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Jan 21, 2020 - 1:00:24 PM

Owen

Canada

4847 posts since 6/5/2011

I may not know enough to make this an intelligent question, and my intention isn't to poke the hornets' nest, but....

Is there any consensus as to which style of 5-string banjo playing [eg. Scruggs, melodic, 2-finger old time, clawhammer, etc., etc.] is [technically ??] easiest to learn?   

By learn, I don't mean to become proficient... just  to advance from "sucks" to "doesn't suck."   

I'm intentionally leaving out considerations such as previous exposure to music, availability of a teacher, personal preference, proximity to jams/jammers, etc., etc.

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:05:40 PM
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2058 posts since 12/31/2005

I didn't suck quicker with clawhammer, although whether I ever cleared that hurdle is subject to some debate.

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:12:28 PM
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158 posts since 8/25/2009

It took me nine months to learn clawhammer. I got into 3-finger, forward rolls only, in about three weeks. Two finger came in one lesson. My takeaway is that up-picking was a lot more natural than down-picking, at least for me.

I like 2-finger best as well, followed by clawhammer -maybe all that effort prejudiced me :-)

But, I suggest that you might want to just go with the style you like to listen to -you'll be listening to a lot of your own playing in the years to come!

Bill

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:16:24 PM
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2058 posts since 12/31/2005

Bill makes a great point. You will probably learn most quickly that which motivates you the most. Play what you enjoy, and don't worry about how good you are.  I never have (and it shows).

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 01/21/2020 14:16:57

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:21:41 PM
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241 posts since 3/29/2018

I played a bunch of years of guitar, but was really into Stringbean and Grandpa Jones when I first got my banjo. So I think it helped that I had the sound cemented into my head, but I think clawhammer is 'easier' to learn than 3 finger.
There are nuances to clawhammer to the same degree as 3 finger Scruggs style, but I think it is a better introduction to the sounds of the banjo and abilities of the banjo---that translate, also, into 3 finger or other styles......
I started with clawhammer and expanded to Scruggs style 3 finger and I couldnt be happier.....What I cannot pick I can clawhammer out....it's great

So, Learn both......another big factor is that I can sing easier when I do clawhammer....so if I wanna sing it I might do clawhammer rather than a simple rollalong

Edited by - Astrobanjo on 01/21/2020 14:25:32

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:22:55 PM
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2020 posts since 5/2/2012

Depends on your definition of "don't suck", but here's my journey. Have played banjo for almost 8 years now...hard to believe. Started playing clawhammer. Stuck with that for only 4 - 5 months. By then I could play some REALLY simple arrangements, some memorized, some not. Still at the beginner level, but I didn't suck if I stayed within my limits. Switched over to 2 finger thumb lead. Took a month to learn and memorize the first tune, less time to learn the second, less to learn the third tune, and so on. I think I got to be a decent 2ftl player, something better than didn't suck. Switched to Scruggs style. Even though I played 2ftl prior to switching, adding that 3rd finger took awhile. I'd say about 6 months in I was getting to the don't suck level. Melodic is a subset of Scruggs/3 finger picking and clawhammer as well. I have worked now and then on melodic tunes using my Scruggs picking skills. I had to be a decent 3 finger picker to really play those melodic tunes well, and the hardest part of melodic tunes is the fretting hand. So, for me personally, 2ftl was probably the quickest to move from barely being able to play to doesn't suck, although it helped that I had some fretting hand skills when I switched. For normal people, and for someone like me with little innate musical talent, there may not be an "easiest to learn" style, as far as technique is concerned. Based on my experience, it may take 6 months or so to get the basics down with any style, to be able to play a simple beginner arrangement with good taste, timing, and technique. What is challenging is getting beyond the don't suck level and growing in musicianship, like learning backup, playing in different keys or tunings, learning a tune by ear, making your own arrangements, learning other styles within your general playing style, like Reno style for Scruggs players or Round Peak style for clawhammer players. Will be interesting to read what others think.

