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Nov 8, 2021 - 6:19:35 AM
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13 posts since 12/2/2010

I'm almost 86 years old and everything is slowing down. This includes but is not limited to my clawhammer banjo stroke. I cook along at about 70 bpm after warming up. That's too slow for playing with a fiddle and for most jams. So, I play banjo alone usually. Recently, I started experimenting with a different approach. I heard a banjo piece played by the great clawhammer banjoist Hilary Dirlam entitled "Georgia Camp Meeting". This is a ragtime piece written in 1897 by Kerry Mills. She seems to be playing the melody mostly with her index finger alone without the fifth string. So, I started experimenting with this approach. I'm using a regular open G tuning. The other day, I surprised my fiddle playing wife with this approach. She approved. I still prefer clawhammer but my modification at least let's me play up to speed. No, I'm not trying to sound like a plectrum banjo although there is nothing wrong with that. I'm just down stroking with the back of my index finger without playing the fifth string.

So, I was wondering if other folks, old or not, have a need to modify their banjo style because of physical limitations? If so, what changes did you make?

Nov 8, 2021 - 7:24:17 AM
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pickn5

USA

1641 posts since 8/8/2012

I started 3 finger picking at 62 and at 72 my picking speed is somewhere around 75-80 bpm. I’m just happy that a lot of bluegrass tunes sound good at slower tempos. I also tried a couple of tunes using 2 finger thumb lead and liked that style. I like slow tempo tunes with a strong melody.

Nov 8, 2021 - 7:37:02 AM
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2664 posts since 5/2/2012

I recently turned 75, began playing banjo late in life, and never was able to play a tune/song at blazing speed. I started playing banjo clawhammer style (short-lived), switched over to 2ftl (stuck with that for quite a while) and finally Scruggs/3 finger style. I have gravitated to tunes that sound good when played at a moderate to slow tempo. When I found Tony Ellis' tunes I found my niche. He wrote many of his tunes to express a certain mood, so capturing that mood is more important (at least to me) than playing them as fast as you can. Earlier this year I got Eddie Collins' book on fiddle tunes. His arrangements (an "easy" and more challenging arrangement for each tune) sound good even when played at moderate tempo (not fiddle tune speed for me). I have also found melodic arrangements sound good at the tempo I can play them. So I didn't so much as change my playing style as I did the music I've chosen to play.

Nov 8, 2021 - 4:49:45 PM
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andantino

Canada

62 posts since 12/13/2012

quote:
Originally posted by elkinsfiddler


So, I was wondering if other folks, old or not, have a need to modify their banjo style because of physical limitations? If so, what changes did you make?


I am sorta new to banjo. I used to have one years ago and I played clawhammer. I just got a new banjo today after not playing one for maybe 8 or 9 years. So yeah, the banjo is pretty much new to me again.  So I can't comment much about banjo style, but I have played guitar since I was a child. I play mainly acoustic now and I do a lot of fingerstyle stuff. There are a lot of things I am not very good at on guitar. I also have small hands. Girlish hands for a guy. And short fingers. I always liked doing fingerstyle stuff on a classical guitar too, because it has that warmer tone, and sounds much fuller than a steel string. But they have such a wide neck. I was able to stretch my fingers pretty well though until the last few years. I am only 41, but contorting my fingers is starting to get harder, and also making my hands sore. So yeah, I am having to find new ways to do things. Sometimes it's as simple as changing chord shapes or playing partial chord shapes. I think everyone has little strengths and weaknesses they have to work with.

I also cannot play very fast. I like to flatpick a little but I can't fly. I have a guitarist friend whose left hand is like a lightning bolt. He plays electric guitar. A lot of instrumental rock stuff. He can solo up and down the fretboard like Paganini on a violin. Whenever I watch him play it's very humbling for me.

But you know what I actually like music that isn't so fast. I like a laid-back, syncopated feel. I like bluegrass tunes that have a slower or moderate paced vibe. The way I like to look at it is... sometimes limitations kinda open up new possibilities.

Nov 8, 2021 - 5:07:19 PM

894 posts since 5/22/2021

quote:
Originally posted by elkinsfiddler

I'm almost 86 years old and everything is slowing down. This includes but is not limited to my clawhammer banjo stroke. I cook along at about 70 bpm after warming up. That's too slow for playing with a fiddle and for most jams. So, I play banjo alone usually. Recently, I started experimenting with a different approach. I heard a banjo piece played by the great clawhammer banjoist Hilary Dirlam entitled "Georgia Camp Meeting". This is a ragtime piece written in 1897 by Kerry Mills. She seems to be playing the melody mostly with her index finger alone without the fifth string. So, I started experimenting with this approach. I'm using a regular open G tuning. The other day, I surprised my fiddle playing wife with this approach. She approved. I still prefer clawhammer but my modification at least let's me play up to speed. No, I'm not trying to sound like a plectrum banjo although there is nothing wrong with that. I'm just down stroking with the back of my index finger without playing the fifth string.

So, I was wondering if other folks, old or not, have a need to modify their banjo style because of physical limitations? If so, what changes did you make?


Hello!

Well, I cannot relate all that much, because I have been playing the banjo for the past ~year, and I am a high-schooler in my late years. However, maybe I can help you a bit, with from what I know.

