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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Drop thumb technique.

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pjtobin - Posted - 04/30/2022:  10:30:45

I was wondering what the resin is for the drop thumb technique. My teacher said it was for speed but I find my middle finger is as fast and accurate. Clawhammer player. Should I continue to master this technique so it will help me later on? Thanks all

Culloden - Posted - 04/30/2022:  11:00:01

It is my understanding that different styles of playing originated in different areas. What makes a banjo player from western North Carolina sound different than one from eastern Kentucky or southwest Virginia? Each region has a style that is uniquely its own and contributes to the overall sound of old-time music. Drop thumb is one of those styles.
If you like the sound of drop thumb then it is worth trying to master. If you don't really prefer the sound then you would not really need to master the technique.
I hope that made sense.

Clawdan - Posted - 04/30/2022:  11:33:26

Simply put. to get back beat notes and add rhythm and texture to your playing. I can elaborate but that is the short answer.

Play Nice,

Dan Clawdan Levenson

Author of Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - a Mel Bay Publication

jack_beuthin - Posted - 04/30/2022:  11:34:58

In clawhammer, the essential finger assignment is that the finger plays the beats (1, 2, 3, 4) and the thumb plays the offbeats (the "ands" between the beats). Drop thumb is nothing more than using the thumb to plays strings 2, 3, and 4, rather than just the 5th string on offbeats. It can be used to fill in melody notes, as well as to create rhythm and drive. As Mark noted above, many downstroke players do not use drop thumb at all.

If I read your post correctly, you are saying that you can use your middle finger to play notes that would otherwise be played using drop thumb. If so, this could become an issue that throws off your timing, since you are "breaking the rule" of finger for beats, thumb for offbeats. With that said, rules are guidelines, not absolutes. If you are doing something that is satisfying to you, and is not creating excess hand tension or pain, then there is room for experimentation. But it is also good to know when you are doing something outside convention so that if you hit a wall with it, you know why and can come back to a base-line norm to find a way forward.

My opinion is that it is worth your time to learn drop thumb. You can then choose to use it or not use it, just like slides, brushes, hammers and the like. Having the control to do or not do, will ultimately lead to developing your own style, as well as emulating styles of other players.

Bob Buckingham - Posted - 04/30/2022:  12:10:09

The banjo is a drum. The more sticks, the more rhythm. Back beats, off beats, new rhythm patterns, more complex melodies and drive, lots of drive that is not just whamming away on the banjo.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 04/30/2022:  12:21:29

Depends on what you want to play. Besides what Dan mentioned above, there are notey passages that you simply can’t play without using your thumb. But if you prefer not to play such arrangements, then there’s no need for drop thumb.

AndrewD - Posted - 04/30/2022:  13:36:25

In standard downpicking we're playing (assuming 4/4 timing and ignoring skips, triplets and other fancy stuff) sequences of 4 beats. Beat 1 is an index/middle downstroke, as is beat 3. Beat 4 is a thumbed 5th. So what about beat 2. We have a number of choices:
Nothing (bum-titty)
5th ( double thumbing)
Ignoring the first 2 of these it may be easier (or even only possible) using a drop thumb to get the desired note. So that's why it's useful. You don't need it. But up the tracks life will be harder or narrower if you ain't got it.

banjopaolo - Posted - 05/01/2022:  03:29:30

Drop thumb adds syncopation to you playing, if you like that kind of rhythm it will be usefull

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 05/01/2022:  17:59:14

Drop-thumbing serves three purposes:
1) To get notes that are difficult or otherwise not possible.
2) To achieve specific rhythms.
3) To add variety. The same passage played with/without DT will have a different sound.

In a bar of 4/4 counted 1&2&3&4&, the 1, 2, 3, and 4 are played with the finger.

The &'s are played with a left-hand technique, or the thumb in drop-thumbing. In certain situations, one or the other may be easier or preferable for some other reason. Certain tunes can sometimes require drop-thumbing to come out "right".

Different styles of CH can call for the use/non-use of certain techniques. The old-timers I knew of in the Ozarks drop-thumbed only on the 2nd string. The use/non-use, or limited use of any technique will force personal style in different directions and define it.

Unless you are drawn to a specific style that is defined by the non-use or limited use of drop-thumb, I would recommend learning the technique. Better to be able to DT and choose not to, than to not DT because you can't. Beware of advice from folks who don't DT because they can't.

DT is a simple technique. If you are having an inordinate amount of difficulty with it, you're doing something wrong.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 05/01/2022:  22:30:13

Good advice (as usual) from one of our finest players and most thoughtful analysts.

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 05/02/2022:  15:04:35

Bill Rogers

Coming from someone of your skill and experience,
your words mean a lot. I'm grateful for your good opinion,
and everything you do here.

Thank you Bill.

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