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What is clawhammer style

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murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 04 Sep 98 - 06:46 AM
Bill in Alabama 04 Sep 98 - 07:00 AM
Dave T 04 Sep 98 - 07:23 AM
Barbara Shaw 04 Sep 98 - 07:33 AM
Barbara Shaw 04 Sep 98 - 07:50 AM
Jon W. 04 Sep 98 - 10:35 AM
Banjomad 04 Sep 98 - 02:54 PM
Barbara Shaw 04 Sep 98 - 03:50 PM
Art Thieme 04 Sep 98 - 04:35 PM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 05 Sep 98 - 04:20 AM
John in Brisbane 06 Sep 98 - 08:57 PM
Dale Rose 07 Sep 98 - 12:51 AM
takeo 07 Sep 98 - 03:57 AM
Dave T 07 Sep 98 - 09:18 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 07 Sep 98 - 07:30 PM
BSeed 07 Sep 98 - 07:59 PM
Bill in Alabama 08 Sep 98 - 06:25 AM
BSeed 08 Sep 98 - 09:42 PM
Art Thieme 08 Sep 98 - 11:28 PM
BSeed 09 Sep 98 - 12:05 AM
BSeed 09 Sep 98 - 12:11 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 09 Sep 98 - 05:53 AM
Bill in Alabama 09 Sep 98 - 07:02 AM
BSeed 09 Sep 98 - 08:50 PM
BSeed 10 Sep 98 - 03:39 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 10 Sep 98 - 04:12 AM
Art Thieme 10 Sep 98 - 11:58 AM
Bert 10 Sep 98 - 12:42 PM
bseed(charleskratz) 04 Feb 00 - 09:40 PM
Guy Wolff 04 Feb 00 - 10:40 PM
Little Neophyte 04 Feb 00 - 11:01 PM
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Subject: What is clawhammer style
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 06:46 AM

I have been reading some literature about old-time music and they refer to the banjo accompanyment as being "claw hammer style". Can anyone describe that.

By the way, in reading this stuff I am getting interested in the banjo (passively for the time being, I hope). Here are some questions for banjo experts

Do the five-string ones come in different sizes, and if so do the sizes correspond to different tunings, or just to acoustic differences like the difference between a dreadnaught and a parlor guitar.

What other kinds of banjos are there besides five string? Actually I recently saw a film of somebody playing a fretless banjo.

Thanks,

Murray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 07:00 AM

Murray--

Clawhammer, sometimes called Frailing or Rapping the banjo, is the traditional style that was predominant, at least in most of the Appalachian U.S. south, prior to WWII. You can hear/see examples of the style on albums/videos of Grandpa Jones, of of most old-time Appalachian string bands.

Banjo makers at one time did make the 5-strings in different sizes, but I suppose current ones are mostly of a uniform construction. A friend of mine has an old "piccolo banjo," which is favored by backpackers in my part of the country, and which must be tuned in C.

Clawhammer banjoists quite frequently re-tune the banjo to play in different keys. Because many banjos were originally home-made, many of them were without frets, and there are still a few luthiers selling them at folk festivals and such places. The fretless ones are fine for solo work, but they don't make you particular with other musicians when you work with a group. More later.

Bill


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Dave T
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 07:23 AM

The actual technique of clawhammer is quite different than the more often heard "Scruggs" style. Instead if using the fingers to pick upwards from treble to bass as when finger picking guitar, you use the back of your fingernails to strike downard at the strings. Your thumb works the same way as normal. I think there's a book by Ken Perlman on clawhammer if you're interested (I believe it's put out by Mel Bay). Usually "frailers" use banjos with an open back and quite often they have wooden rims rather than brass. The only real variant in 5-string banjos is a Seeger style which has a longer neck. Pete Seeger started this and normally played with a capo for regular songs. He remove the capo to get access to lower bass notes. There a four-string banjos (tenors). I don't play banjo but a good friend does. Q: What's the difference between a banjo & a trampoline? A: You don't wear shoes when jump on a trampoline. Anyway I hope this helps. Any banjo players out there that can expand on this???

