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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Question about 'Clawhammer From Scratch' progress

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Banjo Rich - Posted - 04/26/2022:  09:37:38

I'm working my way through the book. As you guys know, it's divided into different sections made up of 12 tunes. There's a basic double thumb version followed by a drop thumb version [and then what Dan calls the kitchen sink version].

I've been playing for about three months I guess and I'm on the drop thumb versions.

One thing I'm not sure about is when to move onto the next tune.

I can play the first few drop thumb tunes at 100 bpm with good tone and accuracy [same as with the double thumb versions] but any faster and the fretting/clawhammer accuracy starts to suffer.

I haven't memorized them either. I can remember parts of them through sheer repetition but I play by reading the tab. Since starting the drop thumb versions I've also not played the double thumb versions at all.

So should I be memorizing the tunes? And should I be aiming at faster than 100 bpm, without making any errors, before moving onto the next tune? Trying to gauge progress is one of the hardest things I'm finding about not having a teacher.

Thanks in advance!


Edited by - Banjo Rich on 04/26/2022 09:38:01

hweinberg - Posted - 04/26/2022:  09:56:14

a few thoughts (I'm sure you'll get others): 1. When you try to play faster and the accuracy suffers, figure out which phrases are causing you problems. Practice those phrases until you can play those difficult phrases accurately at a faster speed. Then try the whole tune again. 2. Memorization for most of us just requires "sheer repetition" as you have discovered. Again, memorizing the music a phrase at a time is usually a good strategy. That way, you have a manageable chunk to memorize, rather than the whole tune. 3. Gauging your progress is up to you -- you're not competing with anyone so if you're happy, you're good! If you want to try a teacher, there are many fine teachers online. Some searching on BHO should give you all the leads you need. The main thing is that I hope that you're enjoying learning to play clawhammer banjo!

hoodoo - Posted - 04/26/2022:  11:28:01

Glad your enjoying the journey. I would recommend to try and slow down a bit and try and commit the songs to memory. It takes time and practice, but in the long run, you'll get a lot more out of your playing by not always having to look down at tablature

Aerie - Posted - 04/26/2022:  12:18:23

Many tunes have several repeated phrases and it helped me memorizing and perfecting them first before putting the whole tune together. I have also had success in starting at the end of a tune and memorizing a few measures at a time until I worked my way to the beginning and could play clean through the whole tune.

doryman - Posted - 04/26/2022:  12:26:10

That's pretty good for three months. I agree with hoodoo's comment about trying to commit some songs to memory. We have a saying here in the USA when we speak of memorizing a song, I don't know if it's the same in the UK; we say, "I know the song by heart." Right now, you know the songs by "brain," you can read the tab and play the song.

That's actually a damn impressive feat, but it's more fun when you can play by heart. One tip, to know a song by heart on the banjo, it REALLY helps if you know it by heart by voice first. So, pick a one of those songs that you can sing or hum, then try it on the banjo, without the tab. It's ok if you don't get every note exactly the same as the tab, in fact, that's kind of the fun part.

banjered - Posted - 04/26/2022:  12:45:50

I think the best way to get a tune in your head is by listening to a clean fiddle version of the tune rather than a banjo. banjered

BrooksMT - Posted - 04/26/2022:  15:25:59

Read the Brainjo articles by Josh Turknett. They helped me immensely.

From Brainjo that I copied down, plus some of my own discoveries:
1. hum tune first. If you can't hum it you can't play it by ear, i.e. memorized. Bjo
2. learn in small chunks, then move on Bjo
3. eyes off tab soon as possible Bjo
4. play with timekeeping device slowed down/Audacity/backing track. This is better than metronome. Bjo
5. Identify problem spots in the song. Play the spot 3 times slow enough to make it perfect, then Stop. Quit for the day. Your brain does a lot of learning consolidation while you are asleep. When you take up banjo the next day, the hard spot will be so perfect you will zoom over it w/o realizing it was a hard spot. This has happened so many times to me, but it still seems magical. Bjo plus my experience.

Brainjo introduction

The Laws of Brainjo (info dense, I could not read more than 2 at a time)

Hope this helps

Banjo Rich - Posted - 04/28/2022:  19:33:27

Thanks for the replies everyone, and the great advice. It's really appreciated!

I'll work on isolated phrases and measures that seem tricky and try to increase the speed and see how it goes. A nice steady beat and things tend to be okay. Much faster than 100bpm and the wheels come off. And I've found that almost every single tune has an especially annoying/tricky part, usually only a measure or so, that trips up my fingers.

I think something like 120 is mentioned in the book as a decent performing speed so I'll try and aim for that. I just wasn't sure if I should try and get the tunes up to that speed now [and memorize them now] or wait until I get to the 'kitchen sink' versions for speed and memorization.

The psychology of learning an instrument is something that I've found really interesting in the past so I'll definitely check out the Brainjo website. I wish practicing the banjo late at night was as easy as plugging headphones into my digital piano! Late-night practice has always been the practice time I've enjoyed the most, and muting the banjo strings just isn't the same.

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