Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo


My name is Zak and I am trying to learn the clawhammer style of banjo. Ive been developing for the past year and cannot seem to conceptualize the technique of using my thumb to pluck the other strings while I roll along . Does anybody have some tips they might share with me on this? Thanks much.

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Really, the best way is to learn Cotton Pod Walk Around, Camptown Hornpipe, or Circus Jig then your thumb will know what to do.

Zak-- I agree that learning the tunes Terry mentioned are a good way to learn the technique.  However this technique is also known as "drop thumbing." "Double thumbing" somtimes refers to hitiing the drone string directly after a strike and repeating the drone throughout the melody, especially when playing on the first string.  I learned what I'll call drop thumbing by simply watching the stupidest TV program I could find and doing nothing but the basic four movements ad infinitum.  Eventually the muscle memory in your brain stem will incorporate this and you won't have to think about it, which is always the best way to play the banjo.  Also, just for the sake of variation it is fun to do drop thumbing with the drone string thumb action first and the inside string second.  It creates a nice rhythmic texture.  I know lots of people call this technique double thumbing and I have nothing against that.  I just want you to not wonder what in the world "drop thumbing" is.--Rob

As a novice player myself I really can feel for you.  Sometimes learning new techniques can feel like you are picking up the banjo for the first time again and are right back at square one.  And in one sense you are.  Getting that thumb off the fifth string can feel strange and unnatural when you start to try it. And it is because you are not used to doing it. As with any new technique it takes time to build up muscle memory to get used to moving your hand in new ways that you are not used to.

So some quick advise:

Don't be afraid to SLOW down. It takes time to learn new techniques.

Click on the lessons tab and watch and go through the lessons that Tim has provided.

Go through Juba and the Briggs movements. Particularly, pay attention to how Tim uses his right hand.



Work on learning some songs that have drop thumbing

And remember, like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets.

There are lots of good people here with lots of good advise on where to get tabs and videos for any particular songs that you want to learn.  So good luck and with a little practice I'm sure you will get it.

Thanks you guys so much for the insight. Your advice has given some great direction for what I am hoping to do  and it now seems as though I have my work cut out for me! By the way, I was also wondering if there were any songs that sound exceptionally great with Bones accompaniment? ( I am also in the process of teaching myself the Bones..)

All of them.

Haha fair enough. Thank you

Hi, Zak: Welcome to the site. Drop thumb became a muscle memory, for me, after I learned the rhythm of playing clawhammer. I learned rhythm of clawhammer from Dwight Diller, at one of his camps. I occasionally use his "Just Rhythm" DVD as a refresher. I have found slowing down helps. I'm practicing drop thumb on Cluck Old Hen. It's Quite fun. Repetition and slowing down are what helped me. Following the advice you have received here will serve you well.

I applaud you for learning on your own. Self teaching is not something I do well and have been fortunate to find a couple of folks willing to help me out. I am working pretty well learning the bones though:-) Take care...

Roberta- I too learned from Dwight- 14 yrs ago, and still learning from his materials even now.

I second everything you said!   I now teach my clawhammer students to do drop thumb from the very beginning, since I found it did me no good at all to delay learning it myself back when i started out.

Strumella, hello:  My current instructor encouraged me to jump into the drop thumb. She wanted me to not be afraid of it. It does add a bit more fun and richness to the music:-). I love playing "Cluck Old Hen" with it. Other than Juba, though, I have not used it with other tunes/songs. I like keeping it simple. One of my favorite tunes, I heard Dwight play, is "Walkin' in the Parlor". I just had to learn it.  It is so simple...its like a sweet, lazy summer afternoon...

Yes, I try to play Dwight's 'Walkin'....' as well.  Sweet is right.  :)   I love most of Dwight's tunes and we play quite a few Hammons tunes.

There are a couple of the Hammons' tunes I would like to learn, at some time...Kitchen Girl is one. I hope we can meet sometime down the road and talk over this style of banjo tunes... Take care.

Strumelia said:

Yes, I try to play Dwight's 'Walkin'....' as well.  Sweet is right.  :)   I love most of Dwight's tunes and we play quite a few Hammons tunes.

I would think Kitchen Girl might make a good tune to try and play in minstrel style too.

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