Clawhammer banjo is played using a downward strumming motion over the strings. Typically, the melody of a song is played by striking one string, quickly followed by a strum of two or three strings. This creates a rhythm that sounds like: “boom – chick – a” or, more precisely, “claw – ham – mer.” The method involves one’s thumb and pointer finger shaped in a “claw.”
JOHN PLAYING CRIPPLE CREEK IN THE CLAWHAMMER STYLE
There biggest difference between clawhammer banjo and bluegrass (or three-finger) is the picking technique. Bluegrass or Scruggs style (as it is often referred to) consists of picking upward with the index and middle fingers and downward with the thumb to create “rolls” or patterns of picking with those two fingers and thumb. Clawhammer picking, on the other hand (ahem), is primarily a down-picking style. The hand assumes a claw-like shape and strums downward with the index finger hitting single notes or brushing while the thumb catches the 5th string. This creates a rhythm that sounds like: “boom – chick – a” or, more precisely, “claw – ham – mer.”
Here you can see a video from our clawhammer lesson “Spotted Pony”:
Clawhammer is beautiful, right? Generally speaking, clawhammer music tends to be very melodic in nature with easy-going energy. Bluegrass music can also be beautiful and melodic, of course, but many songs tend to be explosive and energetic in large part due to the “rolls” involved. You can watch our video comparing the two here.
CHECK OUT A LIST OF ALL OF OUR CLAWHAMMER LESSONS
Our beginner and intermediate clawhammer courses are a great way to learn clawhammer. With over 40 lessons currently and over 100 scheduled by September 2020, these videos guide a student with no prior banjo experience through the basics, ultimately arriving at a point where they can pick a basic song proficiently and with confidence.
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