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:26:58 PM

241 posts since 3/29/2018

well put, old man

Jan 21, 2020 - 2:51:52 PM
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9243 posts since 2/22/2007

Two Finger Thumb Lead will get you playing tunes quicker than any other method, imo. Before playing Bluegrass you have to drill the rolls and before playing Clawhammer you have to get that weird stroke going. I find TF very intuitive and can sound good even with simple arrangements. Then you can fancy it up later as your are able, and there are indeed some advanced TF players.
But if going that route, I recommend something that I failed to do, but it's still solid advice. Learn to use your middle finger for the bottom strings, instead of the index, which will now just be hanging there. But when that index is hanging there you will find it most useful from time to time and just may find yourself playing 3-finger without knowing it! And if you want to move to Bluegrass, your hand is ready for that.
I have begun to add that in, but I started by bracing with middle and ring and that is still what my hand wants to do.
Also, don't get hung up on the "thumb lead" name, as before long you will also find it handy to be up-picking with the finger(s). To me, what is called Two Finger is really just a non-roll based method of picking banjo that is heavy on the melody with whatever embellishments are handy.

Jan 21, 2020 - 3:19:57 PM
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Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

407 posts since 10/15/2019

I took to Pete Seeger's "basic strum" like a duck to water. Everything else I tried (and I tried everything) felt like "work", not "fun", and was hard on the ears. I didn't suck in a hurry. And don't let the name fool you. You can fancy it up all you want. All the left hand techniques work. You can do fiddle tunes. You can do back up for singing the lyrics. You can go at a terrific tempo and blast out lyrics and breaks to "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" if you want to. It's not so loud that you'll blow your family out of the house and end up with a permanent mute planted on your bridge. In fact you can just tap the strings lightly and do it while you carry on a conversation or watch tv. It's not just bum ditty bum ditty bum ditty all the way through. You can do whatever you want with it.

That's my "bum ditty bum bum...two bits!"

Jan 21, 2020 - 4:00:47 PM
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718 posts since 5/19/2018

Been playing for close to 50 years. At one point a millions years ago I was a professional...used to think years ago that I was really really good, and others voiced that opinion also, then in the past ten or so years when I for some reason started to deeply re-listen to the old players 78’s. Old vinyl and the like and I started to really reflect and now think I don’t know a damn thing.

Those folks who played back when, they were really great.

It don’t take much to sound pretty decent. A little practice and a little talent. You will be able to pass muster with most folks.

To master something... takes a lifetime.

Jan 21, 2020 - 5:25:30 PM
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doryman

USA

747 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

I took to Pete Seeger's "basic strum" like a duck to water. Everything else I tried (and I tried everything) felt like "work", not "fun", and was hard on the ears. I didn't suck in a hurry. And don't let the name fool you. You can fancy it up all you want. All the left hand techniques work. You can do fiddle tunes. You can do back up for singing the lyrics. You can go at a terrific tempo and blast out lyrics and breaks to "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" if you want to. It's not so loud that you'll blow your family out of the house and end up with a permanent mute planted on your bridge. In fact you can just tap the strings lightly and do it while you carry on a conversation or watch tv. It's not just bum ditty bum ditty bum ditty all the way through. You can do whatever you want with it.

That's my "bum ditty bum bum...two bits!"


I agree, especially if you already know how to make chords (say, from playing the guitar).  It's a simple matter to memorize a few new chords (three), learn a simple strumming pattern, and you're right in there singing and playing "If I had a hammer" in no time at all. 

Jan 21, 2020 - 5:27:12 PM
Players Union Member

doryman

USA

747 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by doryman
quote:
Originally posted by Eric A

I took to Pete Seeger's "basic strum" like a duck to water. Everything else I tried (and I tried everything) felt like "work", not "fun", and was hard on the ears. I didn't suck in a hurry. And don't let the name fool you. You can fancy it up all you want. All the left hand techniques work. You can do fiddle tunes. You can do back up for singing the lyrics. You can go at a terrific tempo and blast out lyrics and breaks to "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" if you want to. It's not so loud that you'll blow your family out of the house and end up with a permanent mute planted on your bridge. In fact you can just tap the strings lightly and do it while you carry on a conversation or watch tv. It's not just bum ditty bum ditty bum ditty all the way through. You can do whatever you want with it.

That's my "bum ditty bum bum...two bits!"


I agree, especially if you already know how to make chords (say, from playing the guitar).  It's a simple matter to memorize a few new chord shapes, learn a simple strumming pattern, and you're right in there singing and playing "If I had a hammer" in no time at all. 