Dave


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 07:33 AM

My husband plays old-timey clawhammer style as well as Scruggs 3-finger rolls and the occasional melodic licks down the neck. As a result of this exposure, I am founder and president of the Banjo Wife Support Group, so if you do take up the instrument and have a mate at risk, get her in touch with us. An emergency Mudcat thread will alert the rescue team.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 07:50 AM

By the way, that phrase "down the neck" is pronounced "UP the neck" by most experienced banjo players. When the left arm, which is up in the air, is repositioned so that the fingers can move down closer to the banjo head, this downward motion is called UP. There are other intricacies, but take it slowly.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Jon W.
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 10:35 AM

I began by taking a community education class where the teacher taught Scruggs style picking and bluegrass songs. I gave up hope of ever having enough practice time to get fast enough on the right hand "rolls" to accomplish anything (plus I don't like wearing fingerpicks) so I started to explore claw hammer techniques. I bought the Ken Perlman book mentioned above, published by Mel Bay and now named "Basic Clawhammer Banjo." It's an excellent book for anyone interested in playing Irish/American fiddle tunes on banjo. It is, however, lacking in the explanation of technique. I've been able to learn a few of the tunes well enough to play up to speed, but my technique is backward. I still use my finger to pick up on the strings, only brushing down with a finger nail if I am playing more than one string. But what the hey--I'm only doing this for the fun of it anyway.

The book comes with a CD of all the songs played clearly and slowly, and cost me about $18 US.

Murray, stop being so passive. Jump in with both feet. Jump with your shoes on if you get frustrated.

Jon W.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Banjomad
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 02:54 PM

Dear Barbera Shaw - can you please enrol my wife in your support group. I stooped to the ultimate degredation in trying to get her to understand my first love (the banjo) by buying her one of her own. Now I have become a Banjo Husband with little or no social life as she is out with every local banjo group you can think of.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 03:50 PM

It sounds like you two were meant for each other and are saving two other spouses. Social life is not necessary nor desirable when you play the banjo. Those faces speaking to you when you are staring glassy-eyed off into space as you tune the tuners are just a nuisance.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Art Thieme
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 04:35 PM

I had a banjo once that frustrated me so much I destroyed it with a clawhammer---ie. the name!!

By the way, in the olden times, when banjos were strung with possum guts, one possum was only good for 4 and a half strings. That's why the 5th string stops part way up the neck!

Art


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 05 Sep 98 - 04:20 AM

Thanks for the answers.

Since the posting, I found a book for sale at our local library for about $US.60 called "Beginning the Five-String Banjo" by Jerry Silverman. He describes the technique very clearly and has a lot of traditional songs in it.

Nonetheless, he never uses the term "claw hammer", so I am glad for the descriptions.

Now that I have a book Jon, all I need is a banjo! I will start with soft-soled shoes.

Banjomad, It is you who should join the support group!

Murray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 06 Sep 98 - 08:57 PM

In 1974 I bought a Seeger type long necked Epiphone 5 string made In Kalamazoo. It had been sitting in the warehouse for (maybe) 10 years and did not have a case. Because it was the nicest thing I had ever owned I arranged for a case to be made for it. What eventually arrived was a case that housed it beautifully, but was unfortunately guitar shaped. The gigs I was doing at the time enabled me to stuff large quantities of free beer and cheese (kilos of the stuff) into the spare space in the case at the end of an evening.

Perhaps I should have included this in the recent thread of tips for musicians. Buy a guitar case for your banjo.

Regards John


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Dale Rose
Date: 07 Sep 98 - 12:51 AM

No, that is not the way it goes. Fiddlers in the know buy banjo cases for their fiddles. That way they know that no one will bother stealing them!

About the clawhammer terminology~~around here you are just as likely to hear it as frailing, rapping, drop thumbing, old time, or best of all, the right way! Like Dave T says above, most frailers use open back banjos, but the use is not universal. Notable exceptions are Uncle Dave Macon, of course, and Missourian Cathy Barton. On the other hand, I have really only noticed one person playing three finger style on an open back banjo, and that was someone who usually frails.

