Drop thumb is probably the most talked about technique in old time banjo, but it’s also the most misunderstood. People make a lot of fuss about drop thumb and the simple fact of the matter is that it’s nothing more than another way to break a note in half and turn the basic frailing strum into a string of eighth notes.

Example One

ex 1

In this example we have a measure with two basic frailing strums followed by a measure of drop thumb.

Here’s what’s going on: when you play a drop thumb you are striking a string, in this case the first, with your middle fingernail and then swinging your thumb down to pluck another string. In this case we are thumbing the second string.

After the thumb note we strike with the middle fingernail again and follow that up with the thumb on the fifth string.

This gives you a string of eighth notes.

The count for this example is 1 2& 3 4&, 1& 2& 3& 4&.

Example Two

ex 2

The drop thumb isn’t limited to any particular string. In the second measure you will notice that we are playing the first and third strings.

The count is 1& 2& 3& 4&, 1& 2& 3& 4&.

Example Three

ex 3

In this example we are changing the drop thumb slightly by playing a brush-strum after the thumb note.

The count is 1& 2& 3& 4&, 1& 2& 3& 4&.

This is a good technique to know and it has it’s uses, but don’t believe all of the hype surrounding the drop thumb.

This technique looks cool in action but it has a nasty way of throwing your right hand rhythm completely out of whack. That’s why we recommend fretting hand techniques (slides, hammer-on’s and pull-off’s) or picking hand techniques like double thumbing to play eighth notes. You can apply those techniques without breaking the stream of the rhythm. Drop thumb almost always throws off the rhythm unless you have trulys mastered your right hand technique.

It’s not a bad technique just use it judiciously.