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Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Four

Posted by Josh Turknett on Monday, August 4, 2014

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Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps - A Video Series


Lesson 4: Ringing the Five


For weeks now, you've waited patiently, gazing forlornly at your fifth string, wondering when oh when the time would come that you could unleash its dulcet tones. Well, I'm pleased to report that your patience will now be rewarded.

The wait is over. It's time to ring out the fifth string.

In this fourth installment in the "8 essential steps to clawhammer banjo" video series, we'll cover the final but all important piece of the clawhammer stroke: plucking the five with the thumb. If you've made your way through the first three lessons, then you've laid the groundwork to ensure that you pull off this part without a hitch. After reviewing the basics of this technique, I'll leave you with five exercises (well, of course there are five!) for you to practice to help burn the basic stroke into your noggin.

Take your time with this one, cause this is the basic foundation upon which everything else rests. And congrats for making it to this point, cause you're well on your way to being a bona fide downpicker!

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.


13 comments on “Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Four”

cemclean Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @9:03:58 AM

Where do we find handouts for lesson 4?

Josh Turknett Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @9:09:22 AM

It'll be ready later today (just forgot to upload and it's on my home computer) - I'll post the link here when it is. Also, if you're already a subscriber on the 8 steps email list, you'll receive and email later today with the link.

RickUSR Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @2:17:21 PM

prior lessons had "written supplement" (click here) in intros. I don't see link on lesson 4.

Josh Turknett Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @2:22:12 PM

Hey Rick - I'll be posting the link later this evening when I get to my home computer (if you're a subscriber to the email list, you'll also get an email with it)

Josh Turknett Says:
Monday, August 11, 2014 @6:15:06 PM

Okay folks, the link to the written supplement is now up!

banjothrasher Says:
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 @12:01:05 AM

Hi, I've signed up twice to be emailed but don't seem to get them?

banjothrasher Says:
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 @12:03:09 AM

When I try to sign up on my first email address again it wont let me and says I'm already subscribed. Have checked my junk folder too.

Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 @3:56:10 AM

Hey banjothrasher - just sent you an PM through the hangout. Should be able to figure it out!

Tajay Says:
Thursday, August 14, 2014 @1:33:25 AM

You have introduced the basic clawhammer stroke in a clear and easy to follow way. It’s also easier to see what the right hand is doing with the ‘inside’ view through the clear banjo head. And I’ll say it again – the practice sessions with the tab and pointer is great, very effective. Also, you’ve mentioned it in other lessons, to practice with a ‘light touch’ – this has helped me pay more attention to accuracy and producing a better quality sound. I think you should emphasize this more. It’s similar to practicing with the metronome – don’t worry about playing fast, get it right slowly and the speed will come. Likewise, don’t worry about playing loud; get it right softly and you can increase the volume later. Finally, I damaged my fingernail while grating fresh ginger root to make my favorite summer ginger ale. I tried to rescue it with a little emery board sanding, but it was hopeless. Now, I can barely produce a ‘plunk’ or ‘thump’ – a real setback in my practice. I’ve tried a couple different picks, but no good! Any suggestions?

Josh Turknett Says:
Thursday, August 14, 2014 @3:28:47 AM

Those are all very good points, Tajay. Thanks! As for the nail - I've certainly been there many times before. If you've tried the picks and haven't found anything you like (which I can understand), then you're probably just stuck with waiting for the nail to grow back. However, I've found that I can still play even when I've just lost the entire free edge of a nail - what generally happens is that you'll strike with the existing nail, and then the string will be immediately deadened by the skin of your finger. This will tend to produce a percussive "clucking" sound. And while the loss of volume would typically preclude performing or playing in a jam like this, I've always found I can still practice just fine - I just have to accept the change in tone until the nail grows back. Also, I'm always surprised by just how little nail has to grow back before things are sounding normal again. Hope that helps!

Mr Thomas Says:
Friday, August 15, 2014 @5:42:43 AM

Hi Josh! Many thanks for this fourth lesson. I've been waiting impatiently for advice on how to do pluck the fifth string with the thumb, so this is very welcome. I have two problems/questions. The first one is - and maybe this is the result of using the wrong technique for a long time - when I've plucked the fifth string with the thumb, my hand tends to do a slight rotation anti-clockwise, which is then compensated for by a rotation in the other direction. Do you think that this is something that I should avoid and try to unlearn? Then, when you pluck the fifth string - you say that it should feel like you squeeze with the thumb against the hand - how much of the force come from the thumb? Is there any tension at all in the thumb muscle or does the force come from the whole hand? Another clawhammer instructor said that we have to teach the thumb to do nothing. But just how do you define this nothing? Regards, Tom

Josh Turknett Says:
Friday, August 15, 2014 @8:05:13 AM

Hey Tom - regarding your first question, in general I'm always in favor of an economy of motion when it comes to technique, so would always recommend trying to avoid any wasted motion. That said, it may not be worth it at this point to unlearn the extra rotation you refer to, as it may or not be end up as a limitation (particularly if it's of small amplitude). I'd suggest not worrying about it for now, but if you start finding it hard to develop speed later on, then it may be something to address.

Regarding the second question, the force generated to sound the fifth string comes from the thumb (primarily from flexion of the opponens pollicis, to be precise! :). This was one of the reasons in the lessons I started out with just having you pluck the fifth with your thumb while the rest of your hand was stationary - that's what the thumb stroke should feel like, even when it's part of the clawhammer stroke. So in essence you have two movements: either an up and down or side to side movement of the wrist (depending on whether it's a hammer or a strum), followed by flexion of the thumb to sound the fifth string. Hope that clarifies - let me know if it doesn't!


Mr Thomas Says:
Friday, August 15, 2014 @8:52:34 AM

Hi Josh! Thanks for the answer. Great. Very helpful. I'll try to incorporate your advice.



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