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Sep 16, 2023 - 12:25:50 PM
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RichJ

USA

979 posts since 8/6/2013

I was pretty smug going into this. Figured if I could play the fiddle, the banjo would be simple. I’d have the thing eating out of my hand in a couple of days. One thing I learned from fooling with fiddles though - working in good rhythm is key to sounding good. So, right off I forced myself to get a good solid clawhammer rhythm down before even thinking about trying to work in any melody. That’s when words like “bum-ditty” and “boom-a-laka” started creeping into my vocabulary. The 1,2,1,2 bum-ditty thing was pretty easy to pick up. I’m still not sure I understand how the 1,2,3,4 boom-a-lak-a thing works. Part of me says it’s no different from bum-ditty, but then doubt and beginner’s ignorance creeps in and I just go back to bum-ditty. Working melodies in with a banjo is still a mystery. A fiddle has 4 strings and playing one note at a time is pretty much the norm. With a fiddle, after a couple of years you start feeling proud of yourself when you can pull off a drone or two. The dang banjo has five strings, and all of em’ are raring to whine away the minute you touch the thing. So as things stand now I get a pretty steady bum-ditty going and I can even keep it going while whacking along with guitar chords or someone else’s playing. Working in melodies is still a pretty weak effort. The few melodies I play on a banjo sound something like a very small child singing in a boiler factory. Then there’s that syncopated rhythm - such an essential part of good clawhammer banjo tunes. Near as I can tell, this done with secret banjo tricks called “pull-offs” and “hammer on’s” - other mystical stuff I presently have only vague ideas about.

Damn – this banjo stuff ain’t near as easy as I thought it would be.

Sep 16, 2023 - 1:32:23 PM

11476 posts since 3/19/2009

Usually I say that playing a banjo is SO easy that it is difficult. Just stick with it. Sounds like you are determined and determination is all it takes.. you'll get it. Cheers.

Sep 16, 2023 - 2:28:53 PM
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DougD

USA

11931 posts since 12/2/2007

I don't understand why you represent the "bum-ditty" rhythm as "1,2,1,2." Its THREE notes, Long, short-short, best represented as "1,2 - and, 1,2 - and" or "1, and-ah, 2, and-ah."
I also don't understand why you both think playing the banjo is "simple" or "SO easy that it is difficult." Have you just heard too many silly banjo jokes? Every instrument I've attempted, banjo included, can be played quite easily in a basic way, and also offers almost unlimited possibilities. I'd suggest that in addition to determination, it takes instruction from some source, practice, ability (not always acknowledged here at the FHO) and a certain respect for the task at hand.

Edited by - DougD on 09/16/2023 14:29:51

Sep 16, 2023 - 3:00:21 PM

RichJ

USA

979 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by DougD

I don't understand why you represent the "bum-ditty" rhythm as "1,2,1,2." Its THREE notes, Long, short-short, best represented as "1,2 - and, 1,2 - and" or "1, and-ah, 2, and-ah."
I also don't understand why you both think playing the banjo is "simple" or "SO easy that it is difficult." Have you just heard too many silly banjo jokes? Every instrument I've attempted, banjo included, can be played quite easily in a basic way, and also offers almost unlimited possibilities. I'd suggest that in addition to determination, it takes instruction from some source, practice, ability (not always acknowledged here at the FHO) and a certain respect for the task at hand.


1, 2, and, 1, 2 and... absolutely correct Doug. I also think maybe those "banjo jokes" did influence me, Now I'm paying a price. lol But, I'm not too sure i'm in agreement with you on the "taking instruction from some source" idea.  So many ways to play, even if one sticks to clawhammer style. Then there's the issue of personality interactions... So VERY important in a good student - teacher interaction, one where meaningful information gets transferred.  There's an on-going FHO post now about what influenced  one's  fiddle playing in a positive way. I haven't yet participate in that one, but I'm pretty sure a lousy teacher has influenced it for some of us in a negative way.

Sep 16, 2023 - 4:07:04 PM
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3369 posts since 10/22/2007

Hey, don't look at me. I been playing banjer since 1980. Do you think I can figure out that clawhammer stuff? No way. In fact, In 40 years I haven't been able to tolerate fingerpicks. But what it has done, is put me ahead of all these kids that have recently discovered open G tuning.

