Frailing Strum, Basic Technique, cont’d


In music everything from the notes you play to the rests where you don’t play anything has a time value attached to it. That time value is defined as rhythm. Without rhythm the notes would have no context and everything would just come out like noise.

We break music up into measures with a specific number of beats. A beat is the term we use to describe the pulse of the music. The number of beats in a measure is dictated by the time signature.

The time signature tells us how many beats are played in a measure or group of measures. A time signature like 4/4 indicates that we will play four beats to a measure (4/) and that each beat will have the value of a quarter note (/4).

If the time signature was 3/4 it would indicate three beats to a measure (3/) and that each beat will have the value of a quarter note (/4).

6/8 indicates that each measure will have six beats (6/) and that each beat will have the value of an eighth note (/8).

whole note A whole note is just that, a note that is counted for the whole value of the measure.

half note A half note has one half the time value of a whole note.

quarter note A quarter note has one half the time value of a half note.

eighth note An eighth note has one half the time value of a quarter note.

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.

bump dit-ty in notation

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.


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:

bump dit-ty in tab

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.

Example One:

example one

In this pattern we are playing a frailing strum on each string in succession. Hitting the first string is easy, but hitting the second, third and fourth strings with consistency will require some practice.

One thing that might make it easier is to remember that your wrist isn’t moving to hit the inside strings. To find those strings just roll your forearm until the string you want to play is right under your middle fingernail. Remember to keep your thumb on the fifth string. You will notice that the webbing between your thumb and index finger opens and closes as your hand moves over the strings.

Once you get this one down cold try reversing the pattern so that you start on the fourth and end at the first.

Example Two:

example two

This is basically the same idea as the first pattern, but this time we are focusing on alternating from the first to the fourth string.

Spend some time with this one because you will be using this pattern quite a bit later on.

Example Three:

example two

Here we are working on alternating between the inside and outside strings.

Example Four:

example three

This is, without a doubt, the single most important practice run in this chapter. Maybe even in the entire book.

This pattern of alternating from the third to the fourth string is going to wind up being your “fall-back” position for backup techniques later on so spend some quality time working on it now.

Practice these right hand patterns until you can do them almost by reflex before you start experimenting with chords.