What is Clawhammer Banjo? The Complete Guide!

Author:

Published:

Updated:

what is clawhammer banjo

In the world of banjo, clawhammer is something that is a word that is often heard, yet many beginners and people new to the instrument will have little experience with. The good news is that the question “what is clawhammer banjo” is easily answered.

Clawhammer banjo is a style of playing that is otherwise known as old-time banjo. When playing the banjo in a clawhammer fashion you use either the back of your index or middle finger to strum the strings and alternate this with plucking with your thumb.

Clawhammer players have a distinct way of holding their hands to play this style. The shape of the hand resembles a claw which lends the name to the style. The other reason it’s called clawhammer is that the resulting rhythm sounds like “boom -chick -a” or… how it got its name… “Claw-ham-mer”.

Can You Play Clawhammer on any Banjo?

You can play clawhammer on any 5 string banjo! Resonator or open back, because it’s a strumming style it is not instrument dependant. Traditionally most people only played clawhammer on open-backed banjo, but the belief it can “only” be played open-backed is a myth.

Resonator banjos were not invented until later, but they are still commonly used with Clawhammer. In fact, many of the best clawhammer banjoists like Wade Ward, Ralph Stanley, J.D Wilkes, Mike Seegar, and String Bean all played clawhammer on a resonator banjo.

Is it Hard to Play Clawhammer Banjo?

Most people consider clawhammer style banjo to be easier to learn to play than Scruggs style. With clawhammer banjo, you have the basic stroke and once you master it you can play anything.

Scruggs style, with the different rolls and picking patterns, tends to be more complicated! Both styles have their advantages, but for most people, we recommend learning clawhammer first.

What is the First Step to Learning How to Play Clawhammer?

The first step to learning how to play clawhammer banjo is picking a good instrument! If you have no idea what you’re looking for, we recommend checking out our beginner banjo buying guide.

Next, you want to practice the downstrum with the nail of your index or middle finger. Make sure you are hitting each string with equal pressure and the sound is smooth. We usually will do this without worrying about chord changes at first.

After the downstrum you’ll pick out the bass note, usually the drone string (5th string) with your thumb. Alternate between the strum of the fingers and the pick of the thumb.

Start slow and only increase speed as you get better! Practice with a metronome and try to keep a steady tempo. As you get better, slowly start adding more chords or strumming patterns.

Where did Clawhammer Banjo Originate

The banjo has roots dating back to many people in West Africa. The instrument, or early versions of it, was brought to America with black slaves, and from everything, historians know the clawhammer style of play was indigenous to them.

This is why clawhammer is often referred to as old-time banjo. Scruggs style was not invented or popularized until much more recently.

What is Clawhammer Banjo – The Final Note

Clawhammer banjo is a style of playing that is otherwise known as old-time banjo. When playing the banjo in a clawhammer fashion you use either the back of your index or middle finger to strum the strings and alternate this with plucking with your thumb.

Most people consider clawhammer style banjo to be easier to learn to play than Scruggs style. With clawhammer, you have the basic stroke and once you master it, you can play anything!

Either way, we love playing the banjo and recommend beginners work on both clawhammer and Scruggs. It may take you a little longer to learn at first but will make you a much more versatile player in the long run!

  • Recent Posts
Edward Bell Author

A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!

Latest posts

  • Best Apps for Learning Guitar: Top Picks for Beginners

    Best Apps for Learning Guitar: Top Picks for Beginners

    As a musician, I know how important it is to have the right tools to help me improve my skills. With the rise of technology, there are now many guitar apps available that can help you learn and practice guitar at your own pace. In this article, I will share my top picks for the […]

    Read more

  • The Best Headless Guitars in 2023 for Travel and Standing Out

    The Best Headless Guitars in 2023 for Travel and Standing Out

    Guitarists are always looking for new ways to express themselves through their music, and the instrument they choose to play is a big part of that. One type of guitar design that has been gaining popularity in recent years is the headless guitar.  Unlike traditional guitars, headless guitars don’t have a headstock, which can make […]

    Read more

  • The Complete Guide to Guitar Amp Simulators

    The Complete Guide to Guitar Amp Simulators

    In the world of music production, the quest for the perfect guitar tone is a never-ending pursuit. Guitarists and producers alike are constantly striving to capture that timeless, iconic sound that can only be achieved through a real guitar amp. However, lugging around heavy, expensive gear to every recording session or live performance can be […]

    Read more