Sep 16, 2023 - 7:26:34 PM

14972 posts since 9/23/2009

I always thought banjo was easy but I can't play it "right," lol. Can't do thumb lead, can't do Scruggs or anything that came after... clawhammer seems easy to me and I just pick it the wrong way, like a guitar with a string missing, sorta, whenever I wanna pick it and that seems easy enough too...but...I played guitar all through growing up and then started messin' with banjos (on and off...usually had a cheap banjo, had to sell it when I got too poor, would get another one in a few years, sell that when I got poor, etc.) when I was about 18 years old I guess...driving and banjo came about the same time...maybe I was 16.  So it sorta spanned nearly my entire lifetime on and off.

Fiddle is about how Rich describes his banjo experience, for me...tough to learn...has sneaky little puzzling tricks you have to figure out to get by, etc. Seems nobody can explain it that good so you gotta dig into the little mysterious secrets hidden inside the fiddle and pull 'em out however you can get 'em out...however you can understand it and find what's hiding in there. I guess after about 15 years on fiddle by now for me, it's still not enough, because here lately I just haven't gotten much opportunity for playing and I'm getting rustier and rustier by the day. Gonna take me a while to catch up if I ever get the chance.  Comparing that with banjo...I've gone several months and not touch the doggone thing and it's no difference.  I went 7 years one time without playing guitar at all and it didn't affect my Windy and Warm...lol.

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 09/16/2023 19:33:35

Sep 17, 2023 - 6:35:32 AM
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Earworm

USA

542 posts since 1/30/2018

RichJ I found taking instruction on banjo absolutely necessary, and was lucky enough to be able to learn clawhammer for a couple of years from the same teacher I learned fiddle from. You're right that there are a lot of styles - but that's not a reason to not seek out instruction. Clawhammer is hard to do well, and easy to do badly. Chances are good that you'll need help.

Have you checked out the clawhammer instruction from Tom Collins on YouTube? I'm not sure it substitutes for in person learning, but he has a lot of material, I think his teaching style is very accessible, and offers online lessons, too, I think. There's also BHO (Banjo Hangout) that's a close cousin to this very site (FHO). If you haven't discovered it yet, you might want to at least check it out.

Edited by - Earworm on 09/17/2023 06:45:01

Sep 17, 2023 - 7:10:06 AM
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6539 posts since 8/7/2009

I blame my slooowww progress on clawhammer to my lifelong love of finger picking guitar. Plucking strings in an upward motion with my fingers, and having the lowest pitch at the top of the strings is ingrained into my muscle memory. It's hard to overcome.

I think I have given up more times than I have tried to start again. maybe... but I'm running out of time.

I have resigned my self to playing fiddle with an accomplished frailer, so they can make me sound better at fiddling.

Sep 17, 2023 - 8:41:56 AM
Players Union Member

carlb

USA

2654 posts since 2/2/2008

Just get the right hand relaxed with a simple group of tunes you already know. No drop thumb until you get that right hand relaxed. One can always come  up with a simple setting that has no drop thumb.

Sep 17, 2023 - 10:59:13 AM

14972 posts since 9/23/2009

Tony...I think I have a similar problem...having fingerpicked on a guitar for my whole life...I cannot do thumb lead on banjo or BG rolls (that's ok with me though...lol)...clawhammer has seemed like an easy enough thing for me though, although when I first heard Dwight Diller I changed my clawhammer style quite a bit.

Sep 17, 2023 - 3:59:04 PM

2496 posts since 12/11/2008

As a long time finger-picking guitar player, I found doing back-up OT banjo extraordinarily easy. Once my fingers got comfortable with OT banjo's basic strum & hammer-ons, it was no problem.

