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Nov 18, 2019 - 8:19:25 PM
3833 posts since 10/18/2007

Recently I've attended two clawhammer workshops. The first teacher said I should use only the wrist to achieve the right hand strum. The second instructor insisted that the entire forearm be used for leverage in the strum. What is your advice?

Nov 18, 2019 - 9:20:55 PM
Players Union Member

Neil Allen

France

809 posts since 6/15/2014

This matter gets discussed in Rocket Science banjo:

Wrist or elbow – your choice.
The one thing most clawhammer teachers will agree on is that the frail motion does not come
from the fingers. If you frail from the fingers you will never get the driving solid rhythm you
need for playing with a fiddle and certainly not in a string band. In fact your playing might not
even be loud enough to keep up with a guitarist. The banjo is a lead instrument, playing it calls
for some power. Your entire hand is needed for solid rhythm and enough volume to carry the
instrument through voice or instrumentation. Nearly everyone agrees on this, but there is major
disagreement about where the frail gets its power.
Many players frail from the elbow, just as many use the wrist, and many use both the wrist
and elbow to get the stroke. It is my experience that “melodic” players tend to work mostly from
the wrist, while “old time” or “southern” players are more the elbow sort. While I was a melodic
player for several years I have always moved from the elbow. I also know old time players who
frail mostly from the wrist. So there is no hard and fast division. One thing I can say is that for
many people the sharp wrist turn involved in doing clawhammer without some elbow movement
is an open invitation for carpal tunnel inflammation. I’ve been plagued with such problems for
decades, ever since I was a flamenco guitarist (flamenco is ALL from the wrist). Now I normally
wear a brace when playing, in order to keep my right wrist as still as possible.

For what it's worth, I started with the "elbow" movement and ended up moving towards the "wrist" movement because I felt it was easier to get better accuracy. If I were learning again, I would move from the wrist and try to keep the movement as small as possible, but others may have different opinions.

Nov 19, 2019 - 12:22:44 AM

2285 posts since 4/29/2012

Most of my action comes from the wrist. But I don't make any conscious effort not to move my elbow and it does have a bit of up-and-down. That works for me. A different ratio of wrist:elbow may work better for you. Have a look at the very many youtube videos of people playing clawhammer competently or better with completely different actions. It should be pretty obvious that your 2 contradictory but dogmatic instructors are both wrong.  The bit of advice I would go with is to keep finger movement to a minimum. But you will find players who break that rule and produce competent or better results.

Edited by - AndrewD on 11/19/2019 00:31:30

Nov 19, 2019 - 5:59:59 AM

carlb

USA

2019 posts since 12/16/2007

Edited by - carlb on 11/19/2019 06:15:25

Nov 19, 2019 - 9:11:02 AM
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3724 posts since 10/13/2005
Online Now

People's bone/muscle and nerve systems are as different as our faces. Some people naturally have one kidney, some four. Great comments and information above. You have to experiment and be observant for what works best for you, short term and long term. I use both kinds of motion fairly evenly most of the time, but if I am aiming for loud and raucous I play more elbow. You want a right hand that can do many subtle and not so subtle actions to get the kind of sound you want for any situation and mood. Two-cents- banjered

Nov 19, 2019 - 11:05:27 AM

m06

England

8128 posts since 10/5/2006

Personal physiology and preference.

My right hand side drive comes primarily from forearm/wrist. With final acceleration of the picking nail down and into the string derived from a marked snap and inward wrist-roll of the right hand.

All that movement is compact providing economy of motion.

Nov 19, 2019 - 11:30:46 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22565 posts since 6/25/2005

Drive from the forearm/elbow. Position from the wrist. I think you can get more power from the forearm, which may not be what you want or need.

Nov 19, 2019 - 12:01:02 PM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019

I'm an up-picker and not a down-picker, and I had to actually make an effort to watch and see what I was doing because I really didn't know, but I have to say all my movement is in the elbow, not the wrist.

Nov 19, 2019 - 12:07:43 PM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019

Also, on the brush stroke, as in the "ditty" what strings am I actually hitting? Am I hitting everything, as the tabs would suggest? No, I am not.

Mostly, my index is hitting the string I just hit, plus the lower one. I.e. if I just hit the 3rd, my brush is mostly hitting 3rd and 4th. But also, I think my middle finger is making some contact with 1st and 2nd, so...whatever.

Nov 19, 2019 - 1:32:25 PM
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4752 posts since 5/14/2007

I agree with what several other posters said, that you need to find your own way. As for myself, it is about 85% wrist, 15% forearm. If I need more power, I stiffen the wrist and use more forearm.

Nov 20, 2019 - 10:14:11 AM
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382 posts since 1/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Neil Allen

This matter gets discussed in Rocket Science banjo:

Wrist or elbow – your choice.
The one thing most clawhammer teachers will agree on is that the frail motion does not come
from the fingers. If you frail from the fingers you will never get the driving solid rhythm you
need for playing with a fiddle and certainly not in a string band. In fact your playing might not
even be loud enough to keep up with a guitarist. The banjo is a lead instrument, playing it calls
for some power. Your entire hand is needed for solid rhythm and enough volume to carry the
instrument through voice or instrumentation. Nearly everyone agrees on this, but there is major
disagreement about where the frail gets its power.
Many players frail from the elbow, just as many use the wrist, and many use both the wrist
and elbow to get the stroke. It is my experience that “melodic” players tend to work mostly from
the wrist, while “old time” or “southern” players are more the elbow sort. While I was a melodic
player for several years I have always moved from the elbow. I also know old time players who
frail mostly from the wrist. So there is no hard and fast division. One thing I can say is that for
many people the sharp wrist turn involved in doing clawhammer without some elbow movement
is an open invitation for carpal tunnel inflammation. I’ve been plagued with such problems for
decades, ever since I was a flamenco guitarist (flamenco is ALL from the wrist). Now I normally
wear a brace when playing, in order to keep my right wrist as still as possible.

For what it's worth, I started with the "elbow" movement and ended up moving towards the "wrist" movement because I felt it was easier to get better accuracy. If I were learning again, I would move from the wrist and try to keep the movement as small as possible, but others may have different opinions.


Keeping the forearm stationary and playing with just wrist action is asking for trouble. I play Scruggs style on banjo style with no problem, but when I play Guitar with a flatpick, especially a song like Pinball Wizard I feel pain. I started wearing a wrist wrap, and try to move my wrist and forearm together. But on some songs you just can't play like that. I'm going to start finger picking the Guitar.

Nov 20, 2019 - 2:38 PM

m06

England

8128 posts since 10/5/2006

I second Jan’s comments. Generating movement from wrist only is asking for tendon issues long term.

Personal preference is more likely the different percentage of wrist to forearm. And as Bill said when we want to crank up drive that ratio of forearm to wrist increases.

Edited by - m06 on 11/20/2019 14:39:43

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:09:16 AM

382 posts since 1/28/2013

The only other option you have, if you just can't resist the wrist playing method, is to at least skip a day or two between playing. This may or may not be possible, but it mat "buy" you a few years of playing time in the long run.

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