Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Six

Posted by Josh Turknett on Tuesday, September 2, 2014

like this

Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps - A Video Series


Lesson 6: Hammering On


In this latest installment in the 8 essential steps series, we're continuing our work on fretting hand techniques. As mentioned in the previous lesson, the fretting hand is often asked to do a lot in clawhammer banjo, primarily due to the constraints imposed by the clawhammer stroke. More specifically, in circumstances where playing a note with our picking finger would require us to break the clawhammer motion, we instead use our fretting hand to play it. And in the next two videos, we'll be covering the two primary fretting hand techniques for doing so. 

The first of these techniques, and the subject of this lesson, is the hammer on. It's a technique that's not too difficult, but that once mastered can add great depth and richness to your playing. We'll start by reviewing the basics of the hammer on, both for hammering onto a string we've just picked, and for hammering on to a string other than the one we've just picked (known as the "alternate string hammer on"), and then conclude with a couple tune exercises to give your fingers a workout. 

The written supplement for this lesson can be downloaded here. If you'd like the written supplements for future lessons sent to you when they're up, and if you'd like to be emailed the final e-book with all 8 lessons and tabs at the conclusion of the series, then sign up here.




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

Mr Thomas Says:
Tuesday, September 9, 2014 @2:23:01 AM

Hi Josh,

Many thanks for this 6th lesson. Great as usual! I noticed that some other members were discussing thumb position and things like that in previous posts, and I'd like to add a comment. I've had problems with pain in my (right hand) thumb for a while, nothing really serious, but it hurts when I press it against the base of the index finger. It started about a year ago when I was practicing the bum-ditty pattern, you know, based on some instructional videos on youtube, e.g. Cathy Fink. "Do this, practice this ten minutes twice a day, faster and faster." So I started getting a pain in my thumb. I've played the guitar, classical and finger-picking, for decades but I've never had any problems with my thumb. So there must be some other muscle involved in the thumb stroke. Do you have any experience of this? Any advice?

Kind regards,


casey050 Says:
Thursday, September 11, 2014 @6:08:51 PM

Still with you! Getting challenging tho, i love the way you are quietly teaching me how
to read those bloody tabs too! Clever.
Is that opening tune a Taj Mahal cover and if so what is it called and can you please teach us how to play it, please. Loving your work mate! Rep it! Casey

Josh Turknett Says:
Friday, September 12, 2014 @3:42:01 AM

Hey Casey - good ear! The tune in the opening is "Colored Aristocracy", and heavily influenced by Taj Mahal's take on it, which is so good. I may do a step by step instructional on it at some point. Here's the link to the full video:

Mr Thomas Says:
Saturday, September 13, 2014 @4:08:07 AM

Sorry to bother you again with my clawhammer problems, Josh, but don't you have anything to say about pain in the right hand thumb? It must be quite a common problem, considering the strain that the thumb is put through, especially with the wrong technique. It's hard to exactly locate the pain, kind of a diffuse pain down in the muscles and tendons by the palm. I don't know who else to ask. I can't go to the doctor. You know: "What seems to be the problem?" "I have a pain in the right hand thumb, down in the big muscle by the palm." "How did it happen?" "Well … I play clawhammer banjo …" "What? Clawhammer?" You see? Regards. Tom

Josh Turknett Says:
Saturday, September 13, 2014 @5:09:24 AM

Hey Tom - I'm not sure if I've heard of anyone experiencing a problems as you describe before, at least when just isolated to clawhammer playing (i.e. not in the context of a predisposing condition, etc.). There shouldn't be much strain on the thumb when you play, so one thing is to make sure you're not keeping any kind of resting tension in your hand when you play. And since it isn't something that commonly occurs, it may actually be worth checking in with your doctor with if it persists - could be an issue with the joint at the base of the thumb (a common spot for osteoarthritis).

Mr Thomas Says:
Saturday, September 13, 2014 @9:39:23 AM

Many thanks for the advice, Josh. Alright, I'll ask my doctor – I was joking, of course. Kind of an odd problem, though, if it's caused by clawhammer playing. But I'm pretty sure it is caused by trying to play 180 beats per minute with a tense hand. It got kind of acute at times from this. And it gets better with rest. It's just that it's hard to refrain from playing the banjo!

Tajay Says:
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 @11:37:34 PM

I'm doing my best to keep up. Honestly, I'm just getting comfortable with Lesson 5. My fingernail is back and now can be more accurate isolating each string. Just wanted to say the production is top notch. Nice views of both hands. That really helps. Can't say enough about the practice tabs - very nice! But you sure did pick a 'notey' tune - I started practicing hammer on's and pull offs with the simple tune "Oh Susanna" (key of G). My grandaughter has been showing interest in learning banjo, and I'll suggest she start with your lessons.

Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, September 17, 2014 @3:37:44 AM

I'd say if you're close to getting comfortable with Lesson 5 already, then you're doing great! Most important is to go at whatever pace works for you. And yes, I did pick a notey tune, and I know it'll be challenging for most - but hopefully you'll find that motivating, too. And thanks for the feedback on the video - takes a bit of time to put those shots together, so nice to hear it's worth the effort!

cluck Says:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014 @11:47:18 PM

Hi Josh,

I am finding the 2nd exercise in lesson 6 (Turkey in the Straw) significantly more difficult than all the prior exercises. Lessons 4, 5, and 6 exercise #1 each took me 2-3 practice sessions to master. I can play exercise #1 in lesson (6) clean at fast tempo (I like that tune!). But I have spent a few practice sessions on Turkey and so far have barely mastered the first 2 measures, which I still play so slow it doesn't sound anything like the tune. The notey-ness and very sparse drone/brush (in which to get a rhythm) is the challenge for me.

Do you think simultaneously hitting Turkey in the Straw while moving on to lesson 7 is a bad idea? I'm making progress but I think it might take me a couple weeks to master.

Josh Turknett Says:
Thursday, November 6, 2014 @3:13:45 AM

Yes, it's definitely ok to move on. I intended for this 2nd exercise to be a challenge - i.e. a little beyond your current level but something to motivate you and shoot for. So don't worry if you're not there yet.

If you can play the first exercise cleanly, then I'd have no worries about moving on. Thanks for the good question.

You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.

More posts from Josh Turknett

Newest Posts

Click for Details 'TKL Case' 8 hrs

More >  

Hide these ads: join the Players Union!

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories