Lesson Plan

Lesson 1 – Holding the Banjo

Before we get started picking, let’s make sure you’re holding the banjo correctly. Good playing starts with properly positioning the banjo in your lap. While it’s important that you hold it in a way that feels comfortable, there are some specific guidelines you’ll want to follow to insure clean, precise playing. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Lesson 2 - Right Hand Basics

In this lesson, we’ll look at your right hand, how and where to place it over the drum head as well as the proper positioning and shape of your fingers for strumming and picking in clawhammer style.

Lesson 3 - Positioning the Fretting Hand

You can’t hope to play the banjo well if your fretting hand isn’t holding the neck properly. In this lesson we tackle the correct way to position your fretting hand and fingers on the neck and fretboard.

Lesson 4 - Fretting Basics

OK, time to learn what the heck a fret is and where they are on the banjo. We’ll also look at the proper placement of your fingers on the fretboard and why keeping them nice and arched is so important.

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Lesson 5 - Tuning

Feeling a little daunted at the prospect of keeping your instrument in tune? With the tips in this video, we hope to take some of the apprehension and dread out of maintaining a well-tuned instrument. Follow all the these steps and tuning your 5-string friend should be a breeze.

Lesson 6 - Chords I

Alright, what is a chord anyway? And why is that important to know? Delve into this lesson for answers to to these and other pressing chord-related questions!…

Lesson 7 - Chords II

And…more chord stuff: chord diagrams, strumming, simple
chord progressions.

Lesson 8 - Tablature

Tablature…what is it, how do I read it, why is it important and what’s up with all those numbers, anyway?

Lesson 9 - Basic Picking Mechanics

In this lesson, we take a close look at how the fingers of our picking hand move when playing clawhammer, the movement of our hand and wrist, and what a brush stroke is. 

Lesson 10 – The Bum-Ditty

In this lesson, we examine the  oh-so-important clawhammer strum that will form the basis for virtually everything you’ll ever play in clawhammer – the bum-ditty strum. Exciting!


Lesson 11 - The Hammer On

What is it, how to execute it, and how to integrate it into your playing.

Lesson 12 - The Pull Off

Here we examine the mechanics involved in this second left-hand flourish and I demonstrate how to integrate it into some basic clawhammer playing.

Lesson 13 - The Slide

Our third left-hand flourish. What it is, how to execute it, and how to integrate it into some basic clawhammer playing.

Lesson 13 - Skip to My Lou

Alright. We all know the tune “Skip To My Lou”. But have you ever wondered where the song came from? Turns out “Skip To My Lou” was a popular American partner-stealing dance in the 1840s. It was also a popular lyrical game in Abraham Lincoln’s youth in southern Indiana and Kentucky, with verses such as “Hurry up slow poke, do oh do”, “I’ll get her back in spite of you”, and “I’ll get another girl sweeter than you”.
And (lucky for you) it also makes for an awesome beginning clawhammer banjo song!

Lesson 14

Ground Hog

“Ground Hog” is a nineteenth century Appalachian folk song from the border region of southwestern Virginia and northwestern North Carolina. The song, a staple of old-time music, describes a groundhog hunt. One of the more famous artists to have recorded this song was folk guitarist Doc Watson.


Lesson 15

Sally Ann

“Sally Ann” is an Appalachian fiddle tune dating back to the 19th century, although it may have origins as far back as the 18th century. While it is considered one of the quintessential American fiddle tunes, the song has its origins in Celtic folk music and was probably brought to America by Irish immigrants in the early 19th century. 


Lesson 16

Tom Dooley

“Tom Dooley” is an Appalachian murder ballad based on the 1866 murder of Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina. In 1958 the Kingston Trio recorded a version of it which reached number one on the Billboard charts.


Lesson 17 

Shady Grove

“Shady Grove” is a traditional Appalachian folk song. For decades it has been a staple in the repertoire of both bluegrass and old-time musicians of the Cumberlands. The song’s lyrics describe a young man’s true love and his hope that he and his beloved will soon wed. “Shady Grove” has been recorded by numerous artists, including the Kingston Trio, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Bill Monroe, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, and Camper Van Beethoven.


Lesson 18

June Apple

“June Apple” is an old-time fiddle tune most often associated with the musicians of southwestern Virginia and the northwest region of North Carolina. Historically, the song has numerous variants, including a French version, “Pomme de Juin”.

Lessons 19 

Handsome Molly

“Handsome Molly” is a traditional banjo and fiddle tune known to practically all old-time players. Since the 1960s it has been popular among bluegrass pickers as well. The author of “Handsome Molly” is unknown; the first recorded appearance of the song was in a collection of British and American folk songs published in 1918. Mike Seger helped further popularize the song during the American folk music renaissance of the early 1960s.

Lesson 20

Cripple Creek

“Cripple Creek” is an Appalachian fiddle tune. While the song has been a staple in old-time music for well over a hundred years, it has also long since become a standard among bluegrass musicians. The song’s origins are murky; although it isn’t known when it was composed, some believe that the tune refers to Cripple Creek, Virginia while others claim that it references the gold mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Lessons 21 

9 Pound Hammer

“Nine Pound Hammer” is a prison and railroad work song dating back to the late nineteenth century. The song, along with “John Henry” and “Take This Hammer”, belongs to a group of songs that music scholars refer to as “hammer songs” or “roll songs”. These songs typically deal with prison chain gangs or railroad construction. Nine Pound Hammer” has been staple in old-time and bluegrass circles for decades. Numerous bluegrass bands and singers like Scott McGill and Mississippi John hurt have recorded commercial versions of this song. 

Beginner Clawhammer Songs Continued…


  • Bile ’em Cabbage Down
  • Long Journey Home
  • Worried Man
  • Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • This Land Is Your Land
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • Buffalo Gals
  • Julianne Johnson
  • Going Down That Road Feeling Bad
  • Way Downtown
  • Crawdad Song
  • Sawmill Tuning
  • Pretty Polly
  • Man of Constant Sorrow
  • Cold Frosty Morning

Intermediate Clawhammer Lessons 

  • Double C Tuning
  • Angeline the Baker
  • Billl Cheetham
  • Shenandoah
  • The Girl I Left Behind Me
  • Cherokee Shuffle
  • Drop-Thumb Technique
  • Johnson Boys
  • Dry and Dusty
  • Left Hand Pluck
  • Eighth of January
  • Sawmill Tuning
  • Cluck Old Hen
  • Arkansas Traveller
  • Old Joe Clark
  • Bile em’ Cabbage Down
  • Long Journey Home
  • Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  • Worried Man
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine
  • Cotton-Eyed Joe
  • Green Willis
  • Leather Britches
  • Needlecase
  • Old Molly Hair
  • Sandy River Belle

Advanced Clawhammer Lessons 

  • Blackberry Blossom
  • Old Time Billy In The Low Ground
  • Whiskey Before Breakfast
  • Advanced Shady Grove
  • Rickett’s Hornpipe
  • Fire On The Mountain
  • Advanced Sally Ann
  • Soldier’s Joy
  • Santa Anna’s Retreat
  • Miss McCloud’s Reel



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