Can You Play Clawhammer on Any Banjo? | 2022 Guide

For people that are well-versed in music, the banjo is a well-known musical instrument. 

A thin membrane is pulled and linked to the frame to create a resonator in most banjos.

But some banjos are open back or without a resonator.

Although the banjo is most frequently associated with folk or country music, it is also often played in rock, pop, and hip-hop acts. The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers are a few of the bands that have featured the 5-string banjo in their songs and performances.

Historically, the banjo has played an important role in the traditional music and folk culture of the black Americans in the new world. The Clawhammer Banjo and the Bluegrass Banjo are the two most common banjo playing styles. We’ll try to talk about the Clawhammer Banjo in this article.

Let’s figure out the long asked question – “Can you play clawhammer on any banjo?

Can you play clawhammer on any banjo

What is a Clawhammer Banjo?

Banjo is most commonly associated with Bluegrass Banjo, a brilliant banjo player named Earl Scruggs, and the 3-finger technique that Scruggs used. However, there is another banjo style that is always hidden in the shadows of the Bluegrass style. 

That’s the Clawhammer Banjo style.

Clawhammer is considered to have existed among the natives of West Africa in 1620, according to some sources. Animal skins were utilized to build musical instruments on the grudge fruit’s hard shells during the time. The musical instrument was then constructed by connecting it to one side of a stick.

During the 1600s to 1700s, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was thriving. At that time, the Americans began establishing colonies. First, they established a colony in the Caribbean and subsequently in other parts of the world. At the time, African slaves began to bring this musical instrument with them to America. Almost everyone at the time was a Clawhammer player. Stroke style, framing, or frying are all terms for the same thing.

That’s how the musical instrument from a so-called backdated and uncivilized continent got introduced and popularized to the western world through America.

By the year 1800, the banjo had evolved into the five-stringed version. Slave music, however, continues to be popular among African slaves. The Clawhammer technique was also adopted by white singers such as Joel Walker Sweeney and Daniel D. Emmett. Later, they took it on several trips to other regions of the country.

How is the Clawhammer played?

A simple structure may be used to identify the rules of all Clawhammer playing. 

That’s the ditti on the left. It gets its name from the fact that it symbolizes three syllables. 

It may be written and split down as follows:


With your index or middle finger, strike any of the first four strings on the banjo and let it play for one count.


Brush the string with the fingernails, middle finger, or ring fingernails. The thumb should be fixed on the fifth string while doing this.


With the thumb, pull the fifth string. Also, make sure your striking finger is ready for the hammer on the following string. This cycle will repeat itself again and again.

The above pattern is made up of one full note and two half notes, according to the music notation. A method known as double thumbing may also be used to make it. 

Before the Bum and Di and Bump-a-ditty patterns are established, the fifth string is plucked a second time. Four half notes make up this specific piece.

It would be a mistake to believe that Clawhammer Banjo players learned this technique just because they enjoy the sound. It is created out of a sense of necessity. This pattern is meant to keep the player’s hand in the next right place at all times.

In the Clawhammer system, advanced skills only act as an influencer. Whatever technique it used, it never deviated from its Bum-ditty pattern.

Learn more of this from Best Clawhammer Banjo

Clawhammer vs. Bluegrass Banjo

Clawhammer vs bluegrass banjo is a never-ending debate in the banjo community. 

It’s like a war between old and the new, two opposing forces of classic and modern.

Clawhammer’s banjo was invented in West Africa and spread throughout the United States thanks to the black slaves who worked in the colony at the time (1600 to 1700). It went on to play a significant part in American plantation music throughout the Revolutionary War.

bluegrass or clawhammer banjo

The Clawhammer banjo is played with a downward strumming action. To perform a song’s melody, one must usually hit one string and then strum the other two strings. It produces a rhythm that resembles a “claw-hammer”.

About 300 years later, bluegrass was born in South America. This bluegrass banjo, which comes from the early twentieth century, rejects the Clawhammering style in favor of using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger to play like a classical guitarist. The Bluegrass banjo is said to have been founded by Earl Scruggs.

Learn in more detail from – Clawhammer Vs Bluegrass Banjo

Open Back vs. Resonator Banjo

There are some distinctions between an Open back banjo and a resonator banjo.

