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Aug 13, 2012 - 6:04:27 AM
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206 posts since 9/6/2006

Hi all - I wish I had seen this "sticky" earlier, as it would have saved me some confusion as a newbie a couple of years ago!

However, now that I am a bit further down the road I feel I can add a few points in here:

index or middle? I have a preference for the middle finger for down picking, but have recently started to try and use the index finger sometimes in order to spread the wear and tear on my nails. I get much more volume and attack when using the index finger but I am less dextrous with it and it seems to somehow foul up my double-thumbing, but I reckon that is a matter that practice will smooth out.

* What is OT as as opposed to BG? Classic? Jazz? - I really like banjopogo's answer to that!

* What other kinds of OT besides CH are there? - Lots! Mike Seeger's DVD "Southern Banjo" is probably the best way to get an overview on that.

* Why do OT players use so many different tunings? - I guess it is partly about playing with fiddlers, and having different tunings that were perhaps favoured in particular areas. Re-tuning was very common for dulcimer players as fits with the modal origins and styles of OT tunes where the open strings act like drones.

* What's Seeger-style? - I got Pete Seeger's book some years ago but personally I did not find it a very clear approach so I put it down!

* What, if anything, is the difference between frailing and clawhammer? - This thread has just underlined my perception that whatever the differences were between these two, they are now blurred forever. I tend to think of "frailing" as referring to the specific downpicking action of striking a string with your fingernail, whereas CH refers to the whole RH action. But clearly I am a simple English woman from far, far away and you are free to ignore me.


As for some of the other topics raised by others on this thread:

* Differences in OT and BG banjos. The modern stylistic differences are that BG banjo has a resonator back, a particular type of tone ring, and is set up (in terms of head tension and height of strings) to give that crips bright tone we associate with BG music. OT banjo has open back, and a tone ring and set up that produces the melody more woody and plunky tone. However, video clips of great players show people using all kinds of banjos for all kinds of playing, so in the end personal preferences (budgets and affordability) all play a role too.

* Strings - after 3 years of experimenting and keeping notes on what makes I have tried, I have recently decided that my preferred strings are D'Addario J61 medium gauge set. I play in a band and my banjo needs some grunt in order to be heard over the big voiced Taylor guitar my compatriot plays, and I find these strings are responsive and give some bounce and resistance, with good tone across all the notes.

And the one TOP tip I would share for learners is this: get yourself a metronome and always practice to the beat. Start very slowly and aim to play cleanly; only speed up when you are playing it clean. This one new habit of mine has done more to shape my progression than anything else.

Aug 27, 2012 - 10:51:58 PM

Gaby

USA

22 posts since 3/31/2012

I play using a flat pick on some songs backing someone else, finger picks (thumb,1 and 2) when I sing and play. No finger picks when I might drop thumb or claw hammer .

Feb 2, 2013 - 3:30:21 PM

6 posts since 2/1/2013

I've looked through the forum & can't find an answer to my newbie question. I have read elsewhere on the net that different configurations on the banjo are used for different style.
I removed the armrest on my banjo & found it easier to practice the bum diddy. I was actually able to start doing it consistently-ish.
So it got me thinking Claw hammer style banjo players usually have no resonators on their banjo. So my question is this, would stripping off my resonator & using it open back, make any difference while learning??
Is there any advantage or disadvantage to keeping it on or not?
 

I posted this here only because it might be a question other new players may ask. If it need to be moved moderator LMK. Thanks

 

Edited by - cabreco on 02/02/2013 15:32:26

Feb 3, 2013 - 7:47:56 AM
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chuckb

USA

130 posts since 5/29/2009

The resonator makes it louder and usually brighter. If you look around you will find that a lot of old time players used resonators, an example is Roscoe Holcomb with a photo showing this on the album, "Untamed Sense of Control." It doesn't seem that the original players were biased against resonators. Them that had 'em used 'em.

Mar 25, 2013 - 11:38:18 PM

jwold

USA

1112 posts since 7/21/2004

OK FAQ folks. "The Cluck." I've seen the Rocket Science videos on youtube, but still a little confused. Does the right hand dampen the strings at all after striking the strings to keep them from ringing? If not, how do you keep the strings from ringing like a brush stroke?

Jun 3, 2013 - 7:36:58 PM

twodogs

USA

6 posts since 4/22/2013

I'll throw some fun at this mix...maybe already been here before...Which finger?

Started with index in early 80's with cheap banjo on long sailboat trip.

Cut off my index finger 1990 in my chipper. So made my hand pretty sore.

I am now just getting back to banjo everything..

These days I choose to play with middle finger.

So either can work is the real answer.

I'm 66..

Keep it up guys and gals

Jun 4, 2013 - 8:30:26 AM
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chuckb

USA

130 posts since 5/29/2009

Well, Dogs, I guess which finger is an rhetorical question for you. Circumstance has resolved your problem. I also started with my index finger, but after 10 years I have disfigured it to a great degree. Rather than switching to my middle finger, I now up-pick. I started that keeping down picking for my brushes, but that still caused problems. Lately I have also been up-picking the brushes like Wade Mainer did (certainly not with the panache of Wayne). Now that I am doing that I can use a pick (hard to use one when you both down and up pick with the same finger). After looking back at what the old timers did, it seems like a lot of reasons for what style they used had a lot to do with body mechanics.

Jun 4, 2013 - 4:57:24 PM

twodogs

USA

6 posts since 4/22/2013

Like your message lots of ways..thanks for viewing my same humor/circumstance.
Question for you if you have time...Picks...talking finger or hard?
Curious learning is all. I suspect hard but interesting approach.
Thanks for your response.
Just learning again.