Another point that no one has addressed yet, and I really am not well enough versed on this, but I will start it. Many frailers use a combination of metal and nylon strings, rather than all metal. Also frailers who play constantly use some sort of hardener on their finger nails, or even false nails because of the wear and tear on their nails. OK, I will let someone who really knows what they are talking about take it from there.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: takeo
Date: 07 Sep 98 - 03:57 AM

frailers use a nail side of finger to down pick the string, it sounds like cartar family picking on guitar. did maybell invent this style from frailing banjo? -takeo


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Dave T
Date: 07 Sep 98 - 09:18 AM

I was at the Blue Skies Folk Festival this summer and Ken Perlman ran a clawhammer workshop; too bad I'm not a banjo player. Some players use layers of kleenex and crazy glue to build up their nails. This is also used by some fingerstyle guitarists. Bruce Cockburn's advice on this is "...don't try it after drinking too much...". Sounds sensible to me.

Dave


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 07 Sep 98 - 07:30 PM

Let me get some details straight. By bargain-basement banjo book describes what it calls the "basic banjo strum" which sounds like claw-hammer style.

As I understand it, in this style the nails are used to brush the strings rather than actually pluck them. Is that right?

Dale's point interests me. What kind of strings are traditionally used with the open-backed banjo and the claw-hammer style?

Does tradition dictate using picks, or the nails?

Murray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 07 Sep 98 - 07:59 PM

Perlman's book Basic Clawhammer Banjo is anything but a basic clawhammer book--it contains tablature for a few dozen fiddle tunes, few of them part of the repertoire of most bluegrass players. The latest edition of that book comes with a CD of one time through each of the tunes (just AB, not the traditional AABB) with no accompaniment. To give an idea of how far from basic the book is, the first song includes triplets.

Perlman does have another book, Clawhammer Style Banjo which is a basic text. There are both audio and video tapes available for the lessons in this book. Pedagogically speaking, the video tape is extremely useful, showing clear closeups of both hands (esthetically speaking, the tape is one of the ugliest I have seen). The song selection in this book is much more useful than in the other book.

When you play up the neck, although you go physically lower, you go higher in tone. That's why it's called "up the neck." Some clawhammer players use finger picks--backwards, of course--and a thumb pick, both to protect the nails and to get greater volume and crisper tone. I've never been quite comfortable with them, but i've also never been very comfortable using picks for three finger picking. For a while, I was going every week or two to a manicurist to have the nails on my index and middle fingers built up because my nails are not very thick, but I stopped it because the manicurist was filing my nails almost down to the skin before applying the polyester or whatever it was. I stopped doing that because I stopped whamming on the strings and head as I learned drop-thumb (double thumbing). I sometimes put scotch tape on my nails before a long session. It works for a while, and can be easily replaced.
Again, I strongly recommend the book and video from Ken Perlman. --seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 08 Sep 98 - 06:25 AM

Murray--

Clawhammer banjo is as you describe it--using the nails (actually a particular nail, usually a bit longer than the others) to brush the strings--usually two down strokes and then a pick-up with the thumb on the fifth string. No picks are required. Clawhammer style is not limited to open-back instruments. In my part of the country, folks played whatever was available through the Monkey-Ward or the Sears catalogs or from local sources, and it was availability rather than style which ruled one's decision. Many of the old-timers I knew growing up provided their own resonators in open-back banjos by inserting a pie-pan in the pot. Old-time fiddle players, especially the older ones, seem to prefer a clawhammer banjo as a back-up instrument, as the style accentuates the down-beat, and provides a percussive sound not unlike a brushed drum. I learned the style from a fine gentleman known as Uncle Arthur Kuykendall, who used a "drop-thumb" style in which he used his thumb on all strings rather than just the fifth.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 08 Sep 98 - 09:42 PM

I first learned to play from Pete Seeger's book and got stuck for years up-picking: the basic strum is

one: pick up on one of the top three strings
and:
two: strum down across four strings with the nails
and: pluck the fifth string with your thumb

the rhythm is boom tid-dy, boom tid-dy.

after that you add at one and a hammer on, pull off, or slide:

one: pick up
and: hammer (or pull off or slide)
two: brush down
and: thumb on 5th string

I got as far as doublethumbing: on the one and, instead of a rest or pause, the thumb would pick a note on the second, third, or fourth string; on two, instead of brushing down, you pick a string with your index finger and follow with another thumb on 5th string. I got pretty good at doublethumbing melodies, but I was still pretty much stuck with that plus guitar style picking and a rhumba rhythm I also learned from seeger and used for calypso music. I was playing almost exclusively solo at the time, primarily to back up my singing.