We’ll go through that differences in more detail below.

Open back and Resonator banjos are very identical in appearance. The Resonator banjo is distinguished by the fact that a hollow chamber called a resonator is situated right below the sound chamber of a wooden bowl.

This directs the sound toward the listeners. As a result, the Resonator banjo weighs more than the open-back banjo. The Open back banjo string is also positioned significantly away from the fretboard. The difference in playing style is the reason behind this.

Difference in Sound

An open-back banjo is usually louder and twingier than a resonator banjo. Bluegrass musicians favor the Resonator Banjo because of this. This provides a lot of brilliant tone to the song when performed on the resonator banjo with fingerpick.

On the other hand, an open-back banjo is the complete inverse of a resonator banjo. 

It produces gentle, melodic melodies. Therefore Open back banjo players favor clawhammer-style traditional music and Mountain type music.

Difference in Price

Because of its basic construction, an Open back banjo resonator is less expensive than a resonator banjo. However, even if the price of a resonator banjo is more than that of an open-back banjo, it is advisable to choose the resonator banjo. 

Because a resonator banjo may be opened and converted into an open back-on if desired.

More can be found in Open Back vs Resonator Banjo

Can You Play Clawhammer on Any Banjo?

Finally, after all the discussions and debates, we came to our original topic.

The discussion was necessary though. To draw a definitive conclusion, we need to have a grasp of the basics of the topic at hand. In this case, we discussed the basics of clawhammer to understand the nature and construction of the instrument.

So following the preceding discussion, we now need to answer the question. 

Can you play clawhammer on any banjo? 

Yes, yes you can!

Yeah, any banjo may be used to play the Clawhammer Banjo.

But In this situation, a resonator banjo might be the best choice for you. Despite its high price and weight, it may be converted to an Open back banjo if needed.

Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo can be considered a great resonator banjo.

You can also use Pyle 5 String Resonator Banjo for clawhammer style.

But if you are looking for the best banjo for the money in the resonator banjo section, then you should go for Deering Goodtime 2. This one is a major update over the previous version.

You can retune the banjos to match the tone that suits your taste.

The clawhammer banjo is thought to be the best instrument for it.

Can you play clawhammer on any banjo

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here is a summary of what we have learned from the discussion so far:

  1. Can I Play Clawhammer on Tenor Banjo?

Answer: Yes, you can. But you need to tune it first to match the string of a 5 string banjo first!!

  1. Can I Play Clawhammer on A Resonator Banjo?

Answer: Yes you certainly can! But before that, you need to modify your resonator banjo. 

The main problem is it rings a lot. To find a proper way to muffle it and you are good to go!

  1. Is Clawhammer Banjo Easier?

Answer: Depends on your preferable style. 

If you prefer a clawhammer then it will become easy for you. Because once you learn the basics, everything else easily falls into place. Just like riding a bicycle!

  1. How Long Does It Take To Learn Clawhammer Banjo?

Answer: It depends on your determination and practice. If you are determined to learn it and do practice regularly then maybe it will take around 2000 hours.

  1. Can You Play Bluegrass on A Clawhammer Banjo?

Answer: Well, yeah you can. But you shouldn’t expect its performance like a resonator banjo.

  1. What Is The Difference Between Bluegrass And Clawhammer Banjo?

Answer: The difference is Bluegrass uses a classical guitarist play style. Where clawhammer uses downward strumming motion over strings and creates a rhythm like Bum-Di-Tty.

  1. Can You Play Bluegrass on an Open Back Banjo?

Answer: Yes, yes you can. But it won’t perform like it would with a resonator banjo. Though your playing style and proper tuning could make up for the gap a little.

Final Thoughts

Eventually, the clawhammer banjo is supposed to have originated with black African slaves. 

But it is now loved all over the world. Clawhammer’s unique characteristics are what keep it alive in modern culture. 

Clawhammer is used by many well-known musicians throughout the world. Mark Johnson, Lindsey Buckingham, and Pete Seeger are some of the more well-known examples.

If you still can’t make up your mind, you can read Best Clawhammer Banjo to decide.

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