Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Counting in bluegrass

Okay, so I am a 80s big hair rock guy (guitar) who has passively listened to bluegrass for a long time, but since I have started my banjo (and acoustic guitar) journey I am trying to “actively” listen more. I am trying to get a lock on tempos of some of the songs I am listening to (mostly Scruggs, Munde, Crowe). So here are a few questions:

  1. Is most bluegrass 4/4?
  2. Are the bass notes generally quarter notes? I am not really talking about passing/walking notes but those back and forth notes that happen in each chord .
  3. With the exception of embellishments, are most rolls 1/8 notes?

Thanks in advance for any help with this.


Greetings from another former long haired type.

  1. Yep
  2. It depends on how you count. I count them as being played every other beat (on 1 and 3) while the generic mando chops are on 2 and 4. One could count them as being on each beat and the mando chops being on the “and” of each beat.
  3. Kind of the same thing as before, depends on how you count, but the way I count, banjo fingers are generally doing 1/8th notes.

Mike, thanks for replying.

I am going to try to post a link to video of guy playing upright bass to Foggy Mountain. When I follow his bass notes with the “tap” feature on my metronome I get about 160. This would be with eighth notes on the banjo. I tried counting the bass notes as 1 and 3 and it doubled the BPM. Not sure I could play eighth notes with that rate. Am I missing something?


You can count that as 160 BPM or 320 BPM. At 160 BPM, the banjo is playing primarily 16th notes, at 320 the banjo is playing primarily 8th notes. Of course in either case, the banjo is playing the exact same speed… it’s just how someone wants to count it.

No matter how you count it, there are a barrage of notes flying out of the banjo, and that’s part of why it is so compelling. Not everyone can play at any given speed, but you might be surprised how quickly people can pick up speed as they learn banjo.