I tried frailing, following seeger's instructions, but it felt so unnatural that I didn't stick with it long. I finally learned a bit of three finger picking--it came fairly easily once I started accenting the first, third, fifth, and seventh note of a three-finger roll:

not 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8- but
1-2-
3-4-
5-6-
7-8-.

I never got very fast, but it didn't matter: I was still playing solo (no wonder!) and still playing mostly to accompany singing.
It wasn't until about thirty years after I picked up the banjo that I started playing regularly with a guitar player and an autoharp player, both of whom also frailed the banjo, and the kind of songs we were playing cried out for frailing, so I started learning it. The basic frailing strum has the same boom tid-dy rhythm that up picking has, and is decorated in the same ways, hammering on, pulling off, sliding, and double thumbing, or more exactly, drop thumbing. The distinction is of vital importance: in up-picking doublethumbing, you use a pinching motion: finger up, thumb up, finger up, thumb up. Maintaining a solid rhythm is easy because your hand kind of rocks back and forth between the finger and the thumb actions.
but if you try to pick up with your thumb after picking down on a string with the nail of your index (or middle) finger, you'll find it damned near impossible to combine consistent rhythm with speed and accuracy or thumb placement on any but the fifth string. That's why it's important to make the distinction between double and drop thumbing: in clawhammer style as the finger picks down on a string, the thumb drops into place on the string it is going to sound (vital note--neither the finger nor the thumb provides the motion to pick strings; the motion comes from the arm, pivoting at the shoulder:

one: finger picks first (or 2nd, 3rd, or 4th string) as thumb drops into position behind second string
and: thumb picks second (or 3rd, 4th, or 5th) string as hand rises
two: finger picks string
and: thumb picks fifth string

I'm still not as fast drop thumbing as I am double thumbing, if you see the distinction, but I'm getting there. Another thirty years of practice ought to do it for me.

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Art Thieme
Date: 08 Sep 98 - 11:28 PM

I'd love to get Cathy Fink and Cathy Barton to do a BANJO DUET CD. Two wonderful frailers---no end to what they both can do---ALL styles actually.

Art


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 09 Sep 98 - 12:05 AM

That was supposed to be

1 - 2 - - 3 - - 4 - - 5 - - 6 - - 7 - - 8 -

--seed

I hope this comes out right this time.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 09 Sep 98 - 12:11 AM

Nope. Not quite right. Lemme try again:

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 -

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 09 Sep 98 - 05:53 AM

Bseed, Your description of Seeger's basic up picking style agrees with what Silverman calles the "old time style". If you replace the up-pick by a downward brush with the back of the nail, then he calles it "frailing"

It sound like what he calls frailing is pretty much claw-hammer style, except that you use all four nails instead of one nail on the second down-stroke

Murray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 09 Sep 98 - 07:02 AM

Art-- My memory isn't what it used to be, but I believe that you worked with me on the Clawhammer Banjo Workshop in Winfield, Kansas, many years ago. Or maybe it wasn't Winfield--or maybe it wasn't clawhammer banjo-- but I'm convinced that we worked some sort of panel together at some major festival--perhaps in the mid-eighties.??????

Bill Foster (Foster Family String Band)


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 09 Sep 98 - 08:50 PM

Murray, clawhammer and frailing are used interchangeably, with the basic stroke being sometimes referred to as frailing and the drop-thumb stroke more often described as clawhammer (at least that's my impression from reading a bunch of banjo books). BTW, did you read the rest of my post, or was it just too long and boring? --seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BSeed
Date: 10 Sep 98 - 03:39 AM

By the way (this is something I realized as I was reading over my treatise a few postings above), frailing produces a more driving rhythm than does up-picking because in up-picking, the energy behind the picking motion is produced largely by the muscles of the finger(s) and thumb, but the picking energy of frailing is produced by the arm and shoulder, with chest and back muscles, even stomach and leg muscles, involved--it's much more of a whole body effort. There's much the same difference between finger picking and flat picking the guitar. I'm not suggesting that good guitar (and banjo) finger pickers don't swing: Merle Travis and Earl Scruggs sure do. But it seems to me that frailing and flatpicking are a form of dancing: when the whole body is bouncing, rhythm comes easy.
One other thing I noticed about my discourse: I said about doublethumbing that it was finger up, thumb up, and in a sense it is (both are up in that they are away from the banjo head), but the finger and thumb are of course working in opposite directions, so finger up, thumb down, finger up, thumb down.

