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Oct 19, 2021 - 1:58:15 PM
11 posts since 3/18/2009

I understand that things take time, and I'm going to put it in, but if you have suggestions on how to spend it, I'm all ears.

I'm a TOTAL beginner. Hoping to get some semblance of clawhammer right-hand technique.

My accuracy with the "plucking" finger is pretty terrible. It seems really imprecise, compared to, say, a guitar pick, or even an upward pluck, Seeger-style. Add in the strum plus getting my finger back and ready to hit a note again and I'm a mess.

The drone string doesn't seem to bug me as much, though that also seemed easier when I played around with Seeger style (up-pluck with the index, strum with the middle, drone with the thumb). Any tips for getting comfortable? Do I just do all three things VERRRRRRRRRRY slowly? Do I focus on one or two first?

Thanks!

Also, if it matters, I swapped to nylon strings because I like the sound so much better. Not sure if that's affecting anything.

Oct 19, 2021 - 2:21:08 PM
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GMB

USA

361 posts since 5/29/2009

Tom Collins Banjo Blitz on youtube. Free. Superb lessons. Start with lesson 1. Good Luck!

Oct 19, 2021 - 3:26:28 PM

m06

England

10490 posts since 10/5/2006

Take it slow at first. Accuracy requires an angle of attack of the picking hand down and into the strings sometimes likened to the action of knocking on a door. If you imagine too flat an angle parallel to the strings accuracy and solid contact is almost impossible; because your nail has no target.

Hope this helps.

Oct 19, 2021 - 3:35:45 PM

11 posts since 3/18/2009

Thanks, folks!

Oct 19, 2021 - 5:16:25 PM

John Yerxa

Australia

28 posts since 9/13/2021

Think of it conceptually this way - when your finger strikes the string you want, follow through and rest the striking fingernail on the next higher string, (or the head if you're striking the 1rst string). You won't actually do this when playing up to speed, but that will give you the motion you want.

Oct 19, 2021 - 5:25:25 PM

11 posts since 3/18/2009

quote:
Originally posted by John Yerxa

Think of it conceptually this way - when your finger strikes the string you want, follow through and rest the striking fingernail on the next higher string, (or the head if you're striking the 1rst string). You won't actually do this when playing up to speed, but that will give you the motion you want.


Thanks. I still feel like I'm swinging a hammer with my whole arm at a small nail, effectively--though when I took blacksmithing classes, that was exactly what you were shooting for as you got better--so in time I'll get there!

Oct 19, 2021 - 7:31:26 PM

banjo bill-e

Tuvalu

11691 posts since 2/22/2007

Don't swing the arm, it's a small motion and all wrist action. Keep the arm more or less still and go as slow as required to get a clean strike on the intended string. Finger and thumb hit strings at same time, use thumb on fifth to start. And as mentioned, the motion is somewhat circular, more up and down and just slightly across the strings.
If your arm is still and you are using small wrist motions then I do not believe that you will find it too difficult to strike the intended string. Volume and power will come later, even from such a small motion.

Oct 19, 2021 - 8:35:30 PM

333 posts since 8/17/2010

If picking up with your index feels more comfortable, why not try TFTL (Two Finger, Thumb Lead)?

Oct 20, 2021 - 2:58:34 AM
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m06

England

10490 posts since 10/5/2006

Donald Zepp’s videos on the link below are designed to show the basic clawhammer action as clearly as possible:

zeppmusic.com/Clearhead/2thumb.htm

Oct 20, 2021 - 6:19:54 AM
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8292 posts since 3/17/2005

YES! A thousand times yes to the link Mike posted above. Zepp's clearhead videos make the technique crystal clear.

Oct 20, 2021 - 7:46:53 AM

11 posts since 3/18/2009

quote:
Originally posted by fretful1

If picking up with your index feels more comfortable, why not try TFTL (Two Finger, Thumb Lead)?


