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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: The Cluck


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/331917

Bluegrassjax - Posted - 06/22/2017:  16:14:41


Learning Clawhammer style and have read differing opinions on the "Cluck" sound.  Some absolutely endorse it, others have an adversity to it.  What is the take among seasoned Clawhammerists?    I'd like to hear all opinions on the topic to help me to decide whether to incorporate this sound in my playing.  I like the sound, but have heard that it becomes annoying when there's too much of it.  

twelvefret - Posted - 06/22/2017:  16:34:38


I don't care for it in my preference of a more ringing, less percussive tone.  It occurs when I have short finger nails. I use the Fred Kelly pick.

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/22/2017:  16:47:21


I love the cluck and most of the people I play with seem to like it too - though its possible that the ones that dont like it dont say anything : )



Unfortunately (perhaps) my playing has veered to all cluck all the time - I actually have a hard time doing a standard brush up to speed anymore (feels clumbsy). I vary the volume of the cluck by moving up and down the neck (seems to come out strongest at the 17thish fret) but I guess I'd suggest that others keep brushes in their repitoire.

FretlessFury - Posted - 06/22/2017:  17:15:22


 



I see the cluck as a tool, just like any other banjo technique. And with any tool, you gotta know the why's and wherefore' before you start dropping it in to your music. 



The cluck will give you a very modern sound, as it's emphasizing the 2 and 4. That's a backbeat, which is the hallmark of rock and roll snare drum. Bluegrass has a similar feel with the mandolin chop on the 2 and 4.



To recall an older feel, you gotta lose the chop. To my ears most of the old time music that I enjoy emphasizes the 1, so in general I have no use for the chop. I think sometimes the chop becomes almost like a  nervous tick: a player is so used to doing it, they can't see beyond it to create something new. 



It can also impede the flow of variations. 



But you should still know how to do it!!



 



 


jenorma1 - Posted - 06/22/2017:  20:44:29


There are ways to use the cluck tastefully (i.e. it doesnt have to appear on every 2 and 4 beat like a mandolin chuck in a bluegrass band) - I've got a fairly sparse version of Yew Piney Mountain that has a few fairly pronounced clucks in it (attached). I think they give a nice effect.



Again - I tend to replace all of my would-be brushes with clucks (or ghost strokes actually) these days...however, many tunes I play wouldnt actually have a lot of brushes in the first place : )



Overall - as Tom said, its a nice thing to have in your arsenal; once you've figured out the mechanics of it, you get to pick when to use it. 



To amend a famous quote: "A gentleman is one who can cluck, but (often) doesn't"


Edited by - jenorma1 on 06/22/2017 20:48:32


hughstrawn - Posted - 06/23/2017:  05:51:25


I've always wondered who "invented" the cluck. When, where and how did it first occur? I surmise that it was probably a missed pick; a flub caused by a poorly executed strike. Someone liked the sound so imitated it and it grew from there... When, who, where, how--I'm sure can't be determined but I sure like opinions on the issue.



hugh

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 06/23/2017:  07:43:35


quote:

Originally posted by Bluegrassjax

 

 I like the sound...







There it is.



*******************************



If you like it learn it, but be able to turn it off and on.



You should always be in control of any technique you employ.


Edited by - R.D. Lunceford on 06/23/2017 07:49:01

FretlessFury - Posted - 06/23/2017:  07:50:55


quote:

Originally posted by jenorma1

 

There are ways to use the cluck tastefully (i.e. it doesnt have to appear on every 2 and 4 beat like a mandolin chuck in a bluegrass band) - I've got a fairly sparse version of Yew Piney Mountain that has a few fairly pronounced clucks in it (attached). I think they give a nice effect.




Again - I tend to replace all of my would-be brushes with clucks (or ghost strokes actually) these days...however, many tunes I play wouldnt actually have a lot of brushes in the first place : )




Overall - as Tom said, its a nice thing to have in your arsenal; once you've figured out the mechanics of it, you get to pick when to use it. 




