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Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Three

Posted by Josh Turknett on Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps - A Video Series

Lesson 3: Striking Single Strings


For folks encountering a clawhammer banjoist for the first time, the experience is often a mix of feelings, with bewilderment high on the list. How on earth can all that music come out of the banjo when you're just crudely moving your hand up and down? More specifically, how can you pick individual strings of the banjo just by hammering down with the back of your nail? Surely there must be some sort of trick, some unseen bit of sleight of hand that makes it all possible.

As you know, there is no trick. The truth is, it's quite possible to cleanly strike the single strings with the back of one's nail. All it takes is a little practice. 

In this third installment of the 8 Essential Steps to Clawhammer Banjo series, this will be our focus: learning to strike the single strings of the banjo. Without a doubt, this will feel awkward at first, and you'll be clumsy and inaccurate when you first begin trying to master this piece. But trust me, with consistent focused effort, you too will be baffling friends, family, and curious strangers with your newly acquired skill. 

To download the written supplement for this lesson, right click here. And if you'd like to be emailed the written supplements to this series as they're published, sign up here.

10 comments on “Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Three”

RickUSR Says:
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 @11:00:05 AM

Trying to get tab for Soldier's Joy - even though you said "click the first link you see in the video description...", I can't even find the 1st link in video to start???

Thanks, Rick

Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 @11:07:56 AM

Hmm - not sure why that would be, might be a browser problem. Here's the link to sign up for the tune of the week tabs (which includes Soldier's Joy plus all the others):

Tajay Says:
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 @3:15:34 PM

Your presentation of these lessons just keeps getting better. I like the inclusion of the metronome during practice. It really helps keep a smooth and steady tempo when focused on learning new techniques. The split screen with close up view of right hand is great. Need to increase the lighting so its more clear (maybe its just my screen). Finally, the addition of the overhead exercise tabs with pointer is super-excellent. I'm sure I'm not the only beginner who is baffled by tab notation. It will really help if you can continue to incorporate this - not only for exercises but also as you teach first songs.

casey050 Says:
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 @4:41:33 PM

This course is so good. I am following it to the letter in the hope of achieving the set goal of impressing my friends and playing my banjo well (finally). That bit about your brain working your muscle memory for you while you sleep is right on the mark as is the bit about not watching your hands. I have been playing stringed instruments for years and find i must force myself to look at my hands. I wont worry about it now, thanks so much. I will endevour to keep you posted on my progress, hpe you dont mind,

Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 @4:23:00 AM

Tajay - thanks for the comments. I'll definitely continue to incorporate the tab feature. Always looking and experimenting with making it better, and am working on ways of showing the picking hand more clearly.

casey - really glad you're enjoying it. And please do keep me posted on your progress! Feedback from folks using these materials is very helpful.

crowbait Says:
Friday, August 8, 2014 @8:10:05 AM

Great as usual! I believe, Josh, you are the Johnny Appleseed of the claw hammer banjo! Sowing seeds all over the world. I need that muscle memory stuff. I just can't get it any other way! Keep it comin!

Josh Turknett Says:
Saturday, August 9, 2014 @2:19:32 PM

Thanks, Robert!

Mr Thomas Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @12:04:19 PM

Hi Josh! Many thanks for this fourth lesson. As you say, this is what many have been waiting for and it's also the tough part of playing clawhammer banjo. Anyway, I've been trying to play whole songs for a couple of years now - been a guitar player for decades - and I notice that when I pluck the fifth string with my thumb I tend to rotate the hand, even after I've incorporated your technique. So that when I strike a single string and pluck the fifth string with the thumb there's an anti-clockwise rotation of the hand. Is that something that I should avoid and try to get rid of? Or is it of no consequence?

senorstew Says:
Friday, August 29, 2014 @12:35:29 PM

I too, appreciate what you're doing here. I've been studying clawhammer with some of the Kathy Fink videos but, there are things that you suggest that are great additions to her instruction. I have two questions: First, I love the sound of your banjo . . . what is it? Second, what program are you using to put these instructional videos together? I am doing some work for various corporations using training videos where I use Camtasia Studio but, this looks a little different. Anyway, keep up the good work. Thanks. Mickey

Josh Turknett Says:
Saturday, August 30, 2014 @4:46:52 AM

Hey Mickey - thanks for the feedback. The banjo here was put together by Dan Pennington (here's here on the hangout). It has block rim that he made, a Bill Rickard tubaphone tone ring, and a neck by Wyatt Fawley. The tubaphone ring is probably what contributes most to the sound you hear, IMO. The video editing software I use is Screenflow - it's a great piece of software (though I've heard good things about Camtasia as well).

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