3-finger picking might best suite you at this point, as others have said here. Although clawhammer might be hard, you might be able to work out nice variations with picking.

Russ A.

Nov 8, 2021 - 10:55:43 PM

3258 posts since 10/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by elkinsfiddler


So, I was wondering if other folks, old or not, have a need to modify their banjo style because of physical limitations? If so, what changes did you make?


Adapting for physical limitations, yes... that's how I started playing many instruments; in that I had not yet developed the physical skills or dexterity. Using stripped down to core allowed me to start making music, and even play with others.

Of which, on banjo, doing no thumb, only down stroke (bum/dit) was a method I initially employed. Having that solid rhythmic foundation first, I think helped when it came to filling in with occasional hammer-on, pull off, slides; to eventually adding the thumb. But it worked enough by itself to get satisfaction and play along with others.

Nov 9, 2021 - 2:54:01 AM

Bill H

USA

1789 posts since 11/7/2010

I have noticed lately that I am too slow to get to some note runs I used to do. My remedy is to simplify. I can do a basic strum at a fast clip, but it's my left hand and my thumb in particular that gives me issues. I have begun some simple hand stretches on a regular bases that are helping. I have also been learning three-finger style and find it much harder on my left hand than clawhammer.

Nov 9, 2021 - 4:25:59 AM
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13 posts since 12/2/2010

Boy, what a nice bunch of posts. They all have contributed to my accepting my physical limitations while still enjoying making enjoyable banjo music. Thanks! I've modified my selection of songs. I'm playing a number of 19th century parlor songs like 'Long, long Ago' and traditional country gospel tunes like 'Life is Like a Mountain Railroad'. Not everyones cup of tea but I like them. I also found a venue that encourages slower music , The Dudley Farm Historic State Park, where I can play slower clawhammer. I just recently started with an index finger down stroke without the fifth string, which allows me to play faster, because I'm scheduled to do a farmers market gig with my wife. Hope it works!!

Nov 9, 2021 - 4:38:16 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1391 posts since 10/15/2019

I've always been an up-picker, aka seeger basic strum. Recently added some 2 finger index lead, which is naturally related. I find I can play pretty much anything I want to.

I basically have no skills and so keeping things as easy as possible, and hoping this leads to ability to keep on doing it as long as possible. Age 61.

Nov 9, 2021 - 5:04:03 AM
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13 posts since 12/2/2010

I've always enjoyed up picking! My first banjo influence, after Pete Seeger, was an up picker. That was Carl Pagter who played banjo in his band 'The Country Ham' for many years on the bluegrass circuit. He added clawhammer but kept up picking and index lead as well to great affect. I gave it up because I kept missing the strings when playing an instrumental using index lead.

You can hear Carl and his band on You Tube. Here is a link to him playing Civil War Lorena:
youtu.be/-Js9b_T0k0U

Nov 14, 2021 - 8:03:01 PM

4750 posts since 2/24/2004

And of course there is always playing slow tunes and just making them pretty. Also lots of fiddle tunes may take on a new sound when played slowly on purpose.  Most waltzes sound pretty slow too. 

Here are a few tunes I enjoy slowing down on purpose just for fun.

John Stinson's Dream, Angeline, Southwind--also turning peppy fiddle tunes into waltzes by changing the timing is fun too--some of my favorites to convert are 

Whiskey before breakfast, Soldiers Joy, Spotted Pony--any with a distinct melody work up real nice.

Hope you may have fun trying this.  :)

And remember if you don't announce your age and play lovely slow tunes and photoshop your pix--everyone will just think you are a banjo whippersnapper :)

Best banjo wishes,

Mary Z. Cox


 

Nov 16, 2021 - 4:37:14 AM

13 posts since 12/2/2010

Actually, I've a list of slow tunes I play clawhammer solo at an historic farm park. Things like Long, Long ago, A Beautiful Life, Battle of Cedar Creek, Yankee Doodle Dandy, etc. I don't know John Stinson's Dream. But I'll check it out.

My concern is playing clawhammer banjo with others. I find playing the fifth string with my thumb is the problem. So, if I use a normal down stroke but not include the thumb on the fifth string, I can play up to speed. I'm not just strumming. I'm playing melody as well. Tunes like John Brown's March, Little Billy Wilson, in A or G are easy. Playing in D is harder but doable. However, it is clear how terribly important the thumb string is. My alternative is a quick up stroke with my thumb but that is a bit lame. Anyway, time and practice might help - perhaps.

The picture is from a recent gig. My wife is playing guitar (she usually plays fiddle) and I'm playing my modified banjo style sans thumb string. The folks at the market seemed to like it because the dollar bills kept coming in but Mary is less than enthusiastic.


Nov 25, 2021 - 7:23:02 PM

Ira Lee

USA

1 posts since 9/6/2016

I am 69 years old with Parkinson’s Disease. I have been playing 25+ years, but now I sound like a beginner. No speed, rhythm or accuracy with either hand. I have been experimenting with 2 finger thumb lead and have noticed a slight improvement overall. I have also simplified the tunes I play and concentrate more on rhythm and less on adornment.

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