Clawhammer banjo has attracted many enthusiasts, and these enthusiasts aren’t limited by age group, either. A lot of emerging banjo players are getting younger and younger as they find out how pleasant it is to play the instrument and delight themselves and their loved ones with more than a few songs. Although clawhammer banjo is not for everyone because of its individualized, strategic approach, once you find your style, it gets a lot easier- and it’s a significant achievement. So how can you improve your clawhammer banjo skills, and what can you do to become a better player? Here’s a list of top tips for you to become a better clawhammer banjo player.
What you should remember
Before you begin, remember that while you can benefit from some standard guidelines in playing clawhammer banjo, you shouldn’t limit yourself. In other words, don’t be afraid to experiment with various ways through which you can play so you can see what suits you and works best for your individual style. You should have discussions with other keen players whenever you can, but at the end of the day, focus on what sounds good to you and sounds natural to your ears.
- You can develop your strum further once you become comfortable with striking single notes on your banjo, and you can do this by starting with easy Banjo songs. You can use the index finger of your right hand to play melodious notes, but some players often prefer the middle finger of their right hand. What you can do is try it with both fingers so you can see what works best.
- If your finger knocks the banjo’s head once you strike the first string, this is fine. Clawhammer banjo is a rhythmic and percussive approach to banjo playing, so don’t fret if you make a little bit of noise.
- Many players use their middle or index fingernails so they can come up with a good sound. But if you don’t want to use your fingernails, you can make use of fingerpicks (to serve as fingernail extensions). Make sure, though, that you place the banjo pick so that it covers your nail and not the finger pad (like in the bluegrass method of playing). What you can do is try to play without using fingerpicks first so you can hear the sound. If you still feel that you are not getting a forceful and clear sound, you can play using the picks (you can also use artificial fingernails if yours are not long enough so you can get into contact with the banjo strings).
- Keep in mind that your finger should move both towards the floor and down on the string. You should try to develop a decisive and quick movement using your wrist, so your hand stays in control.
- When you have your middle or index finger playing the 2nd to 4th strings, the finger usually rests against the string that is next to the highest.
- Some banjo players prefer bending their thumbs at the thumb’s joints in order to have a ‘claw’ effect (where the finger hooks beneath the strings). But other banjo players prefer extending their thumbs outward. You can try both and see for yourself which method suits you.