Jan 21, 2020 - 6:05:40 PM
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AGACNP

USA

68 posts since 10/12/2011

I started learning Scruggs style about 45 years ago. I learned enough to progress just so far, but lost the passion for it, stopped playing banjo for about 8 years.

After surviving a serious medical condition, I felt that passion once more. I got the 5 string out of the case, and found a local jam. I found a great banjo player who was willing to provide honest objective feedback, and have been practicing at least 30 minutes every day for the past 12-13 months. I have relearned some Scruggs stuff (also correcting prior mistakes), and have also been picking up some melodic stuff along the way.

It’s now been a year since I resumed playing, and I think the melodic stuff has come to me as easily as the Scruggs stuff.

My point is: “easiest to learn” may depend on life circumstances and/or the ‘passion for learning’ you bring to it. I found that I have REALLY wanted it this time, and as a result, have been putting in the required work. Tangible results have followed.

Jan 21, 2020 - 6:58:40 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22988 posts since 6/25/2005

Probably “whamming.” See the Pete Seeger book.

Jan 21, 2020 - 7:18:06 PM
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Owen

Canada

4847 posts since 6/5/2011

Thanks  everybody for your insight / recommendations / advice.

For some weeks now I've been sensing that my bluegrass "journey" was peaking, or probably more accurately flat lining, so I've started looking into other possibilities.  I was leaning toward 2-finger; hadn't heard much about Pete Seeger's basic strum, but that too has possibilities.

t.o.m. my definition of "doesn't suck" is being able to participate in a jam and not have listeners think "Geez, it would sound a lot better if Owen had left his banjo at home," or being able to play at a nursing home without the inmates booing or pelting me with food.

Lately I've come across Clifton Hicks' videos [eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6p10I_8n3s ] and am impressed with his teaching delivery / presentation.  If secondary questions are appropriate: Recommendations?  Thoughts? 

Again, thanks.

Edited by - Owen on 01/21/2020 19:20:21

Jan 21, 2020 - 8:53:46 PM
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9243 posts since 2/22/2007

I love how Clifton plays, but it plum evades me.

Jan 21, 2020 - 10:32:56 PM
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62 posts since 10/4/2018

I was able to sing and play along a lot faster with clawhammer than with scruggs style. It took a bit longer not to suck at scruggs.

Jan 22, 2020 - 5:31:01 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

407 posts since 10/15/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Owen

Thanks  everybody for your insight / recommendations / advice.

For some weeks now I've been sensing that my bluegrass "journey" was peaking, or probably more accurately flat lining, so I've started looking into other possibilities.  I was leaning toward 2-finger; hadn't heard much about Pete Seeger's basic strum, but that too has possibilities.

t.o.m. my definition of "doesn't suck" is being able to participate in a jam and not have listeners think "Geez, it would sound a lot better if Owen had left his banjo at home," or being able to play at a nursing home without the inmates booing or pelting me with food.

Lately I've come across Clifton Hicks' videos [eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6p10I_8n3s ] and am impressed with his teaching delivery / presentation.  If secondary questions are appropriate: Recommendations?  Thoughts? 

Again, thanks.


Clifton Hicks is terrific for demonstrating a variety of styles, with an open mind about everything.  I was going to link a video with a great explainer about Seeger style (up-picking), and then I realized that's the same one you linked!  My personal style most closely resembles what he's doing between 6:30 and 7:30 in the video, except to say that my brush stroke generally hits in the vicinity of whichever string I just plucked, rather than always the bass string.

With the banjo world being entirely dominated by Three Finger and Clawhammer, instruction on other styles is not always easy to find.   In this case, buzz words to google would be:

Seeger style, Basic Strum, Up Picking, and more broadly, Two Finger Index Lead.  Good Luck!

Edited by - Eric A on 01/22/2020 05:37:25

Jan 22, 2020 - 8:28:23 AM

3293 posts since 7/12/2006

if you decide to go three finger bluegrass mode you might give ralph stanley a good listen to. very straightforwatd style .

