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Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps: Lesson Eight

Posted by Josh Turknett on Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Clawhammer Banjo in 8 Essential Steps - A Video Series


Lesson 8: Sliding into Home


The end is nigh aspiring clawhammerists - it's time for the 8th and final installment in this series! In this installment, we're covering the last of our essential fretting hand techniques: the slide. Like the hammer on and the pull off, the slide is yet another way for us to borrow extra notes from our banjo without having to alter our picking hand motion - essential for allowing us to maintain that signature driving clawhammer sound.

The slide also allows us to do on our banjo what we naturally tend to do with our voice: smoothly move from one note into another without pausing. It's a great technique - fun to execute, not too difficult, and adds depth and interest to your playing. 

In this video lesson, I'll review the basics of the technique, covering the most common slides that clawhammerists perform. And then we'll conclude with a tune exercise so you can hear it in action. 

At this point, if you've made your way through all eight lessons, then you're in great shape! You now possess the requisite skills needed to make a lifetime of fantastic clawhammer banjo music. The next step is simply to start putting those skills to use by adding more tunes to your arsenal, which is what we'll work on next. So, stay tuned, cause the real fun is about to begin! 

The written supplement for this lesson can be downloaded here. If you'd like to be emailed the final e-book with all 8 lessons and tabs when its completed, and be notified when follow-up content is available, then sign up here.


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

Mr Thomas Says:
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 @1:23:04 PM

Yes, the real fun is about to begin. Many thanks for this excellent series of lessons! Without you I would still be playing with the wrong technique. I know you've promised not to leave us, and I hope you'll be covering other elements such as drop-thumb. And do you have any special advice on how to develop speed? Besides taking it slow and increasing the metronome step by step.

Josh Turknett Says:
Thursday, October 16, 2014 @9:56:51 AM

You're very welcome! I am working on some additional materials, including drop thumb.

Regarding speed - I know this is easier said than done, but my primary piece of advice would be not to worry about it much. Speed is one of those things that, for the most part, develops as a byproduct of working on other things. Specifically, it comes from no longer having to spend conscious effort thinking about the thing you're playing (the movements of your hands, the note that comes next, etc.). Once these things are automatic, speed becomes almost trivial.

For example, imagine the routine you go through getting into a car and starting it up. There are multiple steps involved, but you've done it so many times it has become automatic - you can do the whole thing without thinking about it, and it all seems effortless. And if someone told you to do it faster, it wouldn't be particularly challenging. You can dial up the speed of the whole thing fairly easily, because all of the components of that procedure are on autopilot; i.e. your ability to modulate the speed has come as a byproduct of having mastered the elements of getting your car started.

Now imagine a first time driver trying to do the same procedure. The reason it takes them 5 times as long is because they must focus their attention on each of the individual elements. Eventually they will become much faster at it, primarily because they've mastered the various components involved in the procedure.

Increasing the speed of the metronome is primarily a test of to what degree the various components are on autopilot (as opposed to a measure of how fast you can move your hand, fingers, etc.).

Anyhow, hope that makes sense!

Mr Thomas Says:
Friday, October 17, 2014 @6:19:09 AM

Thanks for the advice on developing speed. You're right. As a beginner on an instrument you envy those who can play fast and you think that it's the speed that makes is sound good and rhythmic, when in fact it's the quality of the playing that counts.

casey050 Says:
Thursday, October 30, 2014 @4:07:38 PM

Thanks soooo much, i can actually play in front of friends and family and sound like i know how to play banjo. I am so so happy right now. I love lookin up when i stop playing and see smiling faces. Thanks again josh thats impressive teaching. Casey

Mr Thomas Says:
Friday, November 7, 2014 @4:30:02 AM

I totally agree with Casey, very impressive teaching. Still, I also agree with someone who said: "Clawhammer banjo is impossible!" I find it very difficult to move further from the stage where I am now. I mean I can play Skip To My Lou and Turkey In The Straw decently at a slow speed. But there are so many obstacles and possible stuff that may effect progress. Even the distance of the wrist to the banjo skin. And that thumb stroke is almost impossible to get smooth. When I've done a hammer on and then press the thumb against the fifth string it kind of stops the rhythm, well not totally but you know, it's not smooth. And the movement back up of the hand from the thumb stroke doesn't feel natural. But I'm adamant, I will be as good as any clawhammer player even if it's takes forever. Any advice, Josh?

Kind regards,


Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 @8:57:06 AM

Casey - that's wonderful to hear. And keep at it!

Tom - First off, we've all been there. The clawhammer stroke is very awkward at first, and one of the reason to me it's surprising that it was ever invented in the first place. Someone must've had a pretty good vision. As far as getting it to where it's no longer awkward, the biggest piece of I advice I have is to take it slowly, and work on one element at a time. Slow things down to where your hand behaves as you want it to, then practice it repeatedly. This is still how I do things when I encounter tricky fingerings, etc. Just focus on making a little bit of progress each time, and you'll get there.

Mr Thomas Says:
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 @3:55:24 PM

Thanks for your support, Josh! I think I have made progress already. I realized for example that there was too much tension in my hand, quite a revelation! Much smoother now, but still a long way to go. You're right, practice and small progress. I should know, I used to be a guitar teacher for a while a long time ago. But clawhammer banjo is so different from other instrument as you have to work so much at the stroke itself. And it's hard to see that you're actually going anywhere just by repeating the same movement … But you are, suddenly a small step comes. Thanks!

Mr Thomas Says:
Friday, December 19, 2014 @3:49:03 AM

Thanks again for your advice, Josh. I'm making progress … But there are two things that are bothering me. When you're playing in your videos you're standing up and the pot is at your right hip and you're right arm is parallel with the neck of the banjo, seen from above. Whereas when I'm playing I sit down and the pot is between my legs in front of my belly, and this means that my right arm is not in line with the neck, but there is a small angle, so that my wrist is a couple of inches from the skin. You get my point? If you look down at the banjo and it's at a zero angle from left to right, then my arm is at a 5-10 degrees clockwise angle from the line represented by the banjo. This affects the whole stroke and makes it a bit awkward. Do you think it matters? Should I try to strive for a zero angle? Then the thumb stroke, and this may be related to the first point. I don't understand how you are able to keep the steady down-up movement of the hand when you pluck the fifth. The thumb stroke necessarily involves a slight up and forward movement of the whole hand. So that the whole hand gets a bit wobbly after the thumb stroke, with a slight anti-clockwise movement, which then has to be compensated. Will this go away or can I ignore it? Maybe I think too much, but I'm afraid it might be an obstacle in my progress. Any advice? Tom

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