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 10 Sep 98 - 04:12 AM

Bseed, I did read the rest of your post; but not owning a banjo at the moment, and not really being familiar with the feel of one, I found it hard to follow. However I did download the thread for future reading, as if I ever get me a banjo, the information will be very usefull

I have noticed that Son House, unlike the other country blues players, swings at the wrist when he plays. The other players of his school seem to use the minimum of hand and are all fingers

Murray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Art Thieme
Date: 10 Sep 98 - 11:58 AM

Bill Foster (in Alabama),

Yes, we did do some workshops at Winfield together! Good memories from the dozen years I played there. I'm pretty sure I've got a slide o' you and the family I took there---you're all dressed in red. Aren't you going back there this year?
Bob Redford just ordered a bunch of my new CD on Waterbug Records for this Winfield comin' up SOON. I do appreciate that---am out of comission, physically, now and that will surely help out.

All the best & thanks for the memories,

Art


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Bert
Date: 10 Sep 98 - 12:42 PM

Seed,
....so finger up, thumb down, finger up, thumb down.

Reminds me of that kids action song
Couldn't find it in DT so here 'tiz.

One finger, one thumb keep moving,
One finger, one thumb keep moving,
One finger, one thumb keep moving,
and we'll all have a jolly good time.

Two fingers, two thumbs keep moving,
Two fingers, two thumbs keep moving,
Two fingers, two thumbs keep moving,
and we'll all have a jolly good time.

Two fingers, two thumbs, one arm keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms, one leg keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms, two legs keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms, two legs, a nod of the head keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms, two legs, a nod of the head, stand up and sit down keep moving....

Two fingers, two thumbs, two arms, two legs, a nod of the head, stand up and sit down, stand up and turn 'round keep moving....

Bert.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: bseed(charleskratz)
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 09:40 PM

I thought I'd revive this thread both for its content and to add some new, useful information:

My favorite clawhammer player is Dwight Diller, a West Virginia player who spent some time playing with Galax bands in a Galax style clawhammer but got homesick for the WV style he'd learned from oldtimers in his home area. He now gives many workshops, mostly near his home, but he's willing to travel: his workshops are usually four to seven days in length, very intensive, starting with lots of work on the right hand to get the rhythm right before going very deeply into tunes (I haven't been to one but I read a fairly detailed description of one accompanying his CD "Just Banjo" which is just that, a bunch of tunes beautifully played, with notes on tuning included for each song: it's kind of an instruction program without text. He also has a couple of instructionaly videos out (I have the intermediate level tape; the beginning video was supposedly ready to release early this winter).

Dwight has a website:

www.dwightdiller.com

which itself is very instructional, including tablature and real audio files for about thirty tunes, many of them on "Just Banjo," along with biographical information about him and links to a banjo maker who offers a Dwight Diller line of old timey banjos (wooden tone rings) and to Diller's wife's folk arts store.

--seed

By the way, many of his tabs are amazingly simple, yet are very beautiful when he plays them--what sets his playing apart is his wonderful right hand.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 10:40 PM

Hi Gang, The only thing to add is that Claw-hammer when realy souning right should sound like a pony trotting on cobble court. Finding the right spot up the neck a little to get a slight harmonic is a good trick to learn. I guess thats not in the first week of practice but still good to know.Have fun with it when you get an instroment!!! the best to you, Guy


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 11:01 PM

Thanks for refreshing this thread Charles. I printed out your posting. They are very helpful and timely for me right now.
I found Dwight's site is an excellent resource.
What are your thoughts on Dwight Diller's week long workshop that he calls 'banjo camp'.
Just wondering if you know anyone who has attended?