Jan 22, 2020 - 9:40 AM
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3880 posts since 10/18/2007

I played 3-finger bluegrass for 20 years before I decided got take up clawhammer too. I've got to say that strumming with the back of the nail was completely foreign to me and it's been a slow road to feeling comfortable with the CH style. I still have issues with hitting the correct string, especially with drop thumb. That said, I can pick out a unfamiliar clawhammer tune quicker than a bluegrass tune on the fly. Guess what I'm saying is that even though clawhammer seems easier to learn than bluegrass, the hurdles are there. Advanced CH vs. advanced BG? I don't know.

Jan 22, 2020 - 2:03:41 PM

70902 posts since 5/9/2007

I've been playing since 1960 and I'm still learning.

Jan 22, 2020 - 2:31:46 PM

Paul R

Canada

12258 posts since 1/28/2010

I dunno, Owen. I told Dale Ann Bradley's banjo player that I played clawhammer and he said, "I couldn't do that." So, YMMV. (Plus, he was being humble.) Proficiency can be what you make of it. A young lady watched me play at a jam and was surprised you didn't have to play basic bump-ditty. Play other strings with your thumb? She thought that was verbotten. We all have different ways of learning.

I started with the "Seeger strum" in the early Seventies. Later in that decade I took two clawhammer lessons from Kate Murphy and took to it like a gerbil to sunflower seeds. She had me drop thumbing right away. Soon after, I tried BG. I could do a basic roll, but I could play melodic CH, thanks to the books that were around back then (Burke, Krassen, Perlman). Then I sort of hung it up for twenty years or more. Today I would never call myself a BG player - I've been somewhat deterred by the years it would take to get the prescribed rolls working properly. I also find 2ftl problematic on certain tunes (could be practice aversion), and I often convert 2ftl arrangements to CH.

Chacun a son gout, as Dad used to pseudo philosophize. Whatever fits your aptitude is what will make you not suck, as long as you work at it.

Jan 22, 2020 - 4:09:56 PM
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Owen

Canada

4847 posts since 6/5/2011

So far Paul, my aptitude w.r.t. music seems to be for me to listen to somebody else making it.    However, I do have a bit of a stubborn streak, so we'll see what I can conjure up during the upcoming months/years.   Tongue-not-firmly-in-cheek, I retain some hope that I'll be able to prove your dad [a little bit] wrong.   wink

Again, thanks to all for your input.  yes

Jan 23, 2020 - 2:55:04 PM
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459 posts since 1/28/2013

If you pick Scruggs and are starting from scratch, don't plan any long vacations at least for another 10 years.

Jan 23, 2020 - 7:19:58 PM
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1019 posts since 8/7/2017

I think the biggest factor in how fast you learn (get past don't suck phase) is how you practice (just what Josh Turknett says). Anyone who's followed my posts probably knows my ideas, I'm a one-note-Brooks on the subject; well I Really believe this :-). Read and digest Josh's Laws of Brainjo and you will, if you are like me, be pleasantly surprized at how fast you progress.
-------------
I'll add that teaching myself to learn and play by ear was also a Huge factor in increasing progress, and simply having fun. That skill took a lot of effort for me (eg. 2 weeks of trying to learn a simple Angeline the Baker version by ear, with lots of "man will I ever learn this?" doubt). But once I got it, learning new songs became So much easier & Faster than learning tab. For the past year (I'm starting my 5th year of clawhammer), I mostly can pick up a song and play at least a medium cool melody after listening to the song 3 or 4 times before picking up the banjo. This seemed like an impossible goal when I started...I still get a big grin on my face when it goes so easy.
--------------
I'd say that clawhammer is easier to learn than Scruggs because the *melody* is easier to hear with beginner claw than with beginner Scruggs. Been there, tried both. The hangup with clawhammer seems to be the basic frailing stroke -- Some get it right off, and some work for months, based on my reading posts here and elsewhere for the past 4 years. I don't have any tips to speed the process other than I think the frail stroke a right brain skill, not a left brain skill - and traditional teaching methods use left brain training techniques. Betty Edwards' book "Drawing on the right side of the brain" delves in to right brain skills via learning to draw portraits. If you can draw like she teaches, you'll be a better musician (because you can engage the right side of your brain).

Josh's podcast over on "Musicality now"expresses this all a lot better than me:
musical-u.com/learn/boosting-m...-brainjo/

Hope this helps. Message me if you want more details, glad to help.

Jan 24, 2020 - 6:51:20 AM

70902 posts since 5/9/2007

Segovia said he was still learning at the age of 92.

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