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Clawhammer banjo, the journey so far

Posted by pres on Monday, August 19, 2013

The first time I heard a banjo play was a 30 second sketch on Sesame Street, with some rough animation behind it. I was very young, not even five years old, but it may have been the first time I really felt music affect me. It was another 35 years before I found out what that piece of music was. At some point in between I must have realised it was a banjo playing it.

That tune never left, it was always there somewhere in my mind. I played guitar. At one point got a mandolin. Eventually I accepted that I really wanted a banjo. So I started listening to banjo and researching banjos. I discovered that the style I wanted to play was called "clawhammer" (but I also found I really liked bluegrass). Before I got a banjo I'd joined the hangout here, read Old Woodchuck's rocket science banjo, and thought about what it all meant. I got my banjo on my 40th birthday, present from my wonderful wife. It's a Deering goodtime special openback, full gumby.

I started playing through some of the tunes in rocket science and the very first tune was the tune that had been haunting me for those years. Cripple creek. I learnt to play it until it was recognisable. But I had some unfinished business with the guitar, particularly with Dowland's Fantasia no. 7, so I put the banjo down and it was in danger for a while of going the way of the mandolin.

Then, nearly a year later, the wife sort of cracks it, says I never play her present. Yeah, ok, fair call. So I dust it off, and make another start. It all goes a bit better, and I build up a few tunes. By this time I'm really starting to enjoy playing the banjo. I build up more tunes and have even ventured into another tuning, double C.

Just learning from tab and Old Woodchuck's rocket science banjo. Here in Sydney clawhammer banjo is pretty uncommon. It happens here, I know because open back banjos are sold in music shops, but the fact is I've never seen another live person play clawhammer banjo, only on the internet. So there it is, my journey so far.

2 comments on “Clawhammer banjo, the journey so far”

JanetB Says:
Monday, August 19, 2013 @8:19:20 PM

Great story and I like your video post, too.

JanetB Says:
Saturday, July 25, 2015 @5:53:49 PM

And almost two years later I'm reading your current thread about your daughter and wife not hearing the multitude of tunes you know and not even believing you when you play them! I know your love of the clawhammer banjo and also that some people won't know what they're missing. Just like I'm a teetotaler and will never appreciate the distinction some people have for various wines. And I'm not eager to travel and see more of the world than I have. I just won't know what I'm missing, and that's okay!

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