Rocky Top DBX Etude

I’ve owed this to @Jacklr for quite some time in efforts to atone for derailing one of his threads about “DBX things to practice that aren’t rolls”.

Also, more recently I’ve promised this to @Scottulus to give him something besides Tumeni Notes to practice :slight_smile:

Playing is not flawless but hopefully some people enjoy having a DBX thing to work on that actually sounds like music and isn’t an exercise.

Tabs here

(slight differences from what I played, but I’m starting to really be done with playing anything note-perfect these days)


With the boys breaking’ probation across county lines, and Hogg’s eye on the farm, just how is uncle Jesse gun get himself offa this hot tin roof.

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I should do a voice over and upload again :man_facepalming: hindsight…

Only if you can narrate like Waylon Jennings. I’m actually just bumping your thread because I think you did a really good job on it.


Very cool and well played. Thank you.

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Thank you very much for this, @joebegly! I’ve had some VERY limited success with DBX practicing individual picking patterns. It’s a weird experience having to start over every time I try to learn a new pattern, very different from USX and DSX where I just learned the motion and it worked everywhere.

When I started practicing this etude, a few parts were pretty easy, since I had already learned those picking patterns, but other parts felt impossible. After a few days, I’m finally starting to get the whole tune under control.

It finally feels like I can actually play a piece of music with DBX instead of it being a party trick that only works in a few specific situations.

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I’m floored to hear that! Makes me think I should open up my “next” DBX etude to the public :slight_smile: I’ve got to get a little better at playing that one, plus make the tabs.

Or maybe I’ll go ultra raw and make a “diary” type thread for that one.

I don’t know if this is to be expected or it’s an indication I’m doing it wrong, but I’ve had a similar experience. There are certain “moves” where I feel like the motion needs to change a little. I notice this mostly in places where the changes are not “adjacent”. String skips, forward rolls etc. For the adjacent stuff, my hand looks and feels like it’s just going back and forth. In other words, I’m not doing anything consciously to clear the strings. It seems to happen by black magic, which means the motion is just inherently curved (slightly) I guess.

Once string skips enter, that’s a slight interruption to something. The way I see it is I have 3 1/2 choices

  1. “Reach” for the note via the wrist’s natural range of motion. This means in the middle of a bunch of pick strokes that are the same size, I need a “bigger” one, suddenly. I don’t like that. It can work but I feel it may also jeopardize accuracy and possibly hand sync (maybe).
    1.5. Engineer some swiping instead of trying to clear the string here. Steve Morse, who is AMAZING, swipes a lot. He has tons of accurate clean changes, but a portion of most of his playing has some swipes. I’ve notices he tends to just stay parked in a location that span 3 to 4 strings, and he just uses the wrist’s range of motion to reach what he needs. Sometimes in these situations he swipes.
  2. Use a slight amount of forearm rotation. I notice this on descending inside changes (point where a forward roll begins again). I see Andy Wood and Anton Oparin do this enough that it makes me think this is a legit way to solve it
  3. Introduce some tracking with the elbow or shoulder. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone do this on “small” skips, but I’ve seen it on big skips (Oparin). But I messed with it some the other week on Tumeni Notes types of patterns and liked what I felt. To me it was actually similar to a “tremolo” that gets moved around where it needs to go, sort of like a robotic arm. This intrigues me.

Either way you slice it, yes, I think there is a little more to DBX than what we’re used to in the continuous (i.e. single escape) USX/DSX playing we’re used to. It’s not going to be a motion that just goes back and forth like a motor, which is what our tremolo should be. The closest thing to that would be my option #3 and still with that, there’s “something else to worry about” (i.e. the frequent tracking).

All I know is, it’s a really fun technique :slight_smile: I’m glad I put some time into because even though I could easily fingerpick rocky top, it just doesn’t sound the same. Even with nails. That pick articulation we can get with DBX is just beautiful.