Sep 18, 2023 - 6:30:01 AM
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DougD

USA

11931 posts since 12/2/2007

Richj - If you'll re-read my post, you'll see that I didn't suggest one - on - one lessons from a teacher - didn't even mention it. What I said was "that in addition to determination, it takes instruction from some source." Maybe you jumped from "takes" to "taking lessons," but "instruction from some source" covers a lot of ground and without it you're just flailing around.
Here are some avenues that have been helpful to me:
1. Observing good players in person and up close, preferably in situations where you can ask a question and maybe get a brief demonstration, but not lessons. IMO this is the best way, and for me just happened since I've always been around other musicians, but can also happen in festival and camp workshops, campgrounds, and other jams. Given your location and age, this may not be so available, but somebody must be playing music near you sometimes.
2. Instruction books. I, like many others, learned first from Pete Seeger's book "How to play the Five String Banjo." In addition to the actual instruction it introduced us to a wide range of styles and players. There are classic books still available by Miles Krassen and Art Rosenbaum, as well as Brad Leftwich's book on Round Peak style. Our member Dan Levenson also has a book, and Bob Carlin wrote several on specific players.
3. Listening to recording of player's you like. This can be difficult, especially for specifics, but it can give you a good "feel" for the style you want to emulate, and nowadays you can easily slow down recordings.
4. YouTube videos. This can be tricky, since about half the people offering instruction in any subject on YT have no idea what they're talking about, IMO, but some do. Also, I fall into a trap when someone here mentions a clip they love that seems uninspiring to me and I immediately want to criticize it. But people have different taste, and if it suuts you, why not?
5. Lessons. From comments here, these have been very important, even essential, for some. My problem is that its not so easy to find a really good instructor, and even then you'll be molded and possibly limited, by their own abilities, experience and taste. That said, I had one essential clawhammer banjo lesson from Walt Koken, in 1971. I'd been playing banjo for about 10 years, but just couldn't grasp how to do the clawhammer "lick." He showed it to me one day in the front yard. It took about 15 minutes, but before that I couldn't do it, and afterwards I could.
I'm going to add a couple audio and clips from my own playing and others, just to show my evolution, and what's possible.
There happens to be a recording of my banjo playing online from Guilford CT high school in 1964, before I'd learned clawhammer. It contains three techniques - fingerpicking, what Pete Seeger called "The basic strum," which is similar to the clawhammer rhythm, but played differently, and just "thrashing" the banjo.
Then a clip of Walt Koken playing "Brown's Dream" with our mutual friend George Dorian, from no later than 1969, when George was killed in a car wreck .
Then a couple of me playing with fiddlers Red Vance and Joe Birchfield. I don't know if I'd ever played this tune with Red, and I was trying to "catch" him, but everytime I got close, he dodged.
And here's a video of Walt playing with Garry Harrison to show a complex clawhammer style with a fiddler: youtu.be/jjhYt_lKwUo
And if you have time here's Roy Andrade playing an original tune, a contemporary song, and a fiddle tune:
dropbox.com/scl/fi/951fkqyuv2t...6j41&dl=0
Sorry to monopolize your thread, but I wanted to clarify my advice, and offer some illustrations that "downstroke" style banjo can be far from "simple."
There's plenty of room for "simple" too though. I'd suggest "Skip to My Lou" in G as a great tune to start with.


Sep 18, 2023 - 7:25:53 AM
Players Union Member

carlb

USA

2654 posts since 2/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by DougD

re: Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase

My clawhammer version on Banjo Hangout. I think it's more easily played in open C (gCGce).
https://www.banjohangout.org/song/24535

Sep 18, 2023 - 8:12:04 AM
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RichJ

USA

979 posts since 8/6/2013

Hey Doug, first off I’m overwhelmed at your efforts to help me out after my simple post above. I’m also finding all this this kinda’ funny. Here we are on FHO talking about learning how to play a banjo. Guess the thing I need to emphasize most is learning a new instrument at the age of 84 just ain’t the same as doing something like this at 25, 50 or even 65. Heck, I’m just trying to have fun while still able to crawl out of bed every morning, walk around and take some nourishment on my own. The only people in my neck o the woods playing banjo are in BG bands. I have no desire whatsoever to connect with folks like that. I’ve always found learning music from a book just about impossible. YT vids seem like THE place to learn about stuff these days. Heck, you can learn how to fix anything from the icemaker in your frig to a steamboat on YT but, as you say, lots of false info swirling around there. Hey - did you attend Guilford CT High? Sure got a kick out of that Sage Allen commercial on that 1964 radio broadcast. I grew up in Hartford and well remember G. Fox and Sage Allen as two of the biggest department stores in Hartford back in the day.
I’m not sure I know why the heck I decided to take on another instrument. Lord knows I should spend any music play time I have left on the fiddle, cuz I’m barely borderline mediocre on that thing. But, now that I started, I’m committed and gonna keep plugging along. I’ll try to keep everyone posted on my progress. Well, that is unless I get booted off FHO and forced to join BHO. lol

Sep 18, 2023 - 8:19:57 AM

RichJ

USA

979 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Earworm

RichJ I found taking instruction on banjo absolutely necessary, and was lucky enough to be able to learn clawhammer for a couple of years from the same teacher I learned fiddle from. You're right that there are a lot of styles - but that's not a reason to not seek out instruction. Clawhammer is hard to do well, and easy to do badly. Chances are good that you'll need help.

