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Why the Thumb on the 2nd string in Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll

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Jul 14, 2020 - 9:09:12 PM
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56 posts since 12/5/2015

I have re-asked this. I read several archived threads regarding this question. I got tired of reading them as time is precious.

Most explanations say, "The thumb gives the second string D emphasis," I agree with this! It is easier to emphasize with the thumb as it picks down naturally as opposed to the fingers the do not. However, the emphasis is a matter of consequence. I can emphasize the same note with my index. You will not be able to tell the difference.

Here is the mechanical reason we use the Thumb on the second beat (if you're counting 1,2,3,4):

This explanation relies on certain conventions of rolls. Scruggs used the Thumb on the first note of the forward roll, again to emphasize the down beat. The Foggy mountain roll is a permutation of the forward roll........its the same roll, just in a different order.....its the same roll starting on a different beat.

If you start the Forward roll on the LAST beat (third beat) AND still use the thumb on the first note, you have the foggy mountain roll. Look below:

the uppercase I is the emphasized note, the Thumb
Forward Roll: I m t i m t i m, I m t i m t i m
beats 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Foggy Mtn Roll: i m I m t i m t.................

I started the FMB roll late to illustrate the pattern. I teach banjo and came across this realization when a student asked me the same question. Tab it out if you can't tell above, you will see.

Since the Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll is the same as the forward roll, it must adhere to the same rules. Thus, the emphasis is on the exact same note, jus not in the same respective spot in the measure. The emphasis of the Forward roll (usually) is on the first note first beat, whereas the emphasis of the FMB roll is on the second beat first note.

Having realized this has opened up doors: what other beats can I emphasize; does it always have to be the down beat?; what other rolls can I manipulate in the same way?

Jul 14, 2020 - 9:57:57 PM
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5584 posts since 3/6/2006

You might be overthinking it.

Jul 14, 2020 - 10:19:45 PM
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28 posts since 3/10/2009

Over thinking is being gracious. All Earl is doing is using the thumb so he doesnt have to hit the hammer with the same finger in rapid succession. No more complicated than that. Being the great player that he is that is a natural for him. Some players can do that and some prefer to hammer with the same finger. Either way how cares as long as it sounds right.

Jul 14, 2020 - 10:28:47 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

50974 posts since 10/5/2013
Online Now

Take it from an aging 70 year-old picker (and Pete Wernick mentioned this also) - the i-m , i-m in rapid succession gets more difficult to do as you get older with stiffer fingers. I’m glad I learned it Earl’s way, otherwise I’d have to re-learn it. Every day I do a bit of (strings) 2-1-3-1-3-4-3-1 over and over, with the first and third notes played with index finger just to keep it relatively smooth and quick (if that’s even possible some days).

Jul 15, 2020 - 4:13:27 AM
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14845 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97

Take it from an aging 70 year-old picker (and Pete Wernick mentioned this also) - the i-m , i-m in rapid succession gets more difficult to do as you get older with stiffer fingers. I’m glad I learned it Earl’s way, otherwise I’d have to re-learn it. Every day I do a bit of (strings) 2-1-3-1-3-4-3-1 over and over, with the first and third notes played with index finger just to keep it relatively smooth and quick (if that’s even possible some days).


Even for younger players, it's biomechanically more effificent and easier (once you get used to the distance the thumb travels). Alternating between I and M at high speed is tough, particularly if you're trying to add a wee bit of emphasis. Use the thumb, and it's a piece of cake.

Jul 15, 2020 - 4:49:24 AM
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beegee

USA

21766 posts since 7/6/2005

and using the i-m-i-m usually results in a rushed sequence of those notes instead of the even spacing we need to hear.

Jul 15, 2020 - 5:53:34 AM

72659 posts since 5/9/2007

I don't use my thumb that way in playing FMB.

Jul 15, 2020 - 7:36:04 AM

RB3

USA

737 posts since 4/12/2004

For starters, there are two beats per measure, not four. That's according to the Earl Scruggs instruction book.

One advantage of using the thumb for the second hammer-on is that you can accent a hammer-on better with the thumb than with the index finger. The second hammer-on can then be louder than the first hammer-on. The first hammer-on is on the first beat of the measure and the second hammer-on is just before the second beat of the measure. Since that louder, thumb hammer-on is just before the second beat, you get syncopation as a by-product.