Yes, I think it could have something to do with the amount of string tracking that needs to be coordinated with the actual picking motion. It may be something inherent to the technique, which would be quite ironic considering that DBX seems like the one tecnique that allows you to alternate pick anything.

The first pattern I learned was the classic four string ascending and descending loop. I was pretty excited when I realized that I could actually play it fast, but I quickly realized that it was the only thing I could do. Just starting on the highest string of the pattern (which reverses the pickstrokes) made everything fall apart.

In one of the Andy Wood interviews, Troy asks Andy to play exactly this pattern. Andy says he would start it with an upstroke (converting it back into the same picking pattern as if starting on the low string), and actually kind of struggles to start with a downstroke. So I don’t think we’re doing something wrong, this may simply be the way learning DBX works.

Anyway, the etude uses this pattern in a few places, so I’ve had an opportunity to practice it. In the last two or three days, I had a few good repetitions before losing the technique again. Today was the first time I could play it mostly consistently.

So while this kind of learning can be frustrating, it also feels great to see the progress, even in small increments. It’s also a completely different experience from the commonly taught “start slow, keep it clean and gradually speed up”, which never really got me anywhere.

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lol yes! Everyone thinks that DBX is the “best” motion. Magic always comes at a price…

Same here actually!

That’s comforting!


Yes, we have to work hard to abolish this dogma! Honestly the biggest setbacks I have with DBX are thinking since I’ve got the motion, it’s ok to slow it WAY down and clean stuff up. Below a certain speed, which I’ve yet to identify, the motion changes.

Also, I can do a couple different versions of wrist DBX. I do not have the same level of proficiency with them all though. I can get them all above the zone where I know they aren’t string hopping, but only 2 of them can I get to my fastest DBX. Which on the best days can hit Tumeni Notes speeds, but other days…it can’t. Still a work in progress, but I just started DBX March '22 and I’m just an amateur. I’m pleased with the progress, but Andy Wood is in no danger of losing work to me :slight_smile: I’ll get there…I don’t expect to be a boss at this after what I think was a short time (though the motion itself, I found within a week and documented it here ). I’m in the longer phase of refining.

But anyway, there are varying degrees of efficiency with this technique. We need to really push the speed to make sure we’ve got the good one.

I know what I’m trying next :smiley:

I keep going between feeling like I’m getting somewhere and then thinking I’m doing it wrong, I’m finding learning DBX very confusing, makes learning single escape look easy in comparison!

My new approach is starting with a DSX tremolo and then turning the hand until the pick escapes are more neutral and then trying to really exaggerate the upstrokes and downstrokes. Feel like I’m getting somewhere with this but who knows, the motion definitely isn’t learned yet and I feel like I occasionally fall back into DSX which messes me up. Any of this sound plausible? :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


All sounds about right to me. I do the DSX tremolo all the time when warming up DBX stuff. For 1, it’s a great sanity check into how easy the motion itself is. 2, if we’re doing an RDT type of motion, Troy recently explained in the Primer that a DSX motion and a DBX motions aren’t really all that different.

There was this awesome part in one of his videos where he thought he was playing DSX and upon review his motion was actually curved and escaping in both directions. That made me take a step back…the best person on the planet at doing all these motions and who is hyper aware of what-makes-it-what essentially faked himself out. And I think that’s what trips most people up about this technique. At least, from the RDT standpoint. The motion seemingly doesn’t need to change to escape both directions. It’s not much different that moving the pick back and forth. Assuming the fairly neutral posture and making that particular joint motion is enough to get the pick moving the way it needs to.

If that sounds at odds with all the stuff I wrote above about the challenges between this and single escape motion…well…maybe it is lol! Or maybe the truth that’s in there is that the core motion that we’d use in wrist based DBX is fairly straightforward. It’s the implications involved with string tracking and occasional skips that requires that extra “something” that we don’t need in single escape playing.

All I know is, if anything we’re doing with DBX feels slow or effortful or fatiguing, we’ve got to tell ourselves to knock it off and stop trying to make it work. Change other stuff till it feels easier.


