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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Three finger or Clawhammer?

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banjozalm - Posted - 12/15/2008:  07:29:20

When I started playing banjo I learned Scruggs style from a local musician who was a part-time banjo player. After several months I became a decent intermediate player. The Scruggs style led me to start playing melodic/fiddle style which I really fell in love with. It's so much fun to play fiddle tunes with a group of friends.

I thought I was going to stick with three finger until I started seeing more and more clawhammer players at folk festivals and such. I decided to try and learn it and after a few more months I was hooked. After a lot of thought I chose to stick with clawhammer and drop three finger for the most part. A couple weeks ago I picked up my banjo and started messing around with three finger again and now I can't stop.

I just can't seem to make a decision. I want to be good at both styles but I'd like to make one of them my main style. I can't keep switching back and forth because it takes a lot of time to warm up to playing one style from the other. I really need help! Any suggestions?

Zachary Dale Almaguer

chip arnold - Posted - 12/15/2008:  08:01:41

The better you get with both styles, the less you'll need warm up time. Play the way you feel at the moment and it'll all fall into place. If you became a "decent intermediate player" after several months, you'll be mastering both styles in no time ;-) If you end up with a "main style". it will have chosen itself.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

chip arnold - Posted - 12/15/2008:  08:06:46

If you like fiddle style banjo, check out the master: and

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

Bill Rogers - Posted - 12/15/2008:  08:56:55

Jim Pankey -- WildJimbo on BHO-- is a master of both styles. Keep after both and you'll get there.


chip arnold - Posted - 12/15/2008:  09:09:36

Jim Pankey's homepage.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

darryl k. - Posted - 12/15/2008:  10:50:53

same problem here. My solution has been to focus on O.T. picking styles, two finger ( Chip Arnold ) ) and O.T. three finger. I really like Tony Ellis, and he has a great book. These styles have the O.T. feel, but the easier ( for me) finger style.
Some folks get very good at both.....but again how much practice time? I also try to keep up on finger and flat pick guitar.
To do both requires packing along two banjos to gigs. I know you can play both on any banjo, but in my opinion certain banjos are suited better for certain styles.

You only need two tools in life - WD-40 and Duct Tape. If it doesn''t move and should, use WD-40. If it shouldn''t move and does, use duct tape. If neither works, try beer.

J.D. Miner Trio

Bill Rogers - Posted - 12/15/2008:  10:54:14

Someone who actively played both styles at gigs and wanted an openback for clawhammer, could get a Deering with a popoff resonator--or a Weymann Megaphonic.


rkbarry - Posted - 12/15/2008:  11:23:36

I'm in the same boat and have decided to do both. I learned BG a long time ago and am now adding OT/CH. It adds so much color and interest! I don't think there is a reason to choose one unless you are in a particular hurry to get into top performance form in one in a short time. If not, why choose? If you are going to try to make a living off of it you may want to just stick with one until you have mastery. If you have a daytime job, just learn both.

Also, regarding banjos for this sort of thing, Jason Romero can make you a banjo that can do both - with a pop-off resonator. He is going to be making one for me in the spring. It will have 21 frets and a small scoop.

dixie kiwi - Posted - 12/15/2008:  12:39:14

I'm really surprised more players do not play cross-over styles. I've been learning BG, some Kentucky 2-finger and OT for over a year and it's great. If the magic ain't there pickin my Gibson, I can usually fix that by frailin the Ramsey! I also like learning the same songs in both styles. My current blog discusses this. My teacher just laughs and says I still don't the half of banjo as he is also into jazz, dixieland, irish, etc. Yeah, these banjos are pretty versatile gizmos, aye.

Regarding the equipment, unless you are in a jam environment, it don't really matter. Sometimes I like to frail on my Scruggs and pick the Ramsey! My Goodtimes is great for both styles too.


Pitts - Posted - 12/15/2008:  18:50:14

Why is there always such a big deal made about resonator banjos being strictly for Bluegrass, and openbacks for OT? There's really not a whole lot of difference. In fact, many of the great old-timers(Wade Ward, Uncle Dave Macon, Roscoe Holcomb, Wade Mainer, and George Pegram, to name a very few) played resonator banjos. Not picking a fight, or meaning to hijack the thread. Just curious.

Hot Dog!

chip arnold - Posted - 12/15/2008:  19:27:50

My guess is that it started during the folk revival. Pete Seeger played an openback and everyone wanted to be Pete. All the old guys I knew either had or wanted to have a big, heavy, tone rung, resonated banjo. The little mail order openbacks were plentiful in the mountains not because they were everyones ideal but because they were cheap and money for extras like banjos was scarce in most households. Now there's a whole generation that thinks it isn't authentic if it's not an openback. On the other hand, lots of absolutely beautiful openbacks are being made today and tonerngs are plentiful. Everything ebbs and flows. Also, notice that your list of resonator players were all finger pickers. (Wade also played clawhammer) and a louder banjo with better projection is a big help for pickless finger picking.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

Pitts - Posted - 12/16/2008:  11:42:06

Thanks for straightening me out, Chip!

Hot Dog!

chip arnold - Posted - 12/16/2008:  12:49:55

I play a resonator banjo ;-) The difference a resonator makes has much more to do with projection and volume than with tone. Most resonator banjos, espescially bluegrass type banjos, have heavy tone rings and other setup factors that create the dreaded non plunk sound. Take the resonator off and it'll sound pretty much the same. The picks worn by bluegrass pickers also add to the bright and sometimes harsh tone. Have a listen to some of the sound files on my music page. All played on either an OME or a Baldwin with resonators and tone rings. They're not plunky but they're not bluegrassy sounding either. Like Pitt said, a lot of the old guys played them.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

vernob - Posted - 12/17/2008:  01:25:05

In the end, we all just play music. I prefer to think of myself as a musician. Along the way, I've played piano, cornet, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica, jaw harp, dobro. It's all fun. I suppose since I'm on the Banjo Hangout, I'm supposed to talk like I'm a banjo player and then further refine in and say I play OT or BG, or CH or 2 finger. Whatever. It's just music.

Bruce Vernon

"A gentleman is a man who knows how to play the banjo, but chooses not to." - Mark Twain

"Don''t worry about mistakes. There aren''t any." - Miles Davis

tfaux - Posted - 12/17/2008:  04:52:54

Originally posted by vernob

Along the way, I've played piano, cornet, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica, jaw harp, dobro. It's all fun.

The great musicologist Mantle Hood thought it was a shame that more people aren't bi-musical.

vrteach - Posted - 12/19/2008:  12:44:27

I would really like to be able to do 3-finger as well as clawhammer, but I find myself really tensing up whenever I try those bluegrass rolls. My natural 3-finger arpeggio on banjo fits 3/4 time, so I do sometimes use it to accompany waltzes for which I don't play the melody in CH (most of them). It makes a nice change from doing bum-ditty-ditty.

I'm perhaps a little more likely to try the classical 3-finger banjo route.

Erich -- There''s always room for cello..
U of Illinois-Springfield Old Time Music

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