I was at a wonderful indoor winter bluegrass festival last night near Toledo, Ohio. While talking banjo with a fine gentleman I met there, I told him how I learned to play clawhammer after playing only Scruggs style for 42 years. I thought it might be a good discussion for Banjo Hangout.
Don't get me wrong, I love picking Scruggs and melodic style bluegrass, still do and will never give them up, but for years I had wanted to add clawhammer and old time to my playing. The problem was the basic right hand motion is tough. The “bum-diddy”, as it is called, was kickin' my bum. But, one evening while struggling, I discovered something that made it work for me as a Scruggs stylist. Maybe it will work for other bluegrass pickers as well. It can't hurt to try.
So if you are already a Scruggs picker and want to play clawhammer too, here is my advice:
Don't learn the “bum-diddy” first. Most clawhammer methods start with it. Instead, skip ahead a little and learn the “double thumb”, or “drop thumb” lick first, then go back and add the “bum-diddy” to the “drop thumb”. I know this is totally backwards from what they usually say to do, but I found this to be much easier for me.
Here is why I think it works:
As Scruggs players, we have trained our thumbs to be busy at all times doing rolls and such. The “bum-diddy” feels awkward because there are two downward motions of the index(or middle) to each pluck from the thumb. The thumb just kind of hangs there with nothing to do part of the time, and it is hard to repeat such a motion. The “double thumbing” lick is more of an alternating thumb pattern that keeps your thumb busy. It is very much like the “Foggy Mt. Breakdown lick”, where if done right, you drop your thumb down and play the second string. The “double thumbing” gave me something that sounded good that I could repeat easily because my thumb was already used to that alternating motion. This gave me something I could practice so that my wrist could develop the muscle memory and accuracy it needed to learn the rest of the motions needed for the clawhammer style.
I can't guarantee it will work for every Scruggs stylist, but it worked for me. Get a good clawhammer book that describes “drop thumb” and see if this works for you.
Good luck, let me know how it goes.
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Playing Since: 1972
Experience Level: Purty Good
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5 string banjo, 6 string guitar, ten hole harmonica. I also like to play a little open back clawhammer style banjo as well.
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Last Visit 6/24/2019
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