Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Aug 31, 2021 - 12:34:29 PM
46 posts since 3/7/2011

I am just starting out on my claw hammer journey and have settled on the wonderful book and videos by Dan Levenson " Clawhammer from Scratch.

I just now received his newer publication " First Lessons" Clawhammer Banjo, I ordered this as I saw it had a rendition of " Old Joe Clark " in it and I like that tune.

My Conundrum is: Clawhammer from Scratch has the student Start out in Double C tuning with a very logical reason as to why. This newer publication of his, much shorter, but cool none the less is in so called "standard G' tuning! It seems a divergence from his original counseling. Any one have any thoughts on this?
thanks in advance!

Aug 31, 2021 - 12:49:43 PM
likes this
Players Union Member



4122 posts since 3/11/2004

"First Lessons Clawhammer Banjo" is meant to be just that - a brief, though, inclusive instruction book for new clawhammer players. Most people have banjos tuned to open G (gDGBD) since they came that way from the store. So, "First Lessons" starts there. It's also a thinner and less ecpensive book,  It later introduces sawmill tuning (gDGCD) and double-C tuning (gCGCD). It's also important to point out that "Old Joe Clark" is usually played in G or A (either with a capo on the 2nd fret or tuned up to aEAC#E). (I might add that a second book, "First Lessoms Folk Banjo," includes on open G tuning since that is thye tuning most folk players have used. It does show how to play a tune in the key C while ib open G tuning.)

"Clawhammer from Scratch" is a more in-depth course in clawhammer banjo More pages are devoted to instruction. More audio files of exercises, arrangements, and even fiddle versions are available. It focuses on fiddle tunes, the majority of which are in the key of D. So it offers three arrangements of 12 tunes: double thumb, drop thumb and "kitchen sink" to guide the student toward a fuller set of clawhammer skills.

Both books are useful in creating a good foundation on which to build a set of clawhammer skills. The scope of the books and the audience for the books are intentionally different.


Aug 31, 2021 - 1:04:40 PM
likes this



140 posts since 10/23/2017

I can't speak for Dan or his reasons for choosing one or the other in a given book, but I don't think either tuning is a bad place to start. It's the kind of thing I can imagine a teacher changing around from time to time depending on how the rest of their pedagogical approach shifts. You can't really go wrong starting with one or the other. The technique is all the same either way, and you'll almost certainly be learning to play in the other tuning before long regardless.

I do personally find it's easier to make Double C "sound good" as a beginner. Most chords are just  one or two fingers, and having the 2nd-4th strings as a "power chord" in the tonic makes it pretty forgiving of hitting the wrong string by accident. That said, I think the differences are minor enough that you should probably just go with whichever book you find more approachable and/or offers the tunes you want to learn the most. If you like "Old Joe Clark" start out in G.

Basically, if it's any comfort, you're at very low risk of finding yourself in a position where you have reason to lament which tuning you learned first.

Disclaimer: This advice is clawhammer-specific. If this were bluegrass, or if you're planning to try out bluegrass in the near future, the obvious answer is G, because that's the very clear default tuning there (+/- capos).

Edited by - AldenS on 08/31/2021 13:05:55

Aug 31, 2021 - 9:31:24 PM
likes this

Paul R


14994 posts since 1/28/2010

I wouldn't be too concerned. You'll eventually be playing in different tunings. You can concentrate on one for a bit, or dabble in both. When I had lessons (two in total), I was given both to work from almost right away. It will depend upon your progress.

Sep 1, 2021 - 7:59:10 AM
like this

R Buck


2985 posts since 9/5/2006

Just like swimming, you jump in over your head and figure it out or not. There are books (DVDs and videos, etc.) now, there weren't any or many back then when some of us went in head first.

Sep 1, 2021 - 8:42:34 AM
like this



814 posts since 7/4/2017

I'd work through the 'From Scratch' book first. It's mostly exercises in disguise and gives a great grounding for later. Old Joe Clark in G/A will be easy for you to learn after you finish 'from scratch'.

Sep 1, 2021 - 12:08:43 PM

46 posts since 3/7/2011

Originally posted by AndyW

I'd work through the 'From Scratch' book first. It's mostly exercises in disguise and gives a great grounding for later. Old Joe Clark in G/A will be easy for you to learn after you finish 'from scratch'.

This is pretty much what I have decided to do I believe. Thank you all for valuable input!

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories