Clawhammer banjo has attracted many enthusiasts, and these enthusiasts aren’t limited by age group, either. A lot of emerging banjo players are getting younger and younger as they find out how pleasant it is to play the instrument and delight themselves and their loved ones with a few songs. Clawhammer banjo has a delightful rhythmic sound to it, which comes from what we call the basic clawhammer strum. This is a skill which can take a few months to master, but once you have it down, you can play many many songs, all with that simple, driving rhythm. Once you find your style, it gets a lot easier- and it’s a significant achievement. So how can you improve your clawhammer banjo skills, and what can you do to become a better player? Here’s a list of top tips for you to become a better clawhammer banjo player.
What you should remember
Before you begin, remember that while you can benefit from some standard guidelines in playing clawhammer banjo, you shouldn’t limit yourself. In other words, don’t be afraid to experiment with various ways through which you can play so you can see what suits you and works best for your individual style. You should have discussions with other keen players whenever you can, but at the end of the day, focus on what sounds good and natural to your ears.
- You can develop your banjo playing style further once you become comfortable with striking single notes as well as strums, and you can do this by learning the basics of clawhammer banjo with a free online learning resource for beginners. You can use the index finger of your right hand to play the melody notes, but some players often prefer the middle finger of their right hand. What you can do is try it with both fingers so you can see what works best.
- If your finger knocks the banjo’s head when you strike the first string, this is fine. Clawhammer banjo is a rhythmic and percussive approach to banjo playing, so don’t fret if you make a little bit of extra
- Many players use their middle or index fingernails so they can come up with a good sound. But if you don’t want to use your fingernails, you can make use of fingerpicks (to serve as fingernail extensions). Make sure, though, that you place the banjo pick so that it covers your nail and not the finger pad (like in the bluegrass method of playing). What you can do is try to play without using fingerpicks first so you can hear the sound. If you still feel that you are not getting a forceful and clear sound, you can play using the picks (you can also use artificial fingernails if yours are not long enough so you can get into contact with the banjo strings).
- Keep in mind that your finger should move both towards the floor and down on the string. You should try to develop a comfortable action. Most players keep the wrist at a constant angle during the basic clawhammer stroke, and the hand is kept in a claw shape. Most of the movement you need comes from the forearm.
- When you have your middle or index finger playing the 2nd to 4th strings, the finger usually comes to rest against the string that is next to the one you initially struck.
- Some banjo players keep the thumb straight and play the 5th string with the thumb’s pad. Others prefer to bend the thumb so the 5th string is played with the thumb’s tip. You can try both and see for yourself which method suits you.