Great, sounds like I might be on the right track!

(You probably are aware of this but) I was re-watching the Andy Wood Mando and Acoustic workshop and Troy explained that he thinks Andy’s DSX motion is just his DBX motion minus the upward swing that helps his upstrokes escape which blew my mind. Seems to be exactly what your describing and feeling in your own playing :slight_smile:

Yeah it definitely does flatten out the faster he goes. In fact, there are clips in his electric only interview where he plays the Gilbert 6’s as fast as he can. That’s DSX lick but for some reason, he swipes even on some downstrokes.

I also saw a video on here, somewhere, where Troy and Andy talked about the extreme tension on the mandolin strings and how when the pick hits those tight strings it almost gets a “ramp” effect. Like, the stroke could’ve been sort of straight in either direction but that string makes it bounce off. It could be in my head but for the bluegrass stuff I’ll often capo up quite high and I think it gets a little easier. That has a similar effect of making the strings a little “tighter” feeling.


Funny you mention the Mandolin, last week I decided to fully go down the DBX rabbit hole and picked one up for some DBX cross-training :sweat_smile:


I’ve got one too but I probably haven’t played it for like 10 years. I didn’t even know what DBX was back then, or even the more mainstream “crosspicking”. I remember, now, hearing Petrucci talking about 1nps playing in Rock Discipline and I thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard lol! Why would someone do that to themselves??? ha! I figured sweep picking would get the job done and I never really thought about it again until I saw Troy’s Steve Morse interview. No joke, I’d written the concept off so thoroughly that I never had any clue that Steve alternate picked Tumeni Notes. I thought it was sweeping because…Why would someone do that to themselves???

Funny since currently crosspicking/DBX is the main “new thing” I work on. I’m gonna go find my mandolin…


I thought the exact same thing when Petrucci said it!! “Alt picking 1nps is for pretty chords” But I did consider when I first saw the tab for Tumeni Notes. Not the high arpps but the low chords one. I still learned it (poorly) with sweeps but the lower chords seemed better fit for alt.

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I think I’ve noticed the same thing. I tried playing this etude on an electric guitar with a set of nines and it felt more difficult than on an acoustic with elevens. And I also thought it got even easier when I actually put a capo on the fourth fret like the tab says.

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Ha, so I found my mandolin. Surprisingly it was almost in tune and the strings aren’t rusted lol! OMG though I’ve been playing it all weekend and it’s so much fun. I can easily see how this helps encourage DBX. There are so many things I can play on it that just sort of look after themselves without me even having to think about it being DBX. For me, I’ve found that Morse grip/setup is perfect. I’ve had some success with an Andy Wood or even Chris Thile setup too, but the Morse way just feels better.

To be clear, this is an alien instrument to me. Whatever I did on it 10+ years ago was I think just adding a pretty slow melody in some acoustic song I was recording. That’s about all I’ve ever done with a mandolin. The fretting feels weird since the neck is so tiny (plus obviously the notes are laid out differently) but the picking feels so comfortable, yet different from guitar picking. Just what I needed, some other shiny object to distract me…

Nice one!

I love the layout of the fretboard in general, scales and arpeggios work out great. I’m sure I could easily come up with loads of lines for single and double escape :grin:

I think I can get some DBX going a bit more naturally on it but I never feel locked in to the same extent that I do with single escape. To me, single escape is like turning on a motor and once it’s on, that’s it, it just works! Never feels like that with DBX to me, accuracy is very hit and miss with no reliability.

That’s the other thing I noticed, just messing around with things. Little melodies seem to almost write themselves. Albeit, the little melodies I am coming up with sound totally stock lol!

Yep, I know what you mean. I think to some extent the best DBX advice is to have great fretting hand “safety” type of muting since little accuracy errors can happen so easily. Under the magnet, there are places where Steve Morse swipes in both directions (still he’s mostly clean) but he always sounds great.

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