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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Some advice for a beginner please :)

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boom - Posted - 06/26/2020:  08:33:00

Hi I'm a big lover of old time style and gospel (pre 40's) and wondered what advice you'd give for an absolute beginner. I'm guessing clawhammer would be the best style for me. Also considering I'm pretty old school myself I wouldn't really want a modern banjo but mayb I'm wearing rose specs here? I've been checking out some online and dont mind giving a worn n loved one a new lease. Also I can't read music, would you consider this a stumbling block to learning? Thankyou for any advice :)

mike gregory - Posted - 06/26/2020:  08:50:22

Welcome to the HangOut.

Best advice I ever got was

"Kid, it's YOUR banjo. Play it any damn' way you WANT!"

(Ken Haferman, Milwaukee banjo expert).

Two finger, double drone is a LOT easier than clawhammer.

Homespun Music has an instructional by a fellow named Happy Traum, either as a download or a DVD.

(Don't know why his folks named him after one of Snow White's boyfriends, but it ain't MY duty to tell them NOT to!)

The inability to read music has not prevented me from earning dozens of dollars, nor from heading up my own little band.


boom - Posted - 06/26/2020:  09:10:57

Ty for that! I'm checking out 2 finger right now. And Ken Haferman is obviously a wise man :)

Red Squirrel - Posted - 06/26/2020:  09:12:21

Welcome to the enlightened state of banjo! :^)

I'm sure others out will offer a ton of help, but here's my two cents worth.

Don't worry about too much "modern" stuff on a banjo. Most old time and clawhammer player prefer simple open back banjos which really haven't changed much. Sure there's a lot of options in the way of tone and feel, but they've still been basically the same for 100 years.

If you buy a used banjo, be sure it has been looked over and "setup" by a professional instrument repairman (aka a Luthier) or is being sold by a reputable shop or someone who actually plays. A poorly setup banjo can hurt your fingers, buzz, never stay in tune, and a million other things that will discourage a beginner. (A setup is not major surgery on the instrument, but like a tuneup on a car. It's keeps it preforming at its best.)

As for reading music, it don't matter! In fact, most banjo players I personally know (myself included) still don't know how to read music after playing for years. You don't need to have a perfect ear either. As you go along learning via youtube, books, teacher, or whatever, you'll learn a lot of foundation blocks like tablature chords, right-hand patters, and other schtuff that will make it fall into place.

I'm sure other great folks will offer much more (and much better) advise. But I hope this helps!

boom - Posted - 06/26/2020:  09:23:44

Ty. That's great advice. Being in England it's not like the banjo is heard very often (esp the older style which I love) but I've always loved its sound. And that 'simpler' method is def what I like. I just wanna put a sound to what I write. So thanks again!

carolynf - Posted - 06/26/2020:  09:31:48

I’m gonna vote for clawhammer. You’ll have one big thing to learn, and that’s the “bump-ditty” rhythm. It may take you 30 minutes, it may take you several days, but it is the foundation. Everything else is just picking up speed, learning to do extra things with your thumb, and picking out the notes you want (easy in open G tuning). If no one else tells you this piece of advice— keep your thumb down based on the 5th string, don’t let it fly around “plucking” like a bluegrass banjo thumb.
I had a friend who bought at least 2 “good deal” banjos that were crap because she couldn’t wait for me to come look at them first. That set her back for several years until she finally got a really decent little starter banjo, a Goodtime.

AndyW - Posted - 06/26/2020:  10:00:07

I've never tried 2 finger picking so it may be easier than Clawhammer as Mike says.

However, Clawhammer has infinitely more learning resources available. There are countless books, you tube videos and tablature available, as well as many more instructors and experienced players.

You don't need to read music, tablature shows you where to put your fingers on the strings. Or you can try to learn by ear if that is your bag, but tablature is much clearer in my opinion for an untrained ear (at first).

Ideal if you could afford it would be an instructor and some lessons. (They do Skype). Or if you are a skinflint like me you can do your initial learning from a book. Dan Levenson's 'Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch' and Ken Perlman's 'Clawhammer Style Banjo' are probably the two stand out books. Or if you are a visual learner there's plenty you-tube stuff though the quality doth vary. I've just joined Tom Collins 'Patreon' site and he is currently doing a 'blueprints of clawhammer' module which would sit very well for a beginner. He starts with holding and tuning the banjo, then basic stroke etc etc. That's pricier than a book at a monthly cost, but includes content such as tablature, banjo chats etc that you-tube providers don't give.

Here's some free beginner stuff

Dan Levenson 1
Dan Levenson 2
Dan Levenson 3
RSB Videos
RSB Site

thisoldman - Posted - 06/26/2020:  10:17:31

Search "two finger thumb lead" on the 'net. Also "seeger style" picking. For some inspiration, check out Clifton Hicks, here on the HO and Youtube. Also Nick Hornbuckle, who has his own 2 finger style. You don't have to be able to read music, but "tab" (another form of written music) would be something to look into.

jacot23 - Posted - 06/26/2020:  10:47:52

Welcome! I'm just starting down the clawhammer road myself. I learned a few songs 3 finger style years ago and put my banjo away(life happens).

Lots of free stuff on YouTube:
Brainjo, Tom Collins(I think he's a member here), Clifton Hicks, and my favorite Banjo Lemonade(Mandy). Clifton and Mandy both do some 2 finger stuff and the last 3 have more content on Patreon for a reasonable fee.

mike gregory - Posted - 06/26/2020:  10:52:19

51  people in England on the Membership list, all registered as interested in teaching.

Might want to drop a message to anyone who lives close enough.

Eric A - Posted - 06/26/2020:  13:31:05

Seeger style up-picking is good for accompanying vocals.

boom - Posted - 06/26/2020:  15:37:09

Ty Eric thats good to know as i write lyrics and def wanna sing!

AndyW - Posted - 06/27/2020:  00:32:15

Clawhammer can also be used for singing. Here's a youtube of a certain Mr Fred Cockerham.

And yes, that's one banjo playing not two.

Edited by - AndyW on 06/27/2020 00:33:26

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