BB


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: bseed(charleskratz)
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 11:43 PM

No, I don't, Bonnie--but I'd love to go to one. His intermediate video begins with him directing his son in demonstrating the right hand technique, damping the strings so that he's just working on rhythm; he starts with the one-two (one string frailed, four strings played), adds the thumbed fifth string at the "and" after the two: one--two-and, one--two-and, boom-tiddy, boom-tiddy rhythm, then adds the drop thumb at the "and" after the one for one-and-two-and boom and tiddy boom and tiddy rhythm. This goes on several minutes before he introduces a tune. Sunday nights at the Starry Plough I practice the stroke along with the band, damping the strings so I'm just playing a soft rhythm: different tunes allow me to practice the patterns at a variety of tempos. It's making a big difference in my actual playing.

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 04 Feb 00 - 11:58 PM

Charles all the dates for this years workshops & camps are listed on Dwights website now. They weren't last time I checked.
It is worth checking out.

BB


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Arkie
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 04:01 AM

I missed this the first time around and am happy to see it brought back. Are there any subtle differences in the in the downpicking style which is labeled clawhammer, rapping, and frailing? Or are they regional names? Here in the Ozarks the old timers like Bookmiller Shannon played pretty fast and were quite rthymic, possibly because the banjo was used to accompany square and jig dance along with the fiddle. Often the banjo and fiddle were the only instruments used for dance music. The oldtimers' playing was not as melodic as players I have heard further east. Generally speaking the Ozark frailers, played faster and with less single noting than their eastern counterparts.

Several modern frailers not mentioned heretofore, but certainly worthy of note are Jim Connor, best known for his song, Grandma's Feather Bed, Gordy Hinners, and Mark Jones. Jim's skill on the banjo is nothing short of amazing. He can play the old fiddle tunes as well as anyone, but I can't begin to describe what else Jim does with the banjo, getting sounds and textures I have heard from no one else. Gordy plays a fretless banjo with Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers and gives that band a very distinctive sound. Ralph Blizard is a another story, a wonderful fiddler with a distinctive bowing technique, and a real treasure. The New Southern Ramblers are quite a band. Mark is the son of Grandpa Jones and a first class musician in his own right.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Banjer
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 07:56 AM

Mr. BSeed, Thanks for reviving this thread....I will check out Mr. Diller's website today. I am not too far off from buying that Deering Goodtime banjo that we discussed in the forum earlier. I had occasion to play one several months ago and fell in love with the light weight and nice tone of the instrument. Admittedly it looks kind of strange with the type of head it has on it (more like a guitar than traditional banjo) but it does sound good! Have you had any experience with one yet? (or anyone else for that matter?)


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: bseed(charleskratz)
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 04:00 PM

Banjer, yes--I have played one, and I liked it (but also would prefer a more traditional appearance, banjo tuners in place of guitar, and a non-windswept head; even with its strange appearance I kind of wish I had bought one when I was in a store in Corvallis, Ore., which was selling them for $250, tax free, three years ago. Instead I bought a composite banjo--pot from an old tenor, custom made 17 fret neck: nice looking but probably not as good sounding as the Goodtime, and twice the price.

--seed


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Chris Seymour
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 06:01 PM

Glad to hear Gordy Hinners mentioned -- he's great -- met him when the Ramblers were running a string band class at Augusta Heritage Workshops in West Virginia in the early 90s.

Far as I can tell, Arkie, there's no consistent, clear definitions that distinguish between clawhammer, rapping and frailing - I've read definitive statements from various sources that contradict each other. Best not to get too serious about the banjo. The operative word relating to the instrument is "play."


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Sean Belt
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 07:22 PM

What a great thread! I started playing banjo in the old time clawhammer style about two years ago and it really turned my head around. It gave me a new interest in and excitement about playing music that had been flagging in me for a while.

Another good resource for video lessons in this style is David Holt. His tapes area available through Happy Traum's Homespun Tapes. I recommend them highly.

