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Beware the Claw

Posted by Kevin G on Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ever since the Midwest Banjo Camp, I've been working almost exclusively on clawhammer technique. After a few weeks, I thought I should probably play some good old three-finger style, and found my right hand working it's way up toward the neck.  Guess I'd better alternate sessions a little more frequently.

I will say, though, that I'm really enjoying the CH style. I've got miles and miles to go (actually with both styles), but I'm having a lot of fun with it. It's fun to play beginner-level songs such as Bile dem Cabbage Down in the new style because it takes on a whole new sound. I love the integrated rhythm of the right-hand stroke; even played at slow speeds, it has a zen-like magnetism about it.

We'll see how it goes, but if I'm not careful, I may just find myself switching primary styles. Beware the claw!



5 comments on “Beware the Claw”

Jane C Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @12:11:52 PM

Good luck with it Kevin, clawhammer just baffles me.

Kevin G Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @8:05:58 PM

Hi Jane,
That's how I felt about it, too, but I spent about half of the time at the camp in CH workshops, and my goal was to get a jumpstart in CH right-hand techniques. I felt baffled, too, most of the time, but having just those few hours of instruction got me started. Like I said, there's still much work to do, but I don't feel as intimidated by it as I used to.

Jane C Says:
Monday, July 5, 2010 @2:18:05 AM

Any good tips?

Kevin G Says:
Monday, July 5, 2010 @8:57:35 AM

Ken Perlman, who was one of the camp organizers, has a good DVD on getting started with Clawhammer. I bought it in the camp store, and it seems to follow generally the same sequence of instructions as my teacher, Terri McMurray, took us through. What I couldn't figure out from just listening to CH players was how they got any individual notes in. Having someone show me how, and work with me on it, was invaluable. If I were going to boil it down, I'd say this:
1. Figure out and work on the right-hand shape and stroke;
2. Practice, practice, practice the "Brush...Thumb..." technique (strumming the strings downward, leaving your thumb on the fifth string, then plucking the fifth string);
3. Add melody notes by practicing hitting the right string using the same downward stroke. I'm using my index finger for the "brush" and the "note" part, but you can also use your middle finger if that's more comfortable. The basic sequence for the simple songs I'm working on is "note...brush-thumb...note...brush-thumb." Note: I was the worst in my class at this, so follow my advice at your peril. But the left-hand techniques are the same (pull-offs, slides, etc.), and I was better at some of this stuff than a few others. Try it. It's fun.

Jane C Says:
Monday, July 12, 2010 @3:18:05 PM

I might give it another bash then, just as soon as I've mastered this three finger pickin technique, give me about thirty years:-)

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