A Book Of Five Strings - online tutorial

Strategies for mastering the art of old time banjo.

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When you were tapping your foot and strumming the "bump dit-ty" rhythm you were playing one half of a measure in 4/4 time. To complete a measure in 4/4 time we would have to play two consecutive "bump dit-ty" strums.
Another way to count the "bump dit-ty" is "one two and". Playing a full measure in this fashion would result in the count "one two and three four and". Because the eighth note is only half of a beat we count on the downbeat (when you tap your foot) and say "and" on the upbeat (when your foot comes up).
The next step is to apply this rhythmic concept to the frailing strum. Because the "bump" is a quarter note and the "dit" and the "ty" are eighth notes the "dit and "ty" must be held for exactly half of the time value of the "bump". This is easier to grasp if you remember to always tap your foot.
Tablature
In order to illustrate the examples in this chapter I will have to introduce you to something called tablature. Tablature, or 'tab' for short, is just a way of writing the mechanics of a song or lick down.
You have five lines. Each line represents a string on your banjo. The fifth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top. When any string has a zero you play that string open. The numbers on a string tell you what fret to play.
Here is the frailing strum we have been working on in tablature:
Practice Patterns
It is going to take you a good bit of time to "get" the technique of the "bump dit-ty" strum. Our old friend and picking buddy Paul Schoenwetter used to say that it takes about five hundred hours to become a solid frailer. Whether those hours take months or years is up to you.
Working on some practice patterns will go a long way towards helping you master this technique. On the next page I have tabbed out a handful of simple variations of the frailing strum for you to add to your practice routine.
Don't blow this off as "too basic". After more than twenty years of picking I still go back and run through these at least once a week to keep my right hand discipline in shape.






E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III