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Apr 10, 2020 - 7:50:52 AM
25 posts since 1/1/2020

I'm a newbie wanting to learn Clawhammer. I'm in the epicenter of the coronavirus (nyc), so private lessons are out for the foreseeable future.

There are 17 relevant instructional dvd/downloads for sale at BHO. Anyone have any experience with any of them to help guide my purchase? I'm particularly interested in the 2 by Lynn Morris, but would certainly appreciate input on any of them.

Apr 10, 2020 - 8:34:35 AM



997 posts since 12/2/2012

The only DVD I've purchased was one by Ken Perlman. Therefore my knowledge of what is available and best of all the clawhammer banjo DVD's is very limited. However, one thing I would do over if I was starting over (they say you don't know what you don't know; and for me I didn't even know enough how to ask the right question) I would seek out the music played by all the instructors and narrow down it down to the musical style I like. For I've found that while it is called clawhammer/old time, that is a big umbrella and you'll find so many variations of style. And while each of us will have a variance, we'll probably end up sounding like whoever it is we're learning from. And don't discount the possibility of skype/online learning.

I wish for you much enjoyment on your new banjo journey.

Apr 10, 2020 - 8:40:48 AM

59 posts since 5/11/2006

Frankie Lee's Home Spun dvd is a very good one. He plays in a couple different tunings and demonstrates the tunes really well. David Holt has a couple from beginner on up.

Apr 10, 2020 - 10:43 AM
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1148 posts since 8/7/2017

Clawhammer playing is quite individualistic. For example, should your right hand wrist be bent or straight? I have 2 different instructional books, and each author has the opposite advice :-) From a "avoid carpal tunnel syndrome" perspective, straight wrist is better, in my opinion.

Be wary of any instructional method that *Insists* you have to do it exactly the way of the instructor. All an instructor knows is what worked for them, and what they *think* worked for their students. No one knows it all.

So, whoever you chose, if you find it's not working for you, don't be afraid to try something different. In the end, you will probably buy several different books/CDs over your career; I probably have a half dozen. Each will teach you something, and your individual style will be unique (which is good!)

Some posters on BHO worry/warn about correcting "bad habits". That's fine for them, but what's bad for one is not necessarily bad for all. I think about some of the professional pool players I've seen - they have quite different physical setups, stance, stroke, etc. Their "bad habits" did not prevent them from becoming tops in their profession.

If you are used going it alone and teaching yourself, you will be fine, and if you wish to have instruction, that's fine too.
Pat Costello has a nice attitude about frailing - "Anyone can do it" :-). His book "The how and tao of old time banjo" was helpful to me, and is available online as a free pdf. (or you can buy the paperback book from him, though he's not shipping right now due to Covid-19). You can search for online downloads.

I've also liked books and CD's by Art Rosenbaum: Old-time Mountain Banjo, and Old-time Banjo Book (2 Cd's). You may be able to get these from Elderly Instruments after they reopen (closed due to Mich. State CV-19 order, see their website).

I started with books, CD's, Tab, and youtube videos (no personal instructor). After about 6 months of the former materials, I taught myself to learn by ear (took 2 weeks for my 1st song, Angeline the Baker). Now I can pick up a tune in much less time by ear than by tab, some in 15 minutes or so. So, if you can stand the 2 week frustration period, it's well worth your time to learn how to play by ear. The free program Audacity was a great help - it can slow songs and also change their key, independently.

Hope this helps.

Apr 10, 2020 - 11:35:01 AM
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3879 posts since 5/12/2010

My advice to beginners is to learn to "Double Thumb" as the basic stroke first, rather than the more commonly taught "Bum-Dit-ty.

I have looked at very few instructional DVDs for banjo, but they probably are better than a book.

I also think you might benefit from Skype lessons from someone like Dan Levenson. I believe he teaches Double Thumb as a basic stroke before going into other styles. Skype lessons are the next best thing to being there, they don't cost a lot, and you are safe from COVID-19.

The advantage with first learning Double Thumb, instead of "Bum-Dit-ty" is the Double Thumb stroke sounds the 5th string on both upstrokes, the other only on one.

If you learn "Bum-Dit-ty" first it can be very difficult to add that extra drone in after leaving it out long enough for it to become an ingrained habit. This happened to me. My first teacher started me with the "Bum-Dit-ty" and later on I just could not get the rhythm I wanted for the genre I became most interested in. It took me a very long time, years even, to consistently get that extra drone in there, because my thumb automatically avoided it.

If Double Thumb is learned first, later on it is easier to learn to leave it out when desired, and I think it also makes it easier to learn embellishments such as "Drop Thumbing", and others.

Apr 11, 2020 - 5:47:23 AM



69 posts since 2/17/2008

This is the one that got me started. Elements of Clawhammer Banjo: A Lesson with Chris Coole

Apr 11, 2020 - 9:08:38 AM

1148 posts since 8/7/2017

Thanks Doc, I ordered Chris Coole's instructional DVD. It's cheaper to order direct from him, rather than go through Amazon, btw.

Apr 11, 2020 - 10:39:44 AM

60 posts since 12/5/2004

If you want to try out an online lesson series check out

Over 98 lessons and 44 hours of material with a three day free trial. Use the coupon SOCIALDISTANCING for 50% off your first month!

Apr 11, 2020 - 2:25:37 PM
Players Union Member



11658 posts since 6/30/2015

I love Cathy Fink's course on When I bought it it was a DVD, but now I think it's either a download or a subscription. There are some samples on youtube of her lessons, or you can go here.

I really learned a lot from her. Josh Turknett's Brainjo course is also a great starting place, and he offers a lot of intro material for free.

Both Josh and Cathy are members here on the forum, and are both very generous with advice.

May 11, 2020 - 12:34:46 AM

764 posts since 6/25/2006

Originally posted by DC5

I love Cathy Fink's course on When I bought it it was a DVD, but now I think it's either a download or a subscription. There are some samples on youtube of her lessons, or you can go here.

I really learned a lot from her. Josh Turknett's Brainjo course is also a great starting place, and he offers a lot of intro material for free.

Both Josh and Cathy are members here on the forum, and are both very generous with advice.

Yes, and with the Cathy Fink course you can follow a program from beginner to advanced.  TrueFire courses are great value for money - you can purchase and download them rather than stream them and there are no monthly subscription fees.

May 11, 2020 - 8:41:53 AM

25 posts since 1/1/2020

Lots of good responses. As a newbie I find it interesting that there appear to be two basic camps when it comes to learning Clawhammer: Play by Ear (Murphy and Brainjo) and Tabs (everybody else).

I like what I have been able to view of Cathy Fink for free, but she seems to be 100% in the Tabs camp. Since I seem to have at least an average ear, I am tempted to give play by ear a shot first. Do you think most Clawhammer players learn first to play by ear or from following tabs?

May 11, 2020 - 8:50:29 AM

1148 posts since 8/7/2017

I started on Tab, then changed to Ear. I played cornet in school, so was somewhat used to reading music, though tab is not the same. Ear is very versitle, and pretty fast once you get used to it. For either style, if you can't whistle or hum the tune before you start, learning a song will be needlessly frustrating, I found.

May 11, 2020 - 1:27:36 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


23601 posts since 6/25/2005

If you want to play fiddle tunes, I suggest Dan Levenson’s   Clawhammer Banjo from Scratch because it teaches the Double-C tuning, the one most used for fiddle tunes.  It’s a well-thought-out progressive approach that takes you from beginning to fairly advanced versions of the same tunes. 

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