Jul 15, 2020 - 7:36:31 AM

29 posts since 4/16/2020

I think the basic reason is simply because it's easier to play it faster that way for me. But maybe not for you. I think that when folks wrote or played these songs and licks, they simply played it the way it was natural to them to make it sound the way they wanted it to sound. Putting (or not putting) emphasis on a specific note or notes in a way thats the easiest for you to play it and do so is the key. If you can play it faster and put the emphasis where wanted without using your thumb... then play it that way. Just like a pull off: up or down? Depends on what comes easiest for you to play and make sound the best. Some folks can't pull up as well as down or vise versa. Do what works best for you and keep on pickin' . If someone plays it great using their toes better than their fingers, more power to them. And more entertaining to watch um do it :)

Edited by - coherent on 07/15/2020 07:39:05

Jul 15, 2020 - 7:37:14 AM
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3450 posts since 3/28/2008

Basic principle that applies in MANY situations: if you're rolling in the forward direction (...TIMTIMTIM...) and you can play the next note with the next finger in the forward-roll sequence, do so unless there's a compelling reason not to.

That simple principle underlies a lot of things that puzzle beginners.

Jul 15, 2020 - 8:23:39 AM
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72659 posts since 5/9/2007

I never did much checking for how Earl played a tune.I couldn't figure out stuff like that by listening to records.

Jul 15, 2020 - 8:32:35 AM
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chuckv97

Canada

50974 posts since 10/5/2013
Online Now

Not sure but I think I first saw that in the red Pete Seeger book. I should add that it’s not just i-m , i-m that becomes difficult with age (for me, anyway) but also m-i-m-t as in the Osborne/Dillard roll. I have to do those with m-t-m-t (strings 1-2-1-5 )

Jul 15, 2020 - 8:33:24 AM

29 posts since 4/16/2020

quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

I never did much checking for how Earl played a tune.I couldn't figure out stuff like that by listening to records.


Yep... it was just moving the needle back a million times on a record and listening  over and over and trying to emulate the notes and tune.  Instruction books maybe, but there were no video tutorials.  Boy how the internet has changed things huh?

Jul 15, 2020 - 8:50:43 AM
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25 posts since 8/20/2015
Online Now

I wonder how much there would be left to play if we worried about the motion and timing between each and every finger movement we made. I can play it both ways, it's a pretty small difference. I'm more worried about what feels and sounds right, if I find either way works I'd do it. There are probably countless things we do which use similar movements we'd call "inefficient" in this one instance but ignore because they aren't Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Jul 15, 2020 - 9:04:48 AM
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5388 posts since 12/20/2005

I've been working on a variation of this roll for several days now.
I've found, that for me, this is a very useful roll to use, by hitting other strings with the thumb, instead of hitting the 5th string.
It's difficult to do, after playing it that way for several decades.

Jul 15, 2020 - 12:14:41 PM
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56 posts since 12/5/2015

Thank you all!!

I am a math guy. I teach math (and banjo) and have a math degree. It is only natural for me to think of things in terms of math. Permutations, or re-ordering the roll is a very mathy thing to do. No overthinking involved.

My explanation holds true regardless of who is playing the roll. Play the forward roll and emphasize the first note with your thumb. Now, take the last 2 notes from the forward roll, and put them in the front of the roll....you have the FMB roll.

So, is it too far of a stretch to call the FMB roll the forward roll?

Jul 15, 2020 - 12:54:04 PM

phb

Germany

1914 posts since 11/8/2010

quote:
Originally posted by pperkins


My explanation holds true regardless of who is playing the roll. Play the forward roll and emphasize the first note with your thumb. Now, take the last 2 notes from the forward roll, and put them in the front of the roll....you have the FMB roll.

Perhaps the truth is just that the band came in on the wrong beat... :o)

 

So, is it too far of a stretch to call the FMB roll the forward roll?


I actually think it was pointed out before that the FMB roll really is just a forward roll shifted by one beat.

Edited by - phb on 07/15/2020 12:54:20

Jul 15, 2020 - 1:12:40 PM

56 posts since 12/5/2015

Thank you, I like your comment. My banjo is laughing too.

I read and read regarding the title, but couldn't find what you mentioned. I thought certainly the "shifted beat" was not a new thing.

Have you ever played the forward roll...and shifted the down beat in your mind to hear the FMB roll?

Have a good day. Time to pick some more.

Paul

Jul 15, 2020 - 1:24:55 PM

3521 posts since 12/6/2009

Don Reno played the roll forward with the index doing the work on that second string. Reno very rarely used any of Earl’s rolls. There are examples of Reno’s stuff with Jason Skinner. Also he’s a member on here and would be glad to show you things.

Jul 15, 2020 - 2:20:25 PM

phb

Germany

1914 posts since 11/8/2010

quote:
Originally posted by pperkins

Thank you, I like your comment. My banjo is laughing too.

I'm nor sure whether my comment offended you in some way. It was not intended to do so. I learned the FMB roll pattern as it was taught in some book and I did not connect the dots myself. I was totally uncritical of the information provided in the book. I remember reading on the BHO that it was really just the forward roll (the decimated one) shifted by one beat and that made some impression on me because it suddenly was so obvious. 

