Week #151 ~ Foggy Mountain Breakdown

  1. Barbara Shultz
    Barbara Shultz
    I can easily post the winner early this week.... even though tomorrow IS St. Patrick's Day, this week's winner is a bluegrass tune.... Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

    Ya'll all probably know by now, that bluegrass is not my genre, so it would be great if those bluegrassers out there, can contribute some more info!

    From Wikipedia:

    "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" is a bluegrass music instrumental by the bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs.[1] It is a standard in the bluegrass repertoire. Banjo players consider the ability to deliver a convincing rendition of this piece the mark of an intermediate-level banjo player. Because of its ubiquity and its status as a favorite song at bluegrass jams and concerts, guitar and mandolin players commonly learn solo breaks to this song that closely mirror the original banjo version.

    It is used as background music in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie and Clyde, especially in the car chase scenes, and has been used in a similar manner in many other films and television programs, particularly when depicting a pursuit scene in a rural setting.[2]

    It was written by Earl Scruggs and recorded in 1949 by Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, with Scruggs playing a Gibson Granada five-string banjo. It is closely related to Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Breakdown" which Earl helped to write. It featured the same opening double hammer-on, but "Bluegrass Breakdown" goes to an F major chord whereas Foggy Mountain Breakdown goes to the G major chord's relative minor, an E minor chord. The most recognizable part of this song is the slide on the fourth string of the banjo from the first fret to the second forming the E minor chord.

    Many five-string banjo players[who?] consider "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" one of the instrument's fastest and most rhythmically challenging pieces. Only very skilled five-string banjo players can play it at the same speed and beat that Scruggs can.[citation needed]

    Scruggs won a Grammy award in 2002 for the 2001 recording of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", which featured among others, actor and comedian Steve Martin on second banjo, Albert Lee, Travis Tritt, and Vince Gill on guitars, Marty Stuart on mandolin, and Paul Shaffer on piano.[3]

    In 1968, both the 1949 Mercury records version and a newly recorded Columbia version were listed at one position of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #55.

    In 2004, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.[4]


    Here is a great video from David Letterman "Men with Banjos who Know How to Use Them". I gotta confess, I do love me some awesome banjo pickin!

    I did see a mandolin in the background!

    I found this notation and mandolin tab.

    Here is a link Bluegrass College Mandolin Fakebook, which has a link to notation and mandolin tab.

    Let the fun begin!
  2. OldSausage
    I'm not playing much this week because my finger hurts. Here's me playing this one a few years back with the Buncombe String Band and doing a terrible job. I don't even seem to be able to keep my chop in time. Note how we get slower and slower as it goes on. Still, it is what it is.

  3. OldSausage
    Also, I think this is a much better Letterman show performance of the tune than the one above, and Marty Stewart does a nice mandolin solo in it. Albert Lee is not too shabby either. Seems like very few bands get through this tune without a few timing issues - but these guys hang together pretty well for a part time band

  4. Barbara Shultz
    Barbara Shultz
    OS, you're being way too hard on yourself! I enjoyed ya'lls performance!

    And.... as far as the other Earl Scruggs & friends video.... all I can say is... WOW! I am forever humbled by all their performances!
  5. AaronVW
    Nice work, OS! It is great to see some live performances that were not specifically intended for the SAW group. Hoping I can find time to post a tune here again soon. I've started building my first (and second) mandolin and it is unfortunately taking some time from playing. I need to try not to let that happen!
  6. jonny250
    OS you guys sound fine to my ears! It must be fun to play on stage?

    I found a nice version of this tune in the janet davis mandolin songbook so i will have a go at that... Another fine challenge for the week
  7. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin
    Barbara - your abc does not convert in the ConcertinaNet site. There may be some errors.
  8. Barbara Shultz
    Barbara Shultz
    Sorry about that! I've edited the original post, took out the faulty ABC and put in a link to some notation!
  9. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin
    There are 4 versions in mandozine; this is the easiest written by Joe Carr in1978. It is also the trditionalmusic notation version. I have altered the first bar in each Em section to include the banjo slide that makes the tune so distinctive.

  10. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Very nice Maudlin! Here's my version of Foggy Mtn Breakdown with lots of sliding double stops!

  11. Marcelyn
    All I can say is that I hope I'm as bad in ten years as you think you are in that video David. Great show, and I hope your finger gets better fast.
    MM, you're so quick at picking up this tune. That's a great version, and I think the slide was an excellent addition.
    Michael, I'm blown away! They'd start calling this a mandolin tune and maybe let the banjo have a break or two if more people played it like that.
  12. Mike O'Connell
    Mike O'Connell
    Very nice, Michael. Quick and clean. Easy on the ears.
  13. Michael Thompson
    Michael Thompson
    Here's a crazy version I found online.

