Learn Clawhammer Banjo
Banjo Lessons for the Adult Beginner
by Josh 21 Comments
J. Perry Brake says
I’ve noticed in some of your tabs while fingering a C chord that the middle finger is not on the 4th string.
Why is that?
I see you fingering this position in the videos
Good question – in the tabs, what you’re seeing are the strings that are to be sounded. So where you see more than one string being sounded at the same time, that’s typically going to be a brush stroke, and so when you’re seeing a brush stroke over a C chord, the tab is indicating that you brush across strings 1-3.
How many strings you sound when you execute a brush stroke (aka a “strum”) is really up to you. If you were going to include the 4th string in that strum, then you’d want to make sure you’re fretting it at the 2nd fret (this is why I have you put your fingers in the C chord position in this part of the tutorial video).
Hope that clears it up. Let me know if it doesn’t.
Robert Gray says
On my tunes above, Level 2 is being played for both “Level 1” as well as Level2.
Level 1 is missing.
Yep, I’m seeing that too.
Yes, but the backup arrangements (slow, med and performance), which do play with the tab are actually the level 1 tab.
A part of Level 1 (not shown above in either video) is driving me nuts.
In measure 19, you play 4, not 5, on the second beat.
However, this is not the confusing part. When I listen to you play in this area things sound OK.
If I play from measure 18 – 23 there are too many notes for me.
It sounds perfect for me if I eliminate the second half of measure 21, then just flow into measure 22.
Otherwise I just cannot get the smooth transition from 21 to 22.
No matter how slowly I try, playing the full measure 21 breaks up the flow for me.
Unless I am overlooking something.
Hey Bob – Darling Nellie Gray could be considered to be a bit crooked in terms of its structure, as it doesn’t fit into the standard 2 equal 16 measures of the prototypical fiddle tune, so it’s possible that your brain is expecting that, making that pause in the 22nd measure feel a little awkward. I would recommend playing that section along with the tutorial video until you can get it smooth.
And I am playing the G there in the 19th measure, which is the 1st string at the 5th fret (not the 4th, which would be an F#).
If you want to ever record a video or audio of your playing for me to look/listen to and provide feedback on, I’m happy to do so.
I definitely hear the F# on 4th string, which does sound a little better to me than playing the G on 5th – a minor point.
No need to reply….
I finally listened more carefully and do hear briefly the F# just before the G on fret 5 followed by the oo5-o brush at end of measure.
When I play along with you, no problem.
It is when I play alone that I can’t quite get it – I’ll just keep at it until I get it.
David Colvin says
Hi Josh. Thank you so much for these tutorials they have really helped me a lot I’ve only been playing for about 6 months and your videos have really helped me correct mistakes etc. I do have questions though. For one I get confused playing the songs trying to figure out what finger I should use when playing a single note on a string. Example is with this song some notes are on the first fret then to the 4th and 5th fret etc. I am having difficulty making the transition and was wondering what finger works best when doing this. Also, what do you do when you hit a plateau and don’t seem to progress anymore? I practice regularly usually 20-30 min a day and follow your advice 10 min on familiar stuff and 10 min on more difficult areas. Again thank you for the help.
Hey David – first of all, don’t worry too much if that move to the 5th fret in Darling Nellie Gray is tricky – I went back and forth on whether to include this tune with this month’s content precisely because of that section. It’s a tricky one to get up to speed, so as high a degree of difficulty as anything else you’ll tackle this month.
As far as what fingers to use, I stick to some general rules, but will sometimes break them depending on the situation. But as a general rule, when you’re playing down the neck, the first and second frets are the domain of the index finger, the 3rd fret the domain of the middle finger, the 4th fret the ring finger, and the 5th fret the little finger. This is simply to allow for an economy of motion, as you want to try to keep the fretting hand as stationary as possible. In that particular section of Darling Nellie Gray, sometimes I’ll use the pinky, and sometimes I will actually slide my hand down and use the index (breaking my aforementioned rule) – this depends partly on how much you’re able to stretch your hand. What you’ll find over time as you keep playing is that not only will your fingers (especially the ring and pinky) of your fretting hand get more coordinated, but you’re hand will actually stretch (there are even exercises you can perform to speed the stretching process along…)
Regarding plateaus, the first thing I would say is that in many cases this is entirely normal. The learning process is not continuous stream of linear improvement, but rather periods of progression followed by plateaus (as new skills are being consolidated). If you feel like you’ve plateaued longer than you should, then the next question would be what it is you that’s holding you back – the key to this is usually identifying where the weakest link in your playing is, and then working on it specifically until it gets better. Lastly, sometimes just taking a break for a few days can do wonders – remember that much of your improvement is happening beneath conscious awareness, and sometimes you’ll be amazed at what your subconscious has figured out without you even having touched your instrument 🙂
Thanks Josh, again I appreciate your lessons and your clarification with the fingering. Yeah I think I will take a break over this weekend I have been non stop practicing for weeks and I think I could use a break. Again, I appreciate your lessons and your willingness to help. Thank you very much.
Is there a reason why Level 1 (where full brush strokes are used a lot) is placed before Levels 2 and 3, where only single note picking is used?
They seem to be reversed since there seems to be more “body” in Level 1.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the 2 and 3 level tabs.
Just wondering about the order.
Yep, because brush strokes are typically easier to execute than single string strikes (i.e. the margin for error is a good bit higher).
Here’s the link to where you can read all about the level system: https://clawhammerbanjo.net/levels/
I know I’ve probably pointed this out more than once, but remember that just because something is more technically challenging (i.e. a higher level) doesn’t mean it’ll sound “better” (“better” here being defined entirely by your own ears).
There are some great players who essentially never use a brush stroke (e.g. Tommy Jarrell and others in the Round Peak tradition), and some who use it constantly (e.g. Grandpa Jones). Though one approach may be more technically complicated than the other, which one is “better” is entirely in the ear of the beholder.
Sounds like you’re already developing your own stylistic preference, which is great.
Thanks for the quick reply.
I do like the mostly single note versions also and was aware of your comment about the playing style being the important thing.
I am really enjoying things so far.
Shirley Sloan says
I am wondering if you have a rationale for using the D maj chord rather than the D7 which is easier…(and possibly better)
Hi Shirley – I do have both the D maj chord and the D7 (measure 14) in this particular arrangement. Perhaps the main reason for using both is that one of the main functions of this arrangement is to reinforce the course content for this month, which is learning the chord positions in standard G tuning.
I also do personally prefer the way this sounds over using the D7 throughout whenever there’s a D chord, but either chord can be used when a D is called for.
It looks like the level 1 tutorial is actually the same as the level 2 tutorial. Any chance of getting the level 1 tutorial substituted? Thanks.
Hi Josh. The tab for the tune tutorial (level one) doesn’t match the tab for the slow/moderate/performance speeds. A little confusing, was this on purpose?
Ah yes, good catch! I’ll make a note to fix it with the level 1 version. Thanks!
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