Music Education - Learning Banjo
Banjo Workshops By Patrick Costello, Basic Frailing or Clawhammer, Bluegrass or Scruggs style, Playing by Ear, Backup Banjo.
Creative Commons license book by Patrick Costello
Simplifying things greatly, five string banjo is mainly played in two styles, three finger picking, usually associated with bluegrass music and often known as Scruggs style, and frailing or clawhammer style used in old-time or oldtimey music. Clawhammer and frailing mean pretty much the same thing and describe a form of fingerpicking method used by banjo and, rarely, guitar players. Clawhammer is a rhythmic common component of American old-time music.
Most traditional picking styles, consist of an up-picking motion by the fingers and a down-picking motion by the thumb; this is also the technique used in the Scruggs style for the banjo. Clawhammer picking, on the other hand, is mainly a down-picking style. The hand takes a claw-like shape and the strumming finger is kept fairly stiff, striking the strings by the motion of the hand at the wrist, rather than a flicking motion by the finger. Commonly only the thumb and middle or index finger are used and the finger always downpicks, flicking the string with the back of the fingernail. Musicians who use clawhammer style include Bob Carlin, Dwight Diller, Dan Levenson, Brad Leftwich, and Abigail Washburn.
Scruggs-style banjo is played with usually metal picks on the thumb, index and middle fingers; the pinky and/or ring fingers are typically braced against the head of the instrument. The strings are picked rapidly in repetitive sequences or rolls; the same string is not typically picked twice in succession. Melody notes are interspersed among arpeggios, and musical phrases typically contain long series of staccato notes, often played at rapid tempo. This style is commonly attributed to Earl Scruggs who played first with Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, and later with Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys. Examples of this style are Scruggs' recording of the theme song of the television program The Beverly Hillbillies, and the music for the film Bonnie and Clyde.
Patrick also provides printed versions of this and his other books as well as othe music related services fom his Pik-Ware Publising website give it a visit. You can also find a large collection of interesting material from Patrick on archive.org.
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