Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've been watching several tutorials about Clawhammer since Mark Weems mentioned this. One thing is the concept of "down". Down in the right hand motion can be directed straight toward the head of the instrument. it can also be interpreted as aiming toward the floor. How do you all interpret this?

Another difference is watching the brush of clawhammer where the first finger and the thumb make contact with the string in a slight delay, whereas Stroke style has the finger and thumb making contact with the string at exactly the same time. 

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Go further to the ABM....which seems to culminate the elements of this style. He says it can all be reduced to two Movements...the Hammer and the Combination. 

I agree...but the liberal use of thumb by Rice in earlier times changes the flavor a bit. But, for the most part...I go with the ABM.

same same same- in terms of the strike and the combo- in both stroke and CH.   :)

Look at the tutors accompaniments. Especially in Rice and Christy's. Whole new ball game in comping.


Hey, this is a great discussion......we are uncovering lots and nobody is mad yet. A victory for the bickering Ning Minstrels...ha ha.

Yeah, this discussion is really gettin 'down' Tim.   lol    Most folks don't have bickering on their To Do list.  I love when we can talk about different banjo styles and eras without denigrating them.   :)    Akonting, minstrel, classic, folk, tenor, bluegrass, plectrum, oldtime, gourd, ...banjos are basically machines that make people happy.

Timothy Twiss said:


Hey, this is a great discussion......we are uncovering lots and nobody is mad yet. A victory for the bickering Ning Minstrels...ha ha.

I haven't had a chance to review the ABM or look at accompaniment styles. I do remember puzzling over one piece (can't recall the title) for weeks trying to figure out how to play it via Stroke. It had a three note stack that required one to strike the 5th, the 2nd and the 1st all at the same time (or roll it, which didn't sound right). I finally decided it was a 'guitar style' tune...and happily played it.

Sometimes, you just have to be willing to reach into another toolkit to get the job done.

The problem with this whole discussion as I see it is that there is no one way to play clawhammer. It is a folk style and almost every player does it a little different and has a slightly different sound. For instance, many clawhammer players do not use a brush at all. Some hit the melody note with their index, others with their middle finger. That is why my initial post concerned the Round Peak Style in particular as both Bob Carlin and I have noticed the incredible similarities. I personally think the brush may have been a later addition as they really don't seem to sound very good with gourds or even gut strung minstrel banjos. They sound great on steel.

Thank you, Mark!  My initial response to Tim's topic mentioned Round Peak style.  Listening to Kyle Creed or Wade Ward, I can't help be hear similarities.  Not so with Clarence Ashley and some of the others.  It's all great, but different. 

Certainly there are enough discernible elements in Clawhammer to say that it it walks like a duck. 

What are they?

The wide variety of CH is a problem. However, I think a case can be made that the root movements are universal...primarily because one can vibrate the string with the back of the nail (and then involve the thumb) in a very narrow set of movements.

We do see the brush in the early tutors...but it is used in a wholly different manner. I think it evolved over time into the CH brush...and may well be a child of steel-strings. I remember how hard it was for me to play "Circus Jig" without doing a set of triplets as a brush...it sounded wrong to play 'straight' sixteenths in those B part finger-drags. I do think that my personal preference for RP style of play made Stroke much easier to learn...but I had to 'unlearn' some CH habits!

The only things that I really see in Round Peak that is not in Early Banjo Style is more frequent use of the thumb as a drone, and the use of bluesy slides, an element which really does define RP playing. 

Someone smart should make a Venn Diagram. There must be overlapping....and unique elements.

Or maybe we are all fooled....there is no such thing as Minstrel Banjo.

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