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Beginner question: drop thumb vs bum-ditty...

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Sep 14, 2018 - 11:34:03 AM
7 posts since 10/17/2017

I'm trying to wrap my head around the various claw hammer styles I see floating around. As a beginner, should I start with drop thumb from the get go or begin with the basic hammer-strum-hammer-thumb pattern that I see being taught everywhere.

Sorry if this has been asked 100 times already.

Sep 14, 2018 - 12:10:45 PM
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mbanza

USA

2043 posts since 9/16/2007

My advice is to begin with ditty-ditty using your thumb every time: It's easy to leave it out later. Stick with this until you can place the emphasis on the first down beat (BUMP a ditty) or the second down beat (ditty BUMP a) then begin leaving the thumb out as needed.

Start learning drop thumb right away, you'll be glad you did.

Sep 14, 2018 - 12:31 PM
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665 posts since 12/19/2010

I completely agree with Verne--start with "double thumbing" (or "ditty-ditty, or "bumpa ditty"). Several good reasons for this. First as Verne mentioned, the bum ditty derives from this pattern by only sounding the 5th string every other time you contact it. Second, even when you are playing the bum ditty notes, your hand should still be moving in the double thumbing pattern ( thumb makes contact on the "pa" of the bumpa ditty, but does not sound the fifth string). Third, Drop thumbing is really just double thumbing, but your thumb alternates between the fifth string and one of the "inner" strings (2-4). Fourth, if you work the double thumbing pattern across the strings (1-5, then 2-5, then 3-5, then 4-5), you will develop good control over your finger strikes AND you will also prepare yourself for drop thumb. This preparation comes from double thumbing on the 4th and 5th string (4-5, 4-5, on and on). The gap between your finger and thumb required to do this will be exactly the gap need to drop thumb on strings one and two. You will develop the needed muscle memory, and drop thumbing won't be the big hurdle it's often made to be! I've attached a tab sheet that has a bunch of double thumbing drills. My suggestion is to work these exercises until your tone and rhythm start to smooth out (and don't worry about speed--it will come in time), then start with the drop thumbing. I have had good success with beginning students starting this way. Have fun! If you take a systematic approach, you will find yourself advancing and drop thumbing before long.


Edited by - jack_beuthin on 09/14/2018 12:31:47

Sep 14, 2018 - 2:47:37 PM
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1558 posts since 4/29/2012

Another agreement. I learned "frailing" from the Pete Seeger book many moons ago. I wish somebody had got me double thumbing early - bump-a-di-dy rather than bum-did-y. It would have made the whole drop thumb thing a lot easier, BUT - I'm a bit confused at your description of a "hammer-strum-hammer-thumb" basic pattern. Not sure about the second hammer !

Sep 14, 2018 - 3:03:24 PM
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3651 posts since 11/29/2005

I suggest 2 teaching methods to look at. First, rocketsciencebanjo.com by Old Woodchuck. Second, Dan Levenson's "Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch" available through Mel Bay or directly from him (check ClawDan here on the HO). Both start with double-thumb.

Edited by - banjo_brad on 09/14/2018 15:04:49

Sep 14, 2018 - 5:58:49 PM
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5648 posts since 3/11/2006

A lot of folks started with the bum-ditty, but now, the consensus is more of a double-thumbing approach.
This is not the same as drop-thumbing, though the rhythm is the same. It is using the 5th string for every other note.
MTMT with the T on the 5th string.

I would follow banjo brad's recommendation as regards WoodChuck and Dan to get you started.
You want to get the very basics down right. Failure to do so will make actual drop-thumbing difficult
down the line.

Sep 15, 2018 - 2:01:44 AM

AndyW

UK

269 posts since 7/4/2017

I can recommend Dan Levensons 'Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch'. [and by extension the double thumb method of learning].

It's not a perfect book by any means, but for a low price it is methodical, and ingrains the basic clawhammer double thumb strum, then brings in drop thumb yet again drilling it hard before bringing in left hand techniques.[including the very basic concept of bum ditty].

RocketScienceBanjo is brilliant also [and free], but includes some more advanced concepts early, Dan's method at a cheap price pretty much stops you trying to get ahead of yourself.

A quick fix into playing full on tunes it is not, but if I have learned anything over the last year with clawhammer you need to be patient.

Have a look at my videos and see if where I am after a year is a reasonable expectation of where you'd like to be.

I think learning to bum-ditty first could be self limiting, as in once you can bum-ditty strum to a few tunes/songs you might find yourself in a rut and not strive to improve. Double thumbing/drop thumbing first opens much more possibilities as all the 'tools' are gained first and you can focus on improving where you see fit.

