Tab: Foggy Mountain Breakdown

About a year ago I started going to a local bluegrass meet, held monthly at the Red Lion pub, Wolvercote, near Oxford. The group comprises of some impressive fiddle, mandolin and banjo players, and they effortlessly play many bluegrass standards, including some cool instrumentals such as The Cherokee Shuffle and Angeline The Baker.

Keen to join in, I listened out for a tune I could quickly master, and one that would be played often. I was looking for something with a simple sequence, a really good hook, and it also needed to make me sound clever! Needless to say, I came across my first party piece quite quickly. It was on my second visit, the night was really cooking, they had a double bass player in and plenty of soloists, and as a rousing rendition of Blue Moon of Kentucky finished one of the better banjo players kicked off Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I was hooked.

Foggy Mountain Breakdown was written by the bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, who is the man behind the way most people play bluegrass banjo, heck they even call the picking technique "Scruggs style"! Earl had originally played in Bill Monroe’s band, in fact he had been the first banjo player in the group, as banjo was considered to put "sand in the gears", and the one thing Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys hated more than anything else was playing slow! However, Scruggs was a prodigy, he was to Bluegrass banjo what Keith Richards is to rhythm guitar, and he showed the world how to add a bit of lightning to your playing!

There might have also been a subliminal reason for me latching onto Foggy Mountain Breakdown, as I learnt not so long ago that it is used as the background music for the car chase in the movie Bonnie and Clyde, but I digress, let's talk about playing the song.

The Roll

After the playing had finished, I had a chat with the guy who had so effortlessly played Foggy Mountain Breakdown and I said I’d like to learn it. He was more than happy to talk about his playing and went on to give me one very important piece of advice about the way you pick the initial banjo roll. "You see", he said, "it's basically starts with a forward roll, but you play the third note with your thumb instead of your index finger". I tried it out, and it really does change the feel of the main riff, as the thumb gives it that extra punch! It does take a bit of practice, but it's worth getting your head around.

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  I   M   T   M   T   I   M   T

The Tab

There are already many tabbed versions of Foggy Mountain Breakdown out there on the internet, but I guess one more can't hurt :)

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  I   M   T   M   T   I   M   T    I   M   T   M   T   I   M   T    
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 I   M   T   M   T   I   M   T    I       T   I   M   I   T     
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         M       I       T        T   I   M   T   M   I   T   M 

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 T   M   T   I   M   I   T   M    T   M   T   I   M   I   T
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         M       I       T        T   I   M   T   M   I   T   M
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 T   M   T   I   M   I   T   M    T   M   T   I   M   I   T
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T        I   M   T   I   M   T    I   M   T   M   T   I   M   T
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 I       T   I   M   I   T   M    T      M/T      T      M/T


Finally, I found this on youtube, filmed in the year of my birth, it's fantastic!


  1. Where I can Find the chords, mandolin tabs, or sheet music for Flogging Molly's Tobacco Island?
    I'm learning mandolin and my ear still isn't finely tuned enough bluegrass banjo tabs to get them all from listening to the song, but I'd really like to learn to play Flogging Molly's "Tobacco Island", especially the jig at the end. If anyone can help me, it'd be great.


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About Me

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years, at first playing in indie bands, followed by a long stint playing rockabilly on the streets of Oxford, a short excursion into dance music, followed by looking at early blues styles. Now after a few years of listening to Dylan, Guthrie, and early Americana I find myself in possession of a banjo, and I'm addicted! Currently I play Banjo and Guitar in an Oxford based group called Swindlestock, you can hear our music our myspace page.

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