To amend a famous quote: "A gentleman is one who can cluck, but (often) doesn't"







If anyone wants to hear a beautiful use of the cluck, take a listen to the MP3 Jeff posted above. Awesome!!!

sellis - Posted - 06/23/2017:  07:58:17


I'm with hugh.  I started playing about 1964 in southern Oklahoma.  About the only person I ever played clawhammer banjo with was Billy Cheatwood who at that time had moved home after the Wayfarers Trio (Billy, Maon Williams and a 3rd guy) had broken up. (Several years later Billy would build the famous plexiglas guitar that Mason used with a goldfish in it to play Mason's hit "Classical Gas" on the Smother's Brothers Hour.)  I very quickly caught on to drop thumb.  There were few books until after I had learned by ear to play every banjo song on Doc Watson's 1st 6-8 albums, many New Lost City Ramblers, Hedy West, Clarence Ashley, Wade Ward, Dock Boggs and every tune on the Elektra Banjo Project. (in those days the folkies looked down on UDM, Stringbean and Grandpa.)  I did not know or care whether the original was actually clawhammer or not.  I do not remember any sound on those records that resembled the cluck



So I took a hiatus from 1992-2012.  When i started back up I found out about Midwest Banjo Camp and went in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and two Nashville house camps in 2016.  I remember a session at MWBC 2013 which I did not attend entitled "The Cluck and how to get it", but don't remember the instructor.  That was the 1st I ever heard of it, but it did catch my attention so that I began to listen and I heard it in a lot of the students' playing, but not so much the instructors, although I did hear some use of it.  I messed around trying to get it and just cannot do it .  My natural frailing style uses the middle finger with the ring finger right behind it and I have used the nail of R to dampen the string, but never get the cluck.  The last camp I went to April 2016 in Nashville Adam Hurt had a session on this and I could occasionally get it, but even right over where the 17th or 19th fret would be if I did not have a scoop.  So when I heard Jeff Norman's playing for the first time 2 years ago I was amazed at how much control he had over it



So back to hugh's (and my) question:  where does it first show up.  Are there any examples in the records of tthe old timer clawhammer banjoists Wade W., Clarence Ashley,  Tommy, Fred, Kyle?  Other old time clawhammerists?

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/23/2017:  08:30:11


quote:

Originally posted by FretlessFury

 
quote:


Originally posted by jenorma1

 


There are ways to use the cluck tastefully (i.e. it doesnt have to appear on every 2 and 4 beat like a mandolin chuck in a bluegrass band) - I've got a fairly sparse version of Yew Piney Mountain that has a few fairly pronounced clucks in it (attached). I think they give a nice effect.




Again - I tend to replace all of my would-be brushes with clucks (or ghost strokes actually) these days...however, many tunes I play wouldnt actually have a lot of brushes in the first place : )




Overall - as Tom said, its a nice thing to have in your arsenal; once you've figured out the mechanics of it, you get to pick when to use it. 




To amend a famous quote: "A gentleman is one who can cluck, but (often) doesn't"








If anyone wants to hear a beautiful use of the cluck, take a listen to the MP3 Jeff posted above. Awesome!!!







Thanks so much Tom : ) I've been watching your youtube videos for years and really love your playing too!

janolov - Posted - 06/23/2017:  08:37:19


quote:

Originally posted by sellis

 

 




So back to hugh's (and my) question:  where does it first show up.  Are there any examples in the records of tthe old timer clawhammer banjoists Wade W., Clarence Ashley,  Tommy, Fred, Kyle?  Other old time clawhammerists?







I think Fred Cockerham used a lot of clucks on Long Steel Rail: youtube.com/watch?v=O1CRRcUhqEw.

jack_beuthin - Posted - 06/23/2017:  08:55:33


The Old Woodchuck (Tony Spadaro) included a whole chapter to the cluck (he termed it the "Big Cluck") in his Rocket Science Banjo book.  No real history behind it though (if Tony was still posting, maybe he would know some history).  To echo what has been said here, Tony stated, "...no one I've ever taught to do The Big Cluck, has been unable to call it off whenever they wish to do so."



My opinion/taste: I like the cluck when used judiciously, as in Jeff's really fine rendition of Yew Piney Mountain.  When overused, I find it not so much annoying as distracting (which can become annoying).  Slides can be overdone too.



Mastery seems to involve not only the ability to play a lick, but knowing when to use it, and when not to use it.



 



 



 


Edited by - jack_beuthin on 06/23/2017 08:57:51

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/23/2017:  08:57:42


quote:




Originally posted by sellis

 

I'm with hugh.  I started playing about 1964 in southern Oklahoma.  About the only person I ever played clawhammer banjo with was Billy Cheatwood who at that time had moved home after the Wayfarers Trio (Billy, Maon Williams and a 3rd guy) had broken up. (Several years later Billy would build the famous plexiglas guitar that Mason used with a goldfish in it to play Mason's hit "Classical Gas" on the Smother's Brothers Hour.)  I very quickly caught on to drop thumb.  There were few books until after I had learned by ear to play every banjo song on Doc Watson's 1st 6-8 albums, many New Lost City Ramblers, Hedy West, Clarence Ashley, Wade Ward, Dock Boggs and every tune on the Elektra Banjo Project. (in those days the folkies looked down on UDM, Stringbean and Grandpa.)  I did not know or care whether the original was actually clawhammer or not.  I do not remember any sound on those records that resembled the cluck




