The ToneWay® Project: helping people play music


"Knocking" your "claw" while learning banjo?

After strumming guitar for many years, I have just begun learning the banjo. (I am on my fifth day! :) ) I have no trouble understanding the chords or picking, but I am having a heckuva time with my right hand. I was told by a banjo player to hold my right hand like a “claw” (got it!), and then to pick the strings using a downward motion (backwards from picking the guitar and the tones sound funky, but okay…) but to be VERY CAREFUL to only KNOCK the strings, like rapping into the banjo, being very careful to not brush the string in a downward motion (hunh?!?) or there will be no forward progress in playing ability AND carpel tunnel syndrome lurks on the horizon! All of which causes me to produce an awkward thum thum thum sound. When I do what feels more natural – as much as using the back of my fingernail to make a note CAN feel natural at this beginning stage – I knock the string in a more downward motion. When reviewing the “Get Started” workshop (THANK YOU, Abbott family!!), I notice that Carl is playing his right hand the way I want to tend to play mine. So banjo players, I ask with a decided sense of elation and hope: this way of playing the right hand is okay? No dire consequences? Any hints/advice warmly welcomed!

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I find life works out best if I take other people's fear based projections with a grain of salt. This bit of “VERY CAREFUL” advice sounds like it fits that category. I say be VERY CAREFUL when you using power tools or driving 100 MPH. The only thing about banjo that applies to “VERY CAREFUL” in my view would be to not drop it on your toe!

I sure someone will give some more useful advice, but in my view, just plug along, review more video stuff out there (YouTube) and notice what you are doing and adjust along the way. How can go wrong?

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Play the way that feels natural to you. As an experienced guitar player, it will come to you. The stumble and fall idea applies here. Try not to be too technical, just play and have fun.

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You can search trailing ezfolk.com has some videos and you can search Patrick Costello he has some lessons on the right hand strum you will have to figure out which finger the index or the middle not everybody does it exactly the same

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Yeah, there's no one right way to position/move/use your claw hand. I see lots of variation in players, including all the “pros”.

For what it's worth, my personal “angle of attack” relative to the strings varies between almost straight into the banjo head (for single notes, especially) and pretty much sideways like a guitar (for the brush/strum). No carpal tunnel yet! ;-)

I will say that I think some clawhammer players underestimate the utility of hitting the string straight-on (into the head) when it comes to injecting more rhythm and “bounce” into their playing. But it's much too soon for you to worry about such things!

Have fun and keep on frailing!

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Clawhammer is down stroke, using the back of your nails on the 1-4 strings, and plucking the drone string with your thumb. Bum Diddy= Strike a string with the nail on the index or middle finger, then brush top strings and then pluck the drone string. Strike, brush, pluck.

Hand position is debated. From a perspective of body mechanics: Hold the banjo on your right knee (if you are right handed. Don't point the neck up into the air. The right hand and wrist is best when in a neutral position. Forearm, wrist and hand in a straight line. This reduces the tendency for physical problems to develop.

Hope this helps.

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Clawhammer, is as easy as learning to walk, , hold your hand like a claw and using middle finger ,Strike then Strum them Thumb on the 5th String,
Lots of practice to develop muscle memory while developing tune , melody & rhythm. If you strike trouble pay attention to the shape of your hand ,making sure you have a good claw shape this is very important to get efficient at claw-hammering.

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I'm in the “do what you want” camp of banjo playing. One of the very best clawhammer banjo players I know, Carl Pagter, up picks with his index finger as much as he down picks with his middle finger. The famous banjo picker Uncle Dave Macon used finger picking, just strumming and down picking intermixed and Pete Seeger, the inspiration to so many banjo players mixed it all up as well. I'm a strictly down picker clawhammer player but that's just me. Just enjoy playing and for gosh sake keep it rhythmic. Something good usually comes out with time and practice. One bit of advice - play with a guitar as much as possible to develop good rhythm.

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