Sep 15, 2018 - 4:58:13 AM

Terry F

USA

27 posts since 2/16/2015

I started out with Bum Ditty but started drop thumb fairly soon afterward. I can't imagine not using drop thumb as bum ditty seems to have limitations.
I really like the tabs Mike Iverson write for his songs as he always adds some drop thumbing and his beginner tabs are easy to learn. Here is a link to his site: banjoutah.com/styled-14/iframe/

Sep 15, 2018 - 7:38:10 AM

R Buck

USA

2495 posts since 9/5/2006

I'm old school, learned a long time ago. If you brush down on the 1 and 3 that's half (the bum) of the lick. Then brush-thumb (the ditty) like the folks are saying above, that is the other half of the lick. Brush brush-thumb that's a bum ditty. Count 1 2+ 3 4+ and hit the 5th string on every + (and) that's the lick as I learned it. Styles change, it all depends on the style you want to play. As I said, I am old school and everyone has their path. You won't get the bum ditty by going brush-thumb (ditty) you have to brush (bum) brush-thumb (ditty) to get the bum ditty.

Sep 15, 2018 - 10:19:56 AM
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5648 posts since 3/11/2006

Andy W. mentions that Dan's method "stops you tying to getting ahead of yourself".

This is essential.  Take your time in the beginning and get the basics down perfect.  This is the most crucial  phase of learning clawhammer.

Give it several months to a year.  That amount of time is a drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime of banjo playing.

Sep 15, 2018 - 11:20:28 AM
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R Buck

USA

2495 posts since 9/5/2006

It is the well practiced art that escapes the consciousness.

The double thumb should not be confused with drop thumb. All of these permutations of timing change the sound of your playing.

Sep 16, 2018 - 5:29:38 AM

carlb

USA

1864 posts since 12/16/2007

For me, getting my right hand relaxed was the most important thing. So I started playing without using drop thumb at all. Now I was pretty obsessed at the beginning and got to feel that my hand was relaxed after about three weeks. I then picked a tune (Calhoun Swing from Melvin Wine) that had only a single type of drop thumb in the second part. However, it occurred three times each time you played that part. So with the repeat you got to play it six times every time you played the entire tune once. I felt that I had regressed a couple of weeks but persisted until I got my right hand relaxed again, probably about a week or so. Could work for you, if you have a similar type of tune that you already know. Use what you know to learn something new..

quote:
Originally posted by Dadsaster

I'm trying to wrap my head around the various claw hammer styles I see floating around. As a beginner, should I start with drop thumb from the get go or begin with the basic hammer-strum-hammer-thumb pattern that I see being taught everywhere.

Sep 16, 2018 - 5:52:30 AM
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17408 posts since 7/21/2005

quote:
Originally posted by R.D. Lunceford

A lot of folks started with the bum-ditty, but now, the consensus is more of a double-thumbing approach.
This is not the same as drop-thumbing, though the rhythm is the same. It is using the 5th string for every other note.
MTMT with the T on the 5th string.

I would follow banjo brad's recommendation as regards WoodChuck and Dan to get you started.
You want to get the very basics down right. Failure to do so will make actual drop-thumbing difficult
down the line.


At the risk of sounding overly ego driven I agree with Banjo Brad. While I think that nearly every usable banjo method will work - for the driven student. I firmly brelieve that Dan and I have the beginnings right (and I know that they are very different books, and I also know that Dan's book (which is an actual book instead of a mere website has a great deal more in it.

There are a couple terrible books on the subject including at least one that at one time was hyped on thi board by the author and his equally delusional father for several years (no names mentioned because there two mega trolls might still be haunting thee boards and they are delighted to get into battles on the subject. These losers are what I now call Trump personalities - people who don't actually care if anyone ever learns the banjo so long as they can claim a good deal of the credit. In fact, what will teach you to play the banjo (or any other instrument) is your own dedication to the task and careful study of a good book or several.

Neither Dan nor I spend time trying to get students to self limit their learning experience to any one method. (I worked a whole lot from 4 different Classical guitar methods through much of the 1960s and spent considerable time with and other I could borrow. In teh early 60s I owned a copy of every 5 string banjo method on the market - Including several that said nothing about clawhammer style.

While I find the books by the above mentioned father/son team as close to worthless as any bad music methods I've ever seen, I must admit I've met a few people who even learned to play reasonable clawhammer banjo from that inept book - although usually used along with one or two better publications. My suggestion if this is the book you choose to use don't use it to the exclusion of every other book - since every other book is at very least a vast improvement over that one.

And don't limit yourself to strictly printed sourses. There is some great information on clawhammer that has never been commercially printed. 

Edited by - oldwoodchuckb on 09/16/2018 06:23:21

Sep 16, 2018 - 7:56:59 AM

bitz

USA

30 posts since 3/1/2016

Dan’s book is fantastic! As already mentioned, its approach gives you the proper steps to lead you down the right path. I haven’t checked out Tony’s book but have heard great things...I’ve tried not to jump around too much when learning from a book.

I would also recommend Tom Collin’s series Banjo Blitz if you’re interested in watching short video lessons. The first lesson can be found here

m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhKjfYWvhb

cheers! Mike

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