Have you checked out the clawhammer instruction from Tom Collins on YouTube? I'm not sure it substitutes for in person learning, but he has a lot of material, I think his teaching style is very accessible, and offers online lessons, too, I think. There's also BHO (Banjo Hangout) that's a close cousin to this very site (FHO). If you haven't discovered it yet, you might want to at least check it out.


Thanks Earworm - Gonna take a look. Hope you won't mind me asking, did you pick up the banjo before or after the fiddle?

Sep 18, 2023 - 8:42:17 AM

Earworm

USA

542 posts since 1/30/2018

After. Definitely after.

Sep 18, 2023 - 9:59:37 AM

54 posts since 12/28/2020

Welp, my attempts at the clawhammer banjo have been an abject failure so far. Will be trying my hand at Irish tenor banjo soon to see if that goes any better.

But, I have learned the English concertina recently. It was interesting to learn an instrument where I couldn't see what my hands were doing. I mean, I probably could have tried to watch one side or the other, but I have only been learning it by feel. Which means lots and lots of wrong notes.

Inspired by a recent interview where a fiddler told me he learned to play the fiddle almost entirely by writing his own tunes, I do a lot of simple tune writing, think 3, 4 or 5 notes. I've also been working out tunes I knew already on fiddle, and when the wrong notes take over, slowing way down to stop acting on instinct and start thinking through the buttons as I play.

But mostly I'm trying to develop my instincts for the instrument. A lot of playing whatever (easy marches or waltzes, pop songs my kids like, or made up stuff) while watching TV or reading a book. Basically forcing my subconscious to take over. Mixing that in with flipping through books of tunes and trying one after another.

Sort of helped that concertina is probably to best possible instrument to play while recovering from Covid since it takes so little energy to hold and play.

Only a month in, but enjoying it so far.

Sep 18, 2023 - 2:33:52 PM
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banjopaolo

Italy

264 posts since 9/14/2010

banjo and fiddle are good friends...
it take a bit of time for both, playing instruments is just a matter of time I think


Sep 18, 2023 - 7:13:30 PM
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14972 posts since 9/23/2009

Rich...I think it's good for people to play instruments...supposedy, according to our friends who went on to occupational therapy degrees and worked with that, it really tightens up the neurological connections that we don't wanna lose with aging. Also...in my own personal observation and belief, hobbies that spark enthusiasm can keep people young...boredom is the big killer we all need to avoid. And you can't get bored when your on fire over the banjo, fiddle, or whatever keeps you enthusiastic and busy...working, solving problems, figuring stuff out, etc. Good fer ya. Whatever style banjo a person chooses to play is just gonna do them good.

Sep 19, 2023 - 4:49:29 AM

14972 posts since 9/23/2009

...ask your doctor if banjo is right for you...lol...no side effects, except for the non-banjo players living in the same house.

Sep 19, 2023 - 6:59:47 AM
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RichJ

USA

979 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

...ask your doctor if banjo is right for you...lol...no side effects, except for the non-banjo players living in the same house.


Interesting point there Peggy. I'm sure most of us on FHO would agree with psycho/physio benefits of learning/playing fiddles, banjos etc.  I wonder if anyone has looked at the effects of this sort of thing from the POV of non-musicians who live with us. Might there be negative effects caused in those people - like say insanity for instance?   

Sep 19, 2023 - 12:34:02 PM
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2496 posts since 12/11/2008

I know I've mentioned this maybe once or twice, but my piano is in the garage. When the wife is home I play my fiddles either on the porch or in the garage. My better half seems to enjoy my banjo-playing for some reason, I don't really know why. It's only my acoustic guitar playing that she genuinely enjoys.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 09/19/2023 12:35:02

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