Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: The Foggy Mountain Lick

Yes, your grandma will disown you if you don’t know this lick. Learn it.

What is the reason that people insist on dropping the thumb to the second free in this lick? Is there a technical reason? Or is it because that’s what earl Scruggs did?

That’s the way Earl did it and it sounds good. The thumb being stronger you get more emphasis.

Not everyone uses the thumb

Dropping the thumb will get you thru the lick quicker than a double finger once you get proficient. In my opinion the dropped thumb will also get you out of the lick faster.

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Exactly what the above 2 said. You definitely want to use your thumb to get in the habit now. In time, when you’re playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown at 163 BPM, you’ll be glad you did. Not many people can play that lick at that speed with just their fingers, and most of those who can don’t make it sound right.

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Good to know. Thanks for the replies guys

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Coll where about in Scotland are U located ?



I’ll also see Russ play this lick without using his thumb…just because he can.


I know he can play it that way, I went looking for it but this arrangement popped out at me

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Let me tell you how true this is. My grandma had me play Foggy Mountain Breakdown at her funeral. Grandmas love FMBD.


Dude are you serious? I played it at my wife’s grandpa’s funeral…he demanded it! It was weird but I did it anyway.


Ha! That’s so cool.

Yeah, that was the 3rd song I learned on banjo when I was 13. She told me then and several times over the years, “I want you to play that Foggy Mountain song at my funeral.” She got it. 12 long minutes of FMBD with a little I’ll Fly Away sprinkled in to break up the monotony… all while people were filing by for their last viewing.

The funny thing was, people were enjoying the music so much they wouldn’t leave. A couple of dozen just stuck around by the casket. :laughing:



Mark and Ben… I like that story so much!

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An Iconic banjo tune for certain! This also, was one of the first banjo tunes I learned back in High School. I played it so much, my mother would shoo me out of the room. I also picked up some bad finger habits which were much more difficult to remove than to acquire. One of my resolutions this year, is to get to play this tune at 160-bpm cleanly. A couple things have helped me out a great deal. (My 2-cents) One, is to get the tune memorized. Not hard to do, but then you can watch your right hand closely to make certain you aren’t developing “I’ll fly-away” fingers. (Pun intended). Economy of movement is absolutely needed, keeping the picking fingers low with minimum movement. Also, I observe if my right hand is tightening-up or getting tense. Relaxation is so important. A sure sign, is that you are tending to push-around your anchor fingers which will destroy your accuracy (I like to anchor both fingers). Another thing that’s helped me move to the next level of speed, is to practice for a few minutes at the new faster speed, getting your fingers accustomed to moving that fast even if initially, you’re accuracy is not quite as good. Then return to a speed you can play accurately keeping the hand relaxed and your right hand-form anchored & stationary. Banjo Ben’s lesson is dead-on and can be used to make a “loop” and do scales with it. The crazy thing about FMB, is that it is a great joy to listen to it done well, but it can be pure torture to listen to someone playing faster than their ability will allow with a lot of mistakes. Let’s all join together to keep the Banjo in high-esteem and play as cleanly as we possibly can! Happy Picking!

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Great post!

Hi Banjo Ben,
I’m new to your site and only been playing for 2 years. I was going through the FMBD lesson but can only find tabs for Alternative Thumb, Hammer and different variations. I’m looking for the tab and lesson to play the entire song. Can you tell me where to find it on your site, please?

Thank you,

Hey Steve! Welcome to the forum!

FMBD still has a copyright on it, so Ben hasn’t released it yet. He’s working on being able to teach such material, but it’s really complicated with a lot of lawyer jibberish and site programming details.

Now, no promises, but if you’re a gold pick member, Ben has been known to privately email lessons that used to be posted that he has since removed for copyright reasons. If you send him an email, he just might send you the tabs if that’s one he’s tabbed out already.

I just did a quick Google search and found a few examples, none of which I would consider 100% accurate, but then again, that song has hundreds of variations, so they’ll probably all work.

Hey Steve, If you purchase Earl Scruggs book “Earl Scruggs & the Five-Stringed Banjo”, You’ll find the FMBD Tab exactly like Earl played it along with many other classic songs he played. Might find a copy on Amazon used / cheap. Anyways, it’s a great book to have in your library. I recommend it anyways. Happy Picking!!

Hi Guys, thanks so much for all the help. It was more information then I could hope for. I will pick up the book off of Amazon. I wasn’t aware of the legal issues surrounding the piece.

I’m 55 and been picking just 2 years. I found an older women by the name of Patsy that teaches me once a week. I found this web site just 6 weeks ago and I have learned a ton more. I’m trying so hard to pick up speed and be accurate. Thats harder to do then it sounds.

Thanks again guys!