So I took a hiatus from 1992-2012.  When i started back up I found out about Midwest Banjo Camp and went in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and two Nashville house camps in 2016.  I remember a session at MWBC 2013 which I did not attend entitled "The Cluck and how to get it", but don't remember the instructor.  That was the 1st I ever heard of it, but it did catch my attention so that I began to listen and I heard it in a lot of the students' playing, but not so much the instructors, although I did hear some use of it.  I messed around trying to get it and just cannot do it .  My natural frailing style uses the middle finger with the ring finger right behind it and I have used the nail of R to dampen the string, but never get the cluck.  The last camp I went to April 2016 in Nashville Adam Hurt had a session on this and I could occasionally get it, but even right over where the 17th or 19th fret would be if I did not have a scoop.  So when I heard Jeff Norman's playing for the first time 2 years ago I was amazed at how much control he had over it




So back to hugh's (and my) question:  where does it first show up.  Are there any examples in the records of tthe old timer clawhammer banjoists Wade W., Clarence Ashley,  Tommy, Fred, Kyle?  Other old time clawhammerists?







Thanks Stew!



I dont know the precendent for clucking in old time - I'll have to sift through Kyle Creed's stuf a bit; I've read accounts of him playing way up the neck (sometimes around the 12th fret!) and clucking sure gets easier once you find those harmonics. I agree that its likely increased in prevalance in modern times but I do like the sound - I probably have more tolerance for excessive clucking that others : )



To me its kind of cool to me that Old Time has "trends" - it just makes it feel like a living tradition. It seems like super plunky tone with a lot of clucking has been the "modern" sound for a while. This John Herrmann video is definitely the epitome of that style in my mind:



youtube.com/watch?v=9DKAz6HE5tg



But the pendulum will likely swing - I've seen a lot more two finger lately, and maybe we'll continue to see more people playing brighter banjos (even resonators) on the festival circuit; all of these threads of banjo playing have a place and its thrilling to me to come across the variety of styles in the wild!



Also....here's a great "how to" video on the cluck featuring BHO member Tony Spadaro (oldwoodchuckb) for those who havent seen it:



youtube.com/watch?v=jy2iCyrsqr0

Winged Words - Posted - 06/23/2017:  09:19:03


When I heard Jeff's Yew Piney Mountain a year or so ago I thought it summed up everything that made me fall for Old Time banjo playing 6 years ago next week. So I'm pretty pleased to hear others more knowledgeable than me enjoying it too.

A quick plug for jeffnormanbanjo.com too!

And he has a very nice cat.


Edited by - Winged Words on 06/23/2017 09:19:41

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/23/2017:  14:32:07


quote:

Originally posted by Winged Words



When I heard Jeff's Yew Piney Mountain a year or so ago I thought it summed up everything that made me fall for Old Time banjo playing 6 years ago next week. So I'm pretty pleased to hear others more knowledgeable than me enjoying it too.



A quick plug for jeffnormanbanjo.com too!



And he has a very nice cat.





Thanks so much Geoff (and Jack too!) - also, my cat really is pretty great : )


Edited by - jenorma1 on 06/23/2017 14:32:37

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/23/2017:  14:42:57


quote:

Originally posted by janolov

 
quote:


Originally posted by sellis

 


 




So back to hugh's (and my) question:  where does it first show up.  Are there any examples in the records of tthe old timer clawhammer banjoists Wade W., Clarence Ashley,  Tommy, Fred, Kyle?  Other old time clawhammerists?








I think Fred Cockerham used a lot of clucks on Long Steel Rail: youtube.com/watch?v=O1CRRcUhqEw.







I definitely hear the clucks in there (particularly prominant while he's singing)! Good detective work!



I believe thats the recording off the County Records album "Clawhammer Banjo Volume I," which was first released in 1965...so clucking is at least 52 years old I guess : ) Can anybody beat that?

BanjoTex - Posted - 06/24/2017:  21:06:26


When I first started playing clawhammer I was obsessed with the cluck. Then I went through a period where it was a little out of hand. Now I can do it or not. I have no idea if it's the same for everybody . I guess you could get a cluck either from the pad of your striking finger or the other fingers. I get it with the other fingers. When I want a loud cluck I let the middle and ring fingers lightly touch the strings. When I want less cluck I lift them up - but I still get some minor clucking most likely from the fact that I have short nails and the pad of my index finger occasionally touches the string after I hit it with the nail.

