By the dropping of my thumb, Something frailing this way comes.

Greetings from big sky country! I have been frailing for about 6 months now. Positively in love with the YouTube videos and website!  The daily frail with Patrick is now a big part of my day! Thank you!
Anyhow, having trouble mastering the drop thumb technique. Any pointers? Follow up question: is drop thumbing truly necessary? Seems to this novice frailer to be more style than substance.


Ps which of your books is a must read for guy like me? Want to buy one. Which one should I start with?

Dear Old Dad and I have covered drop-thumb more than a few times over the years.

That should give you some instructional stuff to work with.

Is drop-thumb necessary? That is really a matter of opinion. Your best bet is to learn the technique and use it however you see fit.

Do I use drop-thumb? Not often. in my opinion the technique has become the Dogs Playing Poker of old time banjo.

His Station and 4 Aces

On one hand, Dogs Playing Poker is a fun series of paintings. They have a kitschy kind of charm.

On the other hand, Dogs Playing Poker has been so overused in decorative items as a symbol of American bad taste that the sixteen paintings do not even qualify as a novelty item anymore. We have seen too many of these paintings in too many situations of forced whimsy or nostalgia. The end result of that overexposure we are desensitized to the images. They are no longer cute, funny, offensive or anything else. They simply exist – which is the worst thing that can happen to art.

It is the same with drop-thumb. The technique itself can be useful and sometimes beautiful, but it has been so overused, overemphasized and over-hyped that it has lost nearly all of its impact. With all of the weird fakelore and online pontificating surrounding the technique lately I get the sinking feeling that using drop-thumb has become more a matter of knuckling under to peer pressure than an artistic choice – which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

Do you need to learn drop thumb? Yes – but start out using the technique as a rhythmic variation before you start using it for melody notes. As you develop your skills you can at some point make a logical rather than emotional decision concerning where, when and how you use the technique.

To answer your question about my books, all of them are freely available under Creative Commons Licenses. You can find links to all of them here. Use the free stuff for a while and then decide for yourself which is a must-read.

Oh my aching head

On top of yesterdays news that I am fighting yet another ear infection  I also had to make a trip to see my neurologist because my headaches have been getting worse.

To make a long story short, the medicines I had been taking were not doing the job anymore so he switched me to some new stuff including a comically frightening looking injection pen that I am supposed to stab into my leg when a headache starts à la Nicolas Cage in The Rock.

stabs the needle

Instructions and warnings on the needle contraption brought Happy Fun Ball to mind, but the stuff seems to work. The initial shot hurts like hell, but I was able to get my first decent night of sleep in weeks.

This morning the headache is creeping back and the antibiotics have me feeling miserable so I am planning to turn the computer off and spend this warm and rainy January day watching bad movies while sharing a big pot of lapsang souchong tea with Quinoa the hedgehog. The pain is not fun, but I think of it along the lines of what Herman Melville wrote about contrasts:

truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.
~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Yes my migraines and the stuff going on with my ears can be horribly painful, but the pain provides a contrast that makes me appreciate and find cause to celebrate the good things in my life.

I’m off to make a pot of tea. See you all tomorrow.

God bless,

In with the old . . .

Dear Old Dad called me today with the exciting news that he had not only found all of the DV tapes from our years running The Down Neck Gazette, but he had also found the master files for Old Time Banjo With Pat & Patrick.

This means that we will finally, after more than thirteen years, be able to offer these workshops in the original broadcast quality video.

It also means that we will be able to make previously unreleased performances, lessons and interviews available.

Look for the release of Old Time Banjo With Pat & Patrick on DVD this summer!

Come To Me

Steve writes :

Hi Patrick sorry to see that you are still having ear troubles.
I pray that they will improve soon. Here’s a little love song I wrote with my wife in mind but also like a little prayer meditation.

callus love

Hey Patrick;

I’ve developed a wicked set of calluses on my left-hand fingertips. Sometimes when attempting to do pull-offs, the string gets caught on my callus and ruins the effect. Do you have any advice here? File off the calluses, quit playing till they go away (that’s NEVER happen! 😉 or something else? What do you do?

Take care now,


I use light gauge strings on my guitars and banjos so I never have developed much in the way of calluses.

Back in the 80’s every good picker I met encouraged me to use light strings. Even when it came to my honking huge Dobro 33H guitar, every cool old dude told me to use electric guitar strings so that I wouldn’t tear up my hands.

Anyway, if you do by chance callus up your fingertips my advice is to smooth them down with an emory board.

Wow . . . I just advised emory to Emory! How many times can that happen in a lifetime?