- Sean


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: GUEST,Arnie
Date: 05 Feb 00 - 09:36 PM

There will be an interesting 5 string banjo convention called The Maryland Banjo Academy on April 7,8,9. It will feature top notch players in a few styles teaching banjo classes, giving workshops, and concerts. It will also feature many good banjo makers selling product. Some of the fine clawhammerists will be Dwight Diller, Cathy Fink, Walt Koken, Reed Martin, Debby McClatchy, Ken Perlman, Art Rosenbaum, Tony Trischka, Bob Carlin. The prices seem very reasonable for this event. For more info contact Nancy Nitchie at 410-643-3612. Clawhammer player Dan Levenson does workshops travelling accross the U.S.A. with a bunch of Deering Goodtime banjos for folks to play. I think they are a fine beginner instrument, with reasonable tone - but when you turn into a banjo playing maniac, you'll probably want to get something better.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Arkie
Date: 06 Feb 00 - 06:01 PM

Another player who pretty much utilizes this style is Leroy Troy, the Tennessee Slicker. The thing that sets Leroy apart is his showmanship. He does a lot of the tricks with the banjo, while playing, that Uncle Dave Macon was known for. As he once said, "It takes a lot of room for me to play a banjo". He is certainly fun to watch as he slings his banjo around in circles and arcs while playing tunes such as "Grandfather's Clock". While Leroy imitates Uncle Dave's tricks he does not perform very many of the tunes from Macon's repertoire. Hugh 'Doc' Wilhite, a Kentucky physician, on the other hand does an excellent recreation of a Dave Macon performance including the patter, songs, and tricks.


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: BanjoRay
Date: 06 Feb 00 - 09:25 PM

I went to 2 four day banjo workshops that Dwight Diller took here in England in the last year and a half. The guy is a totally dedicated teacher, who works his rocks off to get his class playing good solid rhythmic clawhammer in the style of the WV Hammons family banjo players. I've been playing clawhammer since the sixties, and Dwight really got my ideas bucked up. I'd recommend one of his banjo camps to anybody who wants to get a real feel for what clawhammer playing is all about.

Someone wanted to know what the Deering Goodtime banjos were like; I've played a couple of them, and they are superb value for what you pay for them. They have maple bodies and necks and no tone ring, only weigh 4 pounds, and sound surprisingly good for what is a pretty cheap new banjo. They are not very pretty, but I could stand the sight of one - I'm seriously considering getting one as a back-packing banjo! Cheers Ray


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Chris Seymour
Date: 06 Feb 00 - 10:16 PM

Where are these Deerings available; how much do they cost now; and is there an online image of them that anyone knows of so I can see what they look like?


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: GUEST,Jeff Morrison
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 09:54 AM

For a Goodtime call Jeff. I just happen to know of a picture of one. http://www.interlog.com/~jmor/music/folk.htm


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: black walnut
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 11:10 AM

who's that unidentified singer/dulcimer player you're pictured performing with, jeff? she looks familiar.....

~black walnut


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 11:26 AM

Y'all should realize that the folk didn't use all these names--if you asked a real folk banjo picker what he was playing, he'd generally respond, "banjo".

The first time I heard the term claw-hammer was in the mid 50s, in Seeger's mimeographed "How to Play the 5-String Banjo". I believe he was describing the hand position for three-fingered (Scruggs) picking. What's generally called claw-hammer today was generallycalled drop-thumbing--a technique that used the thumb twicew in each phrase to play more melody. FRailing (or down-picking) left out more notes, or relied on hammering-on or pulling-off to achieve them.

"Frail", BTW, is a southernism synonamous to "beat", as in "if you don' behave yo' self, ah'm gonna frail you good!"

dick


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: GUEST,kate bucko kcbucko@hotmail.com
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 01:01 PM

i agree with the statment about the terminology...i play banjo, and i just go a-pickin'. i didn't really realize i was playing clawhammer. i just dont like to use picks...


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Songster Bob
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 02:06 PM

Well, lots of good grist for the mill here. Some comments, plus an embedded ad.