It also depends, I find, on the banjo. I have regular access to 2. One has steel strings and the other has nylgut. I find myself intentionally clucking a lot more on the nylgut since it's more subtle.

notbob - Posted - 06/25/2017:  08:14:24


As a complete novice, I don't really care about the "cluck".  I'm still trying to learn some basic songs.  OTOH, I ran across these two, The Lowest Pair, playing their version of Fall On My Knees.  The girl, Kendl Winter(?). plays clawhammer (on a resonator banjo) and begins the song with some blatantly obvious "clucks":



youtube.com/watch?v=Gy7VH4DY-w0



I'm trying to learn that particular version of the song, but w/o the clucks.  ;)

sellis - Posted - 06/25/2017:  14:57:29


quote:

Originally posted by notbob

 

As a complete novice, I don't really care about the "cluck".  I'm still trying to learn some basic songs.  OTOH, I ran across these two, The Lowest Pair, playing their version of Fall On My Knees.  The girl, Kendl Winter(?). plays clawhammer (on a resonator banjo) and begins the song with some blatantly obvious "clucks":




youtube.com/watch?v=Gy7VH4DY-w0




I'm trying to learn that particular version of the song, but w/o the clucks.  ;)







I am almost certain she is not doing clucks.  A cluck is a single string usually (always?).  She is simply playing a rhythm with her right hand while damping all the strings with her left.



 

Jimbeaux - Posted - 06/25/2017:  23:49:52


According to Brad Leftwich's round peak banjo book, the cluck probably originated with Fred Cockerham, who might have learned it from Charlie Lowe. If I remember correctly, he mentioned how many people think that the cluck is a defining feature of round peak style banjo, but it was actually a unique feature of Fred's playing. No one else used it apparently.



However, Brad wrote that Fred did not use it throughout a tune like many modern players do. He mostly used it as a percussive technique when he was singing, or about to sing. He also uses it as an occasional accent.



Here's a great example of that:



fieldrecorder.bandcamp.com/track/reuben


Edited by - Jimbeaux on 06/25/2017 23:52:17

janolov - Posted - 06/26/2017:  02:03:46


quote:

Originally posted by sellis

 
quote:


Originally posted by notbob

 


As a complete novice, I don't really care about the "cluck".  I'm still trying to learn some basic songs.  OTOH, I ran across these two, The Lowest Pair, playing their version of Fall On My Knees.  The girl, Kendl Winter(?). plays clawhammer (on a resonator banjo) and begins the song with some blatantly obvious "clucks":




youtube.com/watch?v=Gy7VH4DY-w0




I'm trying to learn that particular version of the song, but w/o the clucks.  ;)








I am almost certain she is not doing clucks.  A cluck is a single string usually (always?).  She is simply playing a rhythm with her right hand while damping all the strings with her left.




 







I agree with Stew, this is not the cluck. She is also hitting the head with the right hand which gives a kind of percussion sound.

sellis - Posted - 06/26/2017:  06:31:47


quote:

Originally posted by Jimbeaux

 

According to Brad Leftwich's round peak banjo book, the cluck probably originated with Fred Cockerham, who might have learned it from Charlie Lowe. If I remember correctly, he mentioned how many people think that the cluck is a defining feature of round peak style banjo, but it was actually a unique feature of Fred's playing. No one else used it apparently.




However, Brad wrote that Fred did not use it throughout a tune like many modern players do. He mostly used it as a percussive technique when he was singing, or about to sing. He also uses it as an occasional accent.




Here's a great example of that:




fieldrecorder.bandcamp.com/track/reuben







Man, that was subtle, almost like 'did I hear it or imagine it?'.  I think I only heard a dozen (double at most) or so of clucks and only a very few when he is not singing.  How is he keeping them so soft?

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/26/2017:  08:38:57


quote:

Originally posted by sellis

 
quote:


Originally posted by Jimbeaux

 


According to Brad Leftwich's round peak banjo book, the cluck probably originated with Fred Cockerham, who might have learned it from Charlie Lowe. If I remember correctly, he mentioned how many people think that the cluck is a defining feature of round peak style banjo, but it was actually a unique feature of Fred's playing. No one else used it apparently.




However, Brad wrote that Fred did not use it throughout a tune like many modern players do. He mostly used it as a percussive technique when he was singing, or about to sing. He also uses it as an occasional accent.




Here's a great example of that:




fieldrecorder.bandcamp.com/track/reuben








Man, that was subtle, almost like 'did I hear it or imagine it?'.  I think I only heard a dozen (double at most) or so of clucks and only a very few when he is not singing.  How is he keeping them so soft?







