Clawhammer refers to a style of playing the banjo that is a typical part of old American music. The banjo player strikes the strings, either using the backs of the thumb and index finger or, sometimes, with the middle fingers too. This is unlike the 3-finger style that involves plucking the strings one at a time using the same fingers. The reason they call it the “clawhammer” is because of how our hand appears clawlike while playing. It also refers to the manner that the strings are struck, which is much like hammering. The clawhammer banjo style is something you will typically hear in old-time American music.
The first people who introduced clawhammer, among many others, were the African slaves. They were also the ones who brought the banjo and the method of playing the instrument. When the banjo was introduced in America, it quickly became connected to African-Americans and gained popularity among white musicians. The music styles were taught to many others who were interested in banjo playing. The “stroke” style, as was most commonly known then, is now referred to as the clawhammer.
Clawhammer banjo basic tips
The clawhammer is a more individualized style of playing as there are no hard and fast rules as to your approach to it. If it works well for you, then it is what you should do. You start by looking for a comfortable hand position. From there, you can practice some exercises to accustom yourself to incorporate the clawhammer style when you strike your banjo strings. Should you knock your banjo’s head when you hit your initial string, it is nothing to worry about. The clawhammer uses a more rhythmic method, so making some noise is acceptable. You may practice without a banjo pick first to hear what sound you can produce with it. After that, you can start working with banjo picks, or go for artificial fingernails instead, should your own be too short to come up with the sound you are looking for. Try to accustom yourself to striking single notes before practicing your clawhammer style.
Why you should learn how to play the banjo
Whatever style you choose to play, the banjo is one musical instrument that offers its unique advantages. For one, it allows you and your listeners to relax. In a matter of minutes, you start to feel that stress-free state from playing the instrument. Banjo playing is also good mental exercise. You are more alert and focused when you play. You also start sharpening both your reading and listening capabilities. You learn how to become more disciplined with practicing and mastering the instrument. Banjo playing offers the opportunity for self-expression. Apart from these, you are physically active as you use your muscles to play. Your posture is significantly improved too. In other words, banjo playing is good for your overall well-being.
If you are interested in clawhammer banjo and want to give this musical instrument a go, it would be best to learn from a professional banjo school like Joff Lowson’s Banjo Academy. All you need is the commitment to master the instrument and work on the different styles of playing. Before long, you will develop a personal style that you are comfortable with.