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Hello from a Banjo Newbie in South Africa

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Mar 26, 2020 - 11:57:05 PM
2 posts since 3/26/2020

Hello All

Long story short, after many years, and to and fro-ing between a resonator guitar and Banjo, I ended up buying an Ibanez B200 yesterday, the day before our country went into national lockdown because of COVID-19. I thought, well if I have 21 days to try something new, it may as well be a Banjo.

So, my musical background, is that I've played rhythm guitar for about 8 years and am self taught. I don't play by ear and can help myself if I have a song with chords in front of me. Noting that I sing as well.

I've seen that with Banjo playing there is a bunch of playing techniques and would like your direction on which is the best technique to start with coming from guitar, where I'm used to a lot of strumming.

Looking forward to your help and one day, I hope to be as good as the Banjo player from Steve n Seagulls. Those guys are a hoot!!!

Mar 27, 2020 - 5:43:43 AM



2680 posts since 11/29/2007

Welcome aboard. I lived in Nelspruit for 15 years before returning stateside to retire in 2012. You posted in the 'clawhammer,' part of the forum but as a beginner you may not know the difference between that and what is commonly referred to as Scruggs style playing. My advice would be to determine which one you want to learn and then go from there.


Mar 27, 2020 - 8:25:51 AM

2117 posts since 5/2/2012

Watched one video and the banjo player with Steve n Seagulls plays with a pick (plectrum), so not strictly clawhammer or Scruggs style. Plectrum (4 string) and tenor (4 string) banjo players use picks. The plectrum's 4 strings are tuned like the first 4 strings of a guitar, so he has probably transfered his guitar picking skills over to the banjo. Strumming the banjo would be a good transition, as you could use the chord shapes on the banjo - just change the tuning of the 4th string and ignore 5th string. But then you are just a guitar player using a banjo, with a different sound, so you will probably want to start learning how to pick the individual strings if you want to emulate the banjo player for Steve n Seagulls.

Mar 27, 2020 - 9:37:37 AM

2117 posts since 5/2/2012

I mispoke -- change the 1st string tuning to from D to E, so you have DGBE.

Got to thinking. Scruggs style banjo is usually associated with bluegrass music, and played in a group setting (like a BG band), although you can play many kinds of music (solo or group) using that picking style. Clawhammer is usually associated with old time music, and playing alone (and maybe singing) or in a group/band. Again, you can play many genres of music with clawhammer. So since you play rhythm and sing on the guitar, clawhammer might the way to go. I don't know much about Seegar style picking, but that might be a good fit as well. If you want to explore styles emphasizing the melody notes (and minimal or no strumming), check out one of the two-finger styles (thumb or index lead). Lots of things to think about. Welcome to the HO, by the way.

Mar 27, 2020 - 12:09:07 PM

127 posts since 1/2/2019

Go on Youtube and search for "clawhammer banjo" and listen to a lot of people and see if that's what you like.

Then search for Earl Scruggs or Bluegrass banjo picking and see if you like that.

There are also plenty of lessons online for the beginner in either style.

Both styles have their own challenges for the guitar player. I think it come down to more of, what banjo sound and style really get you excited about playing banjo. As a guitar player, there was one clawhammer player that I heard and thought, yeah - I want to be able to play like that!

From all I've watched of Steve n' Seagulls, the banjo player is just playing it like a guitar, fast picking. I love watching them and their take on some of my fav metal songs, but he's not really playing a banjo style. I wouldn't be surprised if he has it tuned like a guitar too - the high D tuned to E.

Mar 29, 2020 - 3:01:20 AM

2 posts since 3/26/2020

Thanks all for the replies. I've listened to a couple of songs and have decided to settle on clawhammer. It sounds less busy than the other styles and feels a bit more natural to me. But hey can always learn other styles later. Is there any specific way you would setup your banjo for clawhammer!?

Mar 29, 2020 - 1:57:53 PM

2117 posts since 5/2/2012

I don't think there is anything setup-wise that you absolutely have to do. Some CH players like their action set up a little bit higher than usual. Some, based on how they play, would like the 5th string a bit higher, and you can buy a bridge to do that. I got a crowe-spaced bridge so I'd have a little bit more room for my picking fingers, but in actuality it's probably mostly in my mind because the 1st to 4th string spacing is only 1/16" wider. Some players stuff something (towel, clean sock, etc.) between the co-rod and head to get a different sound.

Mar 29, 2020 - 6:48:49 PM

127 posts since 1/2/2019

The style I heard and loved was clawhammer. I just bought a beginner open back banjo and watched youtube teaching videos and bought the book, clawhammer for the Complete Ignoramus by Wayne Erbsen. I like his tunes, and was able to add drop thumb, double thumb when I was ready. One of the things I like about clawhammer is you can take a tune and easily arrange it to sound how you want it to sound - you can make it your own and unique.

Oh, and as an acoustic guitar travis/fingerpicker for years - it did require some practice because my first inclination was to pick up and as you know, clawhammer is all down strokes. Eventually it came and now its very natural. After a month or so, I am lucky to have an excellent teacher in my town and I took lessons to make sure I wasn't forming any bad habits.

I hope you really enjoy clawhammer.

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