Double Thumbing


The double thumbing technique we will use works like this: You will play a note on either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th string with your thumb. This will be followed by 3 more notes: 1st string played by the middle finger, 5th string played by the thumb, and 1st string played by the middle finger again.

It should probably be pointed out that double thumbing is really not used too often in bluegrass banjo playing. It is presented here more as an exercise to familiarize beginners with the alternating thumb, which is an integral part of bluegrass playing. In subsequent levels the double thumbing will be replaced with more advanced rolls. Having said all of that, it is a style that has been used by many over the years and is a nice old-time technique to know how to play.

Here’s how the tablature looks:


If you’re not used to using tablature, don’t be overwhelmed by seeing so many notes. Just look at the first 4 notes and compare that pattern with what is described above. In the example above there are 4 measures and the 4-note pattern is repeated twice in each measure, so the pattern is repeated 8 times.

Notice that your thumb constantly rotates between one of the middle strings then back to the 5th string, and in between each of those notes played by the thumb you are playing the 1st string with your middle finger.

Remember when you learned the pinch in the previous exercise and each of the notes were quarter notes? In double thumbing all of the notes are eighth notes, so it takes 8 of these notes to fill up a measure. Eighth notes are twice as fast (relatively speaking) as quarter notes, so a measure made up of all eighth notes would be counted as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, while a measure made up of quarter notes would be simply counted as “1-2-3-4.”


In the next exercise double thumbing is used to play a simple song, “Goodnight, Ladies.” The double thumbing pattern remains the same throughout. The chord diagrams above the tablature represent the chords that you should be holding with your left hand. If you are able to, try playing along with one of the midi files. If you have trouble playing along, at least listen to the midi files to make sure you know how it is supposed to sound.


The following exercise combines the pinch and double thumbing, still using the song “Goodnight, Ladies.” Combining different techniques makes for a more interesting arrangement. Remember that the notes associated with the pinch are quarter notes (1/4)and those with the double thumbing roll are eighth notes (1/8).

Be sure to listen to the midi files to hear the correct timing.

1/4 notes have a single unattached line going straight down.

1/8 notes are connected together in pairs.