One question was about the tuning or pitch at which you play the five-string and a question about "kinds of banjo." Originally, the five-string was about the size of the modern instrument, but, as "banjo orchestras" were invented and became extremely popular, the inventors and makers devised specialized instruments for the different musical voices, from soprano to bass. That piccolo banjo mentioned early on in this thread was the lead instrument, the soprano voice, and the "normal" banjo was re-designated the "tenor" banjo (which causes some confusion with the later invention of a cello-tuned four-string plectrum instrument now called the "tenor banjo.") Luckily, the folk players didn't get so caught up in the urban banjo orchestra craze, and just played the thing.

Clawhammer playing is generally identified now* as what the old-timers called "knocking," "frailing," "beating," "rapping," and several other names. The tendency to require names for styles seems a folkloric trait, and lorists deserve what they get in these cases. Someone once asked old-timer Buell Kazee what he called his style. His answer: "I've been playing since I was five years old, and I'm nigh onto seventy now. As long as I can remember, we always called it 'picking' the banjo."

* I once read a book, published in the '50s, which called the three-finger Scruggs-oriented style "clawhammer," so the term has been applied to both styles at one time. That usage has pretty much died out, it seems.

The hard part about the knocking style is to get used to realy striking the strings instead of plucking them, even if you use the nail. The hand comes down in a striking motion, hitting individual strings or groups of strings, depending on what's needed. The basic pattern is strike/pause/brush/thumb, giving a ONE and-a beat (i.e., two repeats per measure of 2/4 fiddle-tune rhythm). I always think of Pete Seeger's mnemonic "Bum-titty, bum-titty" for a measure of banjo playing. That pause is when the hand rebounds for the next down stroke, and the thumb after the "tit" part is NOT a pluck in terms of moving the thumb, but is instead a lift of the whole hand, the thumb having come to rest on the 5th string at the end of the down brush of the hand. In other words, the thumb, by lifting the hand, helps get the hand ready for more down-strokes and incidentally sounds the tumb string (it does pluck the string, of course, but it's not a "fishing expedition" or actually separate motion).

Old-time banjos up until about 1920 were strung with gut strings (with a wound 4th string, not a metal string as such), but are typically nowadays strung with wire. Some folks still prefer the gut (or its replacement, nylon) string sound. I have five banjos -- two gut-strung, two steel-strung, and one interchangeable. One each of the gut- and steel-strung instruments is fretted, the other is fretless. So I can get the sound I want from the banjo that matches it.

Commercial advertisement -- I am the publisher and writer of "The Old-timey Banjo Book," which I still have copies of. I'll sell 'em for $7.50 postpaid. Email me at rjclayton@aol.com for a mailing address. A few 'catters have the books, and I hope they have been helpful (the books, not the 'catters).

This has gotten long enough that I will stop now. I'll check back on the thread later to see if there are any other unanswered questions (like "You didn't mention drop-thumb playing.").

Bob Clayton rjclayton@aol.com


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Rex
Date: 02 Mar 00 - 01:58 PM

Well I was curious about Bob's book. He's got good credentials, hanging out with those Smithsonian folks and all. So I ordered one from him. It arrived last week but it wasn't until last night that I was able to break out a banjo and look through it. I was getting it with another picker starting out in mind. But there was things in there to help me too. A pulloff there where I hadn't thought of it, and I never could do that drop thumb stuff. He also tells of some of those delightful alternate tunings and how to get there from "G" and what to do when you get there. Now mind you, this book was done in '76. The old bicentennial. There weren't no CAD and there weren't no wordprocessors. You won't find full color images and fancy fonts. This book was made by hand. It's well laid out with good diagrams and some nice drawings placed here and there. There's even a drawing of Bob on the back. Though judging from his mudcat photo, he don't look as youthful as he did in '76. Well neither do I. Anyway, Bob don't know me from Adam. I'm just letting you folks know that here's a good book if you want to learn old-time banjo and it's well worth the price.

Rex


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 02 Mar 00 - 03:26 PM

Speaking of Seeger's descriptive expression for the rhythm, "bum-titty", Dwight Diller says for his style that's all wrong. It should be (bum) titty-BUM, titty-BUM, titty-BUM, titty-BUM.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: What is clawhammer style
From: Mooh
Date: 02 Mar 00 - 03:32 PM

Sorry I haven't read every letter here. Has anybody mentioned Ken Pearlman? Great clawhammer guy, with instruction books I think.


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