It could be a consequence of his banjo and/or setup - the head tension/type I go for on my banjos (89 on my drum dial with a renaissance head) really brings out the clucks but they come out much more subtle on different banjos/setups. I can usually coax a cluck out of any banjo but they may come out a lot quieter on some.

Eugene_K - Posted - 06/26/2017:  15:18:53


I like clucks (most of the time) and I use them (some of the time). In the end we all have to figure out how we want our music to sound. Fortunately there isn't a rulebook. Also fortunately, banjos offer quite an array of sonic possibilities. I say play it the way you like to hear it.

hughstrawn - Posted - 06/26/2017:  17:29:19


Thanx Jimbeaux.
Kind of what I was looking for.
hugh

notbob - Posted - 06/26/2017:  18:55:13


quote:

Originally posted by sellis

I am almost certain she is not doing clucks. 






You say it's not clucks.  Clucks?  Mutes?  Now you know why I don't give a rat's ass.  ;)

mojo_monk - Posted - 06/26/2017:  19:00:37


The "cluck" as well as up the neck single note runs on the first (and fifth) string seem to be gaining popularity. Maybe because of the popularity of the "popcorn" banjo style of guys like Mark Olitsky and John Herrman? No idea. Mark me up as someone who can only handle it in EXTREMELY small doses (and even that might be too much). I see it as part of a new direction Old Time music seems to be heading; one that I just have no taste for. Stylistically the technique itself accentuates the backbeat (2&4) and in doing so changes the "feeling" of the music to something which more closely resembles Bluegrass - or punk, funk, rock n roll, hip hop, et all. I have played with mandolin players raised on BG and their backbeat string chops oftentimes clash with the rest of the group. They stomp on the 2&4, everyone else on the 1&3 where the bass notes are. Drives me nuts!



All of that said, I'll echo the idea that it's just a tool to keep in your box. If you like it, do it (like Fred). I personally can't stand the way the cluck gets used these days but until my Old Time Police badge arrives in the mail my opinion hardly matters at all. 



 



-Sean


Edited by - mojo_monk on 06/26/2017 19:01:58

gone - Posted - 06/26/2017:  19:26:41


Perhaps best to understand what something is before deciding whether or not to give one's rat's ass away. 



Anyway, I like it as a tool as well, and definitely agree it can be over done. I agree instrument and set up have a lot to do with it.  I almost never frail on my GTR because it's really hard not to cluck on it. I can control cluck easily on my Pisgah



Marc

RG - Posted - 06/26/2017:  19:38:56


Complete & 100% agreement with Sean, only appreciate the intentional cluck very sparingly...like once in a decade...to each their own...this is downbeat music, has been for years...play what you want...


Edited by - RG on 06/26/2017 19:40:12

FretlessFury - Posted - 06/27/2017:  05:45:27


Some enterprising player should build a stringband groove around a cluck on the 1. That would be interesting.

notbob - Posted - 06/27/2017:  07:49:16


quote:

Originally posted by mb03557

Perhaps best to understand what something is before deciding whether or not to give one's rat's ass away.








I think I understand the cluck well enough to disregard it.  Lotta online stuff, like YouTube vids, on what it is and how to do it.  As mentioned above, I jes do not care for it. 



I prefer what Mandy (BanjoLemonade) calls "whackin'".  Hitting the head while performing the "bum" stroke.  Another banjo instructor does it automatically and I think it sounds great.  Makes use of the snare-like drum head on every banjo to add a little percusive sound to the mix.



As another poster stated, learn it so you have it in yer bag o' tricks.  I can agree with that.  I can double-thumb, OK, but am still trying to sort out that "drop-thumb" move.  At least until I can find a banjo that will easily provide a "phantom hammer-on" as loud as a plucked note.  ;) 

janolov - Posted - 06/27/2017:  09:25:49


quote:

Originally posted by FretlessFury

 

Some enterprising player should build a stringband groove around a cluck on the 1. That would be interesting.







That is a very interesting idea! Who will be the first?

jenorma1 - Posted - 06/28/2017:  08:13:29


 


quote:


Originally posted by janolov

 
quote:


Originally posted by FretlessFury

 


Some enterprising player should build a stringband groove around a cluck on the 1. That would be interesting.








That is a very interesting idea! Who will be the first?







I gave this a shot yesterday with "cluck old hen"....certainly feels foreign to start on a cluck and doesnt sound great yet. I'll see if I can get it up to recording-caliber soon. Great idea Tom!



The cool part with that tune in particular is that (in the B part) you cluck when you would sing the word "cluck" - kind of punny : )

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