The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #117426   Message #2537215
Posted By: Geoff the Duck
10-Jan-09 - 12:52 PM
Thread Name: Banjo Tab
Subject: RE: Banjo Tab
GUEST,JMF - although the pattern of notes produced by the Seeger basic strum and by clawhammer playing fall at the same places in the music,and on the same string, the feel from the playing end is very different.

I started playing banjo with very little except the Pete Seeger book to give me clues. As a result I learned the Seeger Strum and got on "okay" by using it. I did, however find the change from an up-picking index finger to a downward strum slightly awkward when doing anything faster than a certain speed.
At some point in my playing, alongside listening to records I had managed to find, I found a description of clawhammer banjo picking. When I returned to Seeger's book, I found that he had very briefly mentioned clawhammer, but hadn't given much space or prominence to the technique.
I cannot find my copy of the book, and do not recall if Pete Seeger described how to clawhammer, or whether I found some other description, but within minutes of practicing clawhammer it felt like second nature to me.

In clawhammer, EVERY picking stroke is a movement from the wrist rather than a flexing of the fingers. The hand is held in a relatively fixed but relaxed "claw" shape so you do not have to spend time thinking about extending fingers. The only thing your brain needs to process is the position of your "leading" finger (some use first, others prefer second finger). Once learned, the basic frail is totally automatic, leaving your mind to concentrate on what the left hand is playing. You never have to think "Should I be picking-up or strumming down?" as you never pick upwards.

Clawhammer is a very economical technique. Played properly it is also a very relaxed style, even when played fast. The fact that you are not flexing your hand, not extending fingers or pulling them back in, means that faster movements are possible. I personally am not a fan of tunes being played too fast, but when it's the only game in town, clawhammer allows me to keep level with the fastest I have come across. I certainly could not keep up if I was using the Seeger strum.

As for the left hand and the fingerboard. All the hammer-ons and pull-offs are exactly the same as you would use with the Seeger strum, so that end of the playing is no different. You can do the same song accompaniments using clawhammer as Pete would have done using his preferred technique. Tablature written for Seeger style contains the same notes played on the same string at the same time as it would if it was written for clawhammer, it is only the difference between a finger plucking and a hand striking down which distinguishes how the tab is played.

Clawhammer suit me better than the Seeger strum. Others have different preferences.
I hope my descriptions answer some of your question.

Geoff the Duck.