Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Just helping Terry Bell in his shop tonight and we were talking about minstrel banjos - of course. How many folks here started out playing clawhammer, or still do?

Learning a lot from Terry, looking forward to building another one from more of my own wood.

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Actually, I started out with Scruggs style in 1979...and took up Clawhammer around 1985, Classic in the 1990's, Stroke-Style in the 00's and a month ago I started Plectrum banjo lessons. I still play Clawhammer, Classic and Stroke on a regular basis, Scruggs rarely.

 I am just a beginner,, but I started trying to learn clawhammer. It didnt click exactly. When I saw Tims beginner Juba  strikes and stuff, my hands and mind really liked the feel. As I say, Im just a beginner , but learning.

Clawhammer in '75, classic ~ 1980, stroke style ~ '92. From '92 until a few years ago I rarely if ever played anything but my gut-strung minstrels, then I got the nylon string banjos out, more recently the steel strung ones and within the past year have been fooling around a lot with them all, changing setups and the styles I play on a given banjo. As for classic style, I know two selections really well and am embarrassed that I haven't learned any more. Scruggs? Never really tried more than a few rolls, I have a set of picks but they are left over from an aborted attempt at pedal steel before the banjo consumed me. Dave Culgan

Awesome! I started out Playing clawhammer last year and was interested in minstrel style. It looks similar with double thumbs, (clawhammer speech lol) the way the had is formed and positioned. To my surprise it is way different from what I expected. When I was learning Circus Jig and the Corn Shucking Jig I was frustrated because they looked so simple but the technique was very twisty. Thankfully with some much needed help from Terry I was able to get through it.

I always loved clawhammer - Wade Ward, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Walt Koken and many, many others. I met Bob Flesher who lives in town and he turned me on to the Mistrel Banjo. I've had the pleasure of Bob's friendship and have even played his Fred Mather's banjo. I love both styles, but to be very honest there are lot more superior albums available to listen to by Clawhammer players.

Im still not sure what the difference is between clawhammer and stroke style... please advise.

Am i doing clawhammer or stroke style on my vids?...  probably more like ham-fist style :-)

Flatfoot, I believe you demonstrate both clawhammer and stroke-style in your vids, which are quite good, IMHO.  Your Alabama Joe is stroke all the way.  Your Injun Rubber Overcoat is somewhat more "personalized" but still in the "stroke" genre, I believe.  Your Reubens Train and Lonesome Road Blues fall into the clawhammer category.

To my thinking the difference between stroke and claw is this-- clawhammer keeps a fairly steady "bum-titty" rhythm going with few or no rests.  The melody is "woven" into that steady, chugging rhythm.  Kind of like Scruggs style, only different ;^}

Stroke-style uses rests all over the place, as in Alabama Joe or Injun Rubber Overcoat.  Also uses a greater variety of note (and rest) values; quarters, eights, sixteenths, triplets, quadruplets are often found all within one tune.

Also, the respective repertoire of the two styles are different, I should think.  Lonesome Road Blues and Reubens Train are both more modern tunes than Alabama Joe and Injun Rubber Coat, which can both be found in the 1855 Briggs Banjo Instructor.

I should also state that my clawhammer definition was quite short and does not nearly describe the great variety and sub-genre's of the clawhammer style as played in the 20th and 21st centuries.  One person on this thread mentioned the superiority of clawhammer recordings available to the enthusiast.  This is undeniably true; after all, clawhammer players outnumber stroke-stylers by surely something like 1000 to 1.  Also, claw is a living, breathing, current style.  It is what stroke evolved into in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.  Stroke playing essentially involves a "re-creation" of a "dead" musical language, whereas claw is much more a do-your own thing activity  (this still does not adequately describe claw, but I think you catch my drift).

That's my 2 cents, not a complete definition but hopefully containing a grain of truth or two.

flatfoot johnny said:

Im still not sure what the difference is between clawhammer and stroke style... please advise.

Am i doing clawhammer or stroke style on my vids?...  probably more like ham-fist style :-)

Thanks for that Carl, that's cleared it up for me.

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