    I'll have to get started on this song tomorrow and maybe have a vid by the end of the week, I hope.
  14. laura809
    Michael, I loved your version. I really like the use of those moving chord forms. I'm going to have to work on that. The slides are great too. Overall, that was an amazing arrangement. Maudlin, I found a lot of different versions of this tune also. I ended up learning two of them, then putting them together in an arrangement. Your version seems to have elements of both the versions I learned. It's fun to see all the variations. OS, I agree with Marcelyn. That was an excellent performance. It will be a continuing challenge for me to get this song anywhere near a tempo where I can keep up with a bluegrass band.

  15. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Very nice arrangement of FMB Laura. Trying to keep up with a bluegrass banjo player when he kicks off this tune is always a challenge (and a bit frightening especially when it's almost time to take your break.) All I can suggest is a lot of practice on the tune, a solid arrangement and remember to NOT put any licks into the tune that can't be played up tempo. I always practice a new tune slowly at first and then gradually increase the tempo until it's moving along at about 75% of where I want it to be. Once the tune can be played at faster tempo, I then start to gradually increase it some more. If I use a metronome I'll set it to click at every other beat at the extreme tempos because all those clicks on every beat just scares the heck out of me. Does anyone else have any techniques that helps them to play "up tempo"?
  16. Marcelyn
    That's a really nice sounding arrangement, Laura.
  17. fatt-dad
    oh! Bravo to All! I just didn't quite have the ear for this tune - I mean I know it, I've just never played much in this vein. Each of you all's renditions are so unique too! I guess the crazy version is unique too, but not quite as musical - ha.

    Maybe I'll give it a go. . . there's still some time in the week, eh?

  18. OldSausage
    I agree with Michael that to play fast you have to work it with the metronome. It can take a long time, weeks or even months of repetitious work, to bring a real fast tune like FMB up to speed, and familiarity and muscle memory is key. Learn just a couple of tunes really well and get them up to crazy speeds. It will smooth the path for getting fast on other tunes. As Adam Steffey says, practice it up to a faster tempo than you will play it in performance so you have some headroom. That will allow you to play fast and still think about tone and phrasing. When playing on stage you will be tempted to play louder than in practice, and increasing your volume slows you down too. You may also get excited and start having fun. This is very bad

    Also, if you're going to be playing something super fast, don't be afraid to simplify it. It sounds great to play something simple, clean and fast. Playing something complicated, messy and fast but off the beat, not so much.

    Oh, one more thought, if you're in a band situation, consider the talents of your buddies. Many otherwise perfectly competent rhythm guitarists and others you might end up playing with will not be able keep up a steady rhythm at fast speeds. Trying to play fast tunes with a less than steady backing band is miserable work that is best not attempted.
  19. laura809
    Thanks Michael and OS for the advice on speeding up tunes. I use the metronome to increase my speed, but on a really fast tune like this I am often happy just to work up to 75% of the tempo. I can't even imagine playing faster than the actual tempo of this tune to prepare for the stage! I like the idea of picking one or two tunes to focus on improving speeds. I really enjoyed this tune, so maybe I'll keep it in the practice routine and see what a few months of training my muscle memory will do for it.
  20. Tim Anderson
    Tim Anderson
    Hi gang, I wanted to add my slow beginner version. I know you all have already moved on to week 152. You all give others like myself something to strive for. I feel blessed I have you to learn from. This is the Carr version mentioned and played much better as found on mandozine.com I stumbled alot through this and at times I actually played it at a faster tempo, it will come I just need to keep at it. I tried to play this at 120 bpm, it was tabbed at 260.
  21. jonny250
    Well played!
  22. justkaron
    RIP Earl Scruggs. Mr. Scruggs died this morning in a Nashville hospital.
  23. OldSausage
    Yes, a sad loss today. But he'll never stop being an inspiration to people all over the world.
  24. Manfred Hacker
    Manfred Hacker
    Too many real Bluegrassers here to praise anyone in particular. Best versions from our usual suspects.

    Here is a Bavarian country boy trying hard to get to grips with Bluegrass.
    Band support by Band-in-a-Box:

  25. OldSausage
    Very cool Manfred - there's plenty of pickers from around here that you would shame with that fine performance
  26. sgarrity
    FMB on a Duff A5

  27. OldSausage
    Nice one Shaun!
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