Side note went to storage today have found among the stuff a Gibson/Uke short 4 string skin head with some documentation inside back resonator.
and store mark from 30s on peg head...store and buyer stuff. Great shape.
So once again sorting storage brings memories and treasures.
Got back my old banjo notes studies which I really went for.
And camping gear
twodogs

Jun 4, 2013 - 5:20:34 PM

4565 posts since 2/24/2004

Don't forget to add the link to Scott Labounty's , OLD TIME BANJO TAB PROJECT. 

http://freezing-sunset-75.heroku.com/index

He scanned in the titles of hundreds of old time tunes and tells where the tabs are available :)

Best wishes,

Mary Z Cox

Jun 4, 2013 - 6:37:58 PM

chuckb

USA

130 posts since 5/29/2009

Dogs, my experience with changing anything such as going from index to middle finger or not using or using picks is that you experience regression. If you have patience and practice the new technique or equipment a lot, you get back on track, but at first it feels clumsy. Also the sound will change some. For me the big change in sound was not changing from down picking to up-picking the melody notes but when I started to up-pick the brushes (when you do this you end up only hitting one or two strings unless you concentrate on a full sweep). Oh, and I used to use a pick when I was down-stroking.

Feb 7, 2014 - 9:46:08 PM

88 posts since 7/31/2012

twodogs, chuckb - that is certainly one aspect of the banjo I admire and appreciate. If you're a concert pianist, and one joint of one finger stops working, that may very well be the end of your career. But for banjo players, what's one missing finger or busted joint? Whatever it takes, people just make it work. It's a working person's instrument, and that in itself is respectable.

Feb 15, 2014 - 7:28:14 AM

83 posts since 5/24/2013

Why does everybody use acronyms, I'm not hip! Why don't you use the words? I don't now what OT means. Is it open thumb? I wonder why people don't use the words,is it laziness or is it for when their parents are looking over their shoulder?

Feb 24, 2014 - 2:41:25 PM

8099 posts since 3/17/2005

BG ... Bluegrass

"is it laziness or is it for when their parents are looking over their shoulders"
Well, would you accept neither?

OT ... old time

DT ... drop thumb

ASPO ... alternate string pull off

​HO ... hammer on

PO ... Pull off

Feb 28, 2014 - 7:48:57 PM

88 posts since 7/31/2012

quote:
Originally posted by cabreco

I've looked through the forum & can't find an answer to my newbie question. I have read elsewhere on the net that different configurations on the banjo are used for different style.
I removed the armrest on my banjo & found it easier to practice the bum diddy. I was actually able to start doing it consistently-ish.
So it got me thinking Claw hammer style banjo players usually have no resonators on their banjo. So my question is this, would stripping off my resonator & using it open back, make any difference while learning??
Is there any advantage or disadvantage to keeping it on or not?
 

I posted this here only because it might be a question other new players may ask. If it need to be moved moderator LMK. Thanks

 


Like chukb alluded to, the use of resonators is sort of contextual. Someone with a resonator may find that the 'busy' or 'droning' style of playing is just too much noise in the air to sound good. On the other hand, someone without a resonator may find that 'simple' playing sounds uncomfortably empty, and in response will play more busily. I'd say, it won't really affect your fundamental technique one way or another, but it will effect what kind of elaborations you do. You're not better or worse off for whatever path you choose, do what sounds right in the moment and the rest will follow.

Edited by - banjoboyd on 02/28/2014 19:50:49

Jan 19, 2015 - 8:48:53 PM

60 posts since 11/29/2014

I've always been amazed how different my banjo sounds when I use the index versus the middle finger, I just like the way the middle finger sounds..., but I use my index for the occasional strum for the tonal variation it produces.

(My wife reminds me its because I broke my index finger once. Boy that sure hurt when I got punched in the nose ;P)

Mar 23, 2015 - 10:15:40 AM

alvinc

France

7 posts since 3/22/2015

Just one question from a newbie, but does the size of your finger nails matter for the clawhammer playin style? I had some hard time to position my thumb just up from the fifth string, is that even correct?

Apr 13, 2016 - 12:20:50 AM
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857 posts since 6/5/2015

Index or middle - I have trained myself to use either index or middle in case one nail gives out I have a spare.

To answer alvinc's question about fingernails. ... Yes, the picking fingernails should be at roughly the end of your finger tip on your picking hand. but  of course if you play a lot it is difficult to keep them that long and in good shape. Some folks use fingerpicks installed upside down so they pick on the downstroke. But I personally don't use them.

Edited by - bartmcneil on 04/13/2016 00:38:23

May 5, 2016 - 4:45:25 AM

Spiked5th

New Zealand

2 posts since 3/5/2016

Interesting point about OT players using different tunings... I was told it dates back (as a practice/tradition/style) to the days before fretting was available on banjos, so it was only possible to play open strings. Therefore, if ya wanted to play given notes, ya had to have the'jo in the relevant tuning. Sounds plausible to me (plus it's a nice story!)

Edited by - Spiked5th on 05/05/2016 04:58:48

May 5, 2016 - 4:54:44 AM

Spiked5th

New Zealand

2 posts since 3/5/2016

Oh, and re. frailing strike finger, I find I can mis-strike pretty well with both index and middle fingers, but middle's my default! I do make possibly too liberal use of drop thumbing, too, but that's another subject altogether... For advice on the basic frailing pattern, I think you could do a lot worse than look up Patrick Costello's videos on YouTube. (Just personal preference: I really rate his books, too).

Aug 23, 2016 - 6:52:48 AM

87 posts since 1/24/2016

As one goes through this wonderful site and learns and develops a particular liking for the different players, is there a way to save to "some list" in your personal space, your favorite players, their home pages, videos, recordings, etc?

Jul 2, 2018 - 11:29:04 AM

140 posts since 6/14/2018

Uh dude, is that a dobro?

NO, IT'S A RESONATOR.

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