words, today we'll be learning a cherished chestnut that's about, among other things, boiling cabbages. 

It's a song often presented as a good tune to learn early on in one's banjo picking journey, as it's melody and fingerings are beginner friendly, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's any less of a tune. It's a time tested classic for good reason!

RELATED: Still fairly new to banjo? Click here to learn more about Breakthrough Banjo, a step-by-step course for banjo designed for the adult learner.

STEP 1: Know Thy Melody

Here we have yet another song where the melody of both verse and chorus are the same. 

That being said, the tradition when playing this as in instrumental is to play the verse in the lower register, and then bring things up an octave for the chorus. So we'll be doing likewise here!

If you don't already know this one, listen to the demonstration video enough times to where you can hum, sing, whistle, or otherwise reproduce the melody, and then we'll proceed with the finding of notes.

STEP 2: Find the Melody Notes

To start, make sure you're in standard G, or gDGBD, tuning. Once there, we'll see about finding some melody notes.

First try finding them for yourself, and then check your answers below.

Here's what the bare melody sounds like on the banjo: Melody.mp3

And here's what that looks like in tab:


STEP 3: Decorate Thy Melody

Now let's take that skeleton of a melody and fill in the spaces between the melody notes, including a healthy dose of the 5th string, and some fretting hand techniques like slides, pull offs, and hammer ons to add a little interest. 

Here's one way we might do so:


Bile Dem Cabbage Down

gDGBD tuning, Brainjo level 2




And here's what it sounds like:



STEP 4: Embellish further as desired

At this point, we can keep our initial version, or gussy it up with some more fanciful adornments.

Here's a second version with a few more decorations added:


Bile Dem Cabbage Down

gDGBD tuning, Brainjo level 3


And here's what that sounds like:


The possibilities here are virtually endless, so don't be afraid to noodle around and come up with your own spin on it!

STEP 5: Jam On!

Once you feel like you've got this one down, give it a try playing with the jam track below.

It's the perfect way to prepare for your next jam!

[RELATED: Click here for more on how to use these jam tracks.]










If you enjoyed these tutorials and backup tracks, then you'll probably enjoy the complete set of "Essential Bluegrass Banjo Classics," which will include all tabs, video tutorial demonstrations, and backup tracks as seen here, will be available soonClick here to have it sent to you as soon it's available.



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Josh Turknett has made 17 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

Occupation: neuroplastician

Gender: Male
Age: 46

My Instruments:
Cedar Mountain L4, Cedar Mountain J200. Dan Pennington tubaphone, Mike Ramsey white laydie, homebuilt special, bob thornburg gourd, Terry Bell Boucher minstrel banjo, deering goodtime special

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Mike Seeger, Mac Benford, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, Hobart Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Paul Brown, Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Earl Scruggs, Tom Adams, Will Keys, Camp Creek Boys..

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Created 11/18/2003
Last Visit 5/16/2022

Lover of all things banjo. One half of the Georgia Jays ( Founder of Brainjo, the first music instruction method targeted at the adult learner and based on the science of learning and neuroplasticity (more at

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