Jul 15, 2020 - 2:54:26 PM
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3450 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by pperkins

Thank you all!!

I am a math guy. I teach math (and banjo) and have a math degree. It is only natural for me to think of things in terms of math. Permutations, or re-ordering the roll is a very mathy thing to do. No overthinking involved.

My explanation holds true regardless of who is playing the roll. Play the forward roll and emphasize the first note with your thumb. Now, take the last 2 notes from the forward roll, and put them in the front of the roll....you have the FMB roll.

So, is it too far of a stretch to call the FMB roll the forward roll?


I take it that by "forward" roll you mean TMTIMTIM. I would call that a one-measure pattern that uses a chunk of forward roll. I'm of the school of thought (adn I know eagleisland is with me on this) that reserves the term "forward roll" for that mighty and potentially endless river that is ...TIMTIMTIM...--beginning on any finger and continuing in that sequence as long as needed.

IMHO that corresponds better to what our hands actually feel when we play.

That said--YES! The "Foggy Mountain" pattern and TMTIMTIM are simply modes of each other (and there'd be six more, right?). The thumb comes down on the third note of the "FM" pattern for the same reason it begins the repetition of TMTIMTIM. (See my post above.)

Jul 15, 2020 - 3:04:53 PM
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56 posts since 12/5/2015

quote:
Originally posted by phb
quote:
Originally posted by pperkins


My explanation holds true regardless of who is playing the roll. Play the forward roll and emphasize the first note with your thumb. Now, take the last 2 notes from the forward roll, and put them in the front of the roll....you have the FMB roll.

Perhaps the truth is just that the band came in on the wrong beat... :o)

 

So, is it too far of a stretch to call the FMB roll the forward roll?


I actually think it was pointed out before that the FMB roll really is just a forward roll shifted by one beat.

 

No offense taken, at all!
I truly thought your comments were funny.
 
 
 
Jul 15, 2020 - 3:15:23 PM
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56 posts since 12/5/2015

quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin
quote:
Originally posted by pperkins

Thank you all!!

I am a math guy. I teach math (and banjo) and have a math degree. It is only natural for me to think of things in terms of math. Permutations, or re-ordering the roll is a very mathy thing to do. No overthinking involved.

My explanation holds true regardless of who is playing the roll. Play the forward roll and emphasize the first note with your thumb. Now, take the last 2 notes from the forward roll, and put them in the front of the roll....you have the FMB roll.

So, is it too far of a stretch to call the FMB roll the forward roll?


I take it that by "forward" roll you mean TMTIMTIM. I would call that a one-measure pattern that uses a chunk of forward roll. I'm of the school of thought (adn I know eagleisland is with me on this) that reserves the term "forward roll" for that mighty and potentially endless river that is ...TIMTIMTIM...--beginning on any finger and continuing in that sequence as long as needed.

IMHO that corresponds better to what our hands actually feel when we play.

That said--YES! The "Foggy Mountain" pattern and TMTIMTIM are simply modes of each other (and there'd be six more, right?). The thumb comes down on the third note of the "FM" pattern for the same reason it begins the repetition of TMTIMTIM. (See my post above.)


Yes, I see the gap in my explanation. 

Ooh, good one. 8 modes total, 1 is FMB, 2 is Forward roll leaving 6 left.

I know its a stretch for the mind, but I truly dig this stuff. 

Thank you.

Jul 15, 2020 - 3:21:53 PM

56 posts since 12/5/2015

quote:
Originally posted by phb
quote:
Originally posted by pperkins

Thank you, I like your comment. My banjo is laughing too.

I'm nor sure whether my comment offended you in some way. It was not intended to do so. I learned the FMB roll pattern as it was taught in some book and I did not connect the dots myself. I was totally uncritical of the information provided in the book. I remember reading on the BHO that it was really just the forward roll (the decimated one) shifted by one beat and that made some impression on me because it suddenly was so obvious. 

 


Philipp,

I was unable to see until around 13 years of teaching it. I had had the question before and I answered it like many have. But, I was not answering the why. I was answering the what. It is amazing what it takes sometimes to make a connection. 

I hope you get some pickin in today. 

Jul 17, 2020 - 7:10:34 PM

609 posts since 11/21/2018

Learning the "FMB" roll is helpful if one wants to play melodic style. Sometimes the "logical" finger can't be used and learning the "habit" of crossing that thumb under can be very useful. I resisted learning it for ages but now glad I have for melodic stuff and one "runs out of fingers!"

Jul 19, 2020 - 8:23:20 AM
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72659 posts since 5/9/2007

I believe the different ways of approaching notes are part of what makes people sound like themselves.

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