You might have just changed my life. :)

I just found this video and it seems to make sense to me as a beginner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVWW9kQcuz8

Oct 20, 2021 - 9:55:51 AM

640 posts since 7/10/2012

I would suggest trying both your pointer finger and your middle finger as the main picking finger, different folks play with different fingers. I tend to use both with my pointer finger as the main picker and my middle finger as a sub picker and for brushing. I think the main thing is to be flexible with your right hand until you really get a feel for what is comfortable and what lends to accuracy. Also, keep your nails trimmed, I keep mine about 1/8" inch and filed smooth. Too short or too long affects the tone a great deal and any edges will catch the strings. If you have no fingernails to speak of, you can make some nice picks out of ping pong balls and a little piece of heat shrink. There are threads on the ping pong ball method, John Balch uses them to nice effect.

Brainjo is also a great place to start!

David

Oct 20, 2021 - 10:40:09 AM

hbick2

USA

466 posts since 6/26/2004

Don't get in a hurry. A friend of mine used to teach folks the basic strum and then tell them to come back after a year, once they've got it, for lesson Number 2.

Oct 20, 2021 - 12:02:02 PM

2050 posts since 2/4/2013

I imagine in the early days lots of people played "clawhammer" as they saw fit. I doubt they worried about accuracy. They probably concentrated on the tune and playing in time with the fiddler. There seems to be a obsession with bum-ditty and getting this right. However most people seem to spend most time doing something different and there's not so much "dit". I think they are mainly playing the tune.

Oct 20, 2021 - 12:08:42 PM

JSB88

UK

275 posts since 3/9/2017

quote:
Originally posted by fretful1

If picking up with your index feels more comfortable, why not try TFTL (Two Finger, Thumb Lead)?


I second this suggestion, you can always give clawhammer another go once your brain has orientated where the strings are, but 2ftl is a great style in itself 

Oct 20, 2021 - 12:26:53 PM

11 posts since 3/18/2009

quote:
Originally posted by JSB88
quote:
Originally posted by fretful1

If picking up with your index feels more comfortable, why not try TFTL (Two Finger, Thumb Lead)?


I second this suggestion, you can always give clawhammer another go once your brain has orientated where the strings are, but 2ftl is a great style in itself 


It actually has even MORE of that plucky, civil war-era sound I'm shooting for. If I can be that "creepy old man on a porch playing those spooky tunes," I've won.

Oct 21, 2021 - 12:30:34 AM

AndyW

UK

820 posts since 7/4/2017

I found it took a good while to get accurate. I believe part of the problem at first was that I needed to grow out my striking nail a bit. Whilst it is possible to play with a very short nail it's much easier starting out with a decent length nail. So if your picking nail is very short give it a bit of time to grow.'

Also, work on one thing at a time and try and keep other stuff the same. Every little change when starting out can throw out something else.

I used Dan Levensons  'Clawhammer Banjo from Scratch' which was good at bringing stuff in one bit at a time.  Another good (and absolutely free) option is the download pdf 'Rocketsciencebanjo' which you can find if you google it.

Edited by - AndyW on 10/21/2021 00:34:10

Oct 21, 2021 - 4:50:12 PM

6035 posts since 3/11/2006

The only thing I would add is that the beginning stage is by far the most important. You are laying the foundation for what comes after and programming things into muscle-memory which is very difficult to de-program later.

Don't take a haphazard approach. Be sure you understand what you are doing and what it should sound like. Play as slow as you need to maintain proper timing and accuracy, and gradually speed up as it becomes more comfortable, but never faster than you can go while maintaining accuracy and proper timing.

The best of the old-timers were accomplished musicians, who did not play sloppily.

I second the recommendation on Dan Levenson's materials and also Rocket Science Banjo.  There is so much good learning material out there these days than no one should fail through a lack of guidance or instruction.

Best of luck with your banjo.

Edited by - R.D. Lunceford on 10/21/2021 16:52:44

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