Clawhammer Vs Bluegrass Banjo – What’s The Difference?

Clawhammer and bluegrass are two types of banjo playing styles and are a very common topic in banjo playing styles. These two styles are vastly used by banjo players from all over the world.

Generally, clawhammer is easier than bluegrass playing style. That’s because, only after you finish learning the basic playstyle of clawhammer, you can try to learn new styles like bluegrass. So bluegrass style is a bit more advanced.

We’ll try to explain the basic differences between these two different playing styles as thoroughly as possible. After that, you can easily choose the best playing style for you.

Banjos

Clawhammer vs Bluegrass banjo

Banjo is a common instrument of the guitar family. It’s often connected with folk and country music. It became famous in the US in the 19th century. Banjo is also very famous in Caribbean genres like Mento and Calypso.

There are many varieties of the banjo. The variation mostly depends on the number of strings it consists of. Some of them are –

Today we’ll know about the four-string banjo, five-string banjo, six-string banjo, and hybrid banjo.

Four-String Banjo

4 string banjo
4 string banjo

These banjos come with four strings like the ukulele. They are also played almost exactly like the ukulele. The tenor banjo and the plectrum banjo fall under the four-string banjo category.

The difference between a tenor banjo and a plectrum banjo is that the tenor banjo is short in scale. On the other hand, the plectrum banjo is more of a five-string banjo but played with a flat pick.

Five-String Banjo

The most common banjo type is the five-string banjo. Banjo Players play these banjos in several different playing styles. The difference between e four-string banjo and a five-string banjo is that a five-string banjo has an extra short string with a high pitch compared to other strings.

The extra string begins in the fifth fret. This gives the player the ability to play with more range in pitch. He can play with different tunings too. This range can’t be provided with a four-string banjo.

Six-String Banjo

Six-string banjo is like the guitar version of a banjo. This is very helpful for players who prefer to play guitar but looking for the resonation of a banjo. The best part of this banjo is that a guitarist can easily play it without having to learn something new.

The famous plucky sound of a banjo with the chords of a guitar can be quite astonishing. Because of this, players prefer independence in their playing likes a six-string banjo.

6 string banjo
6 string banjo

Hybrid Banjo

The mandolin banjo is known as a hybrid banjo. It’s called a hybrid banjo because it has the body of a banjo and the neck, but the tuning is more mandolin-like.

It’s also called a “banjolin”. The scale range of a hybrid banjo is similar to the mandolin. It has four strings. But what makes a hybrid banjo so unique?

Banjolins have four strings, unlike a mandolin. A mandolin has an eight-string. 

A banjolin has everything the same as a banjo. 

Just the length of the neck of a banjolin or hybrid banjo is like a mandolin.

Clawhammer Music

Clawhammer’s playing style has its genre in the music family. It’s very common in American old-time music. This traditional style produces a mellow sound. Many famous singers like Ricky Skaggs and Doc Watson follow the clawhammer style in their music.

Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass music is a genre based on the bluegrass playing style. It was developed in the 1940s in the United States. You can know the genre by its fast playing style, high energy in the rhythm, and improvisation in the strumming.

Clawhammer Banjo

Clawhammer is a banjo-playing style mostly common in old-time American music. 

bluegrass or clawhammer banjo

The difference between the two playing styles is often decided by the picking direction of the strings. Clawhammer is a down-picking playing style.

The word “claw” comes from the shape your hand makes while playing a downstroke in the banjo. A hand hits the strings in a downward motion, not by an upward motion.

Read More: Banjo for clawhammer players

Bluegrass Banjo

Bluegrass banjo playing style is famous for its fast and flurry sound. 

This playing style was first tried by Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass uses the index, thumb, and middle finger to play the tunes.

Bluegrass playing style takes a bit of time to learn. But after you master the art, your banjo style will flourish in some melodious tunes.

Difference between Clawhammer and Bluegrass

Technically, clawhammer playing style is the easiest form of banjo playing. 

It’s easier than playing the bluegrass. It is said that if you can master the art of clawhammer, then you can easily learn any playing style. 

Players prefer to learn the clawhammer style first.

The bluegrass playing style was invented by Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass style focuses on the melody of a song and divides the notes into “rolls”. As a result, an impressive and soothing sound comes out of the banjo.

Clawhammer is an older playing version that was mainly popular in the 1830s, in West America. Clawhammer is mainly played in old-time music and bluegrass is played in bluegrass music.

bluegrass vs clawhammer style

Which Playing Style Is Easy?

That is a difficult question to answer as it depends on so many things. 

Normally, clawhammer is the basic playing style of playing the banjo. You just have to strum your pick downward to play the clawhammer style. 

But does it mean bluegrass is somewhat tough?

The answer is no!

For beginners, bluegrass can be a bit hard as you have to remember so many notes. But when you get the basic melody of a song, remembering the “rolls” becomes easy.

Bluegrass playing style doesn’t require strumming every string altogether. 

This avoids unnecessary sounds from the banjo. Bluegrass playing style is more of a classical guitar playing style where you play one string at a time.

Comparison between Clawhammer and Bluegrass Banjo

CriteriaClawhammerBluegrass
Picking directionDown picking styleUp picking style
Hand useUsees hand in a claw-like shapeUses Index, thumb, and middle finger
FormBasic formAdvanced form
OriginPopular in the 1930sInvented in the 1940s

Recommendation

For the clawhammer banjo, our recommendation for you would be to buy the Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo.

It’s a 4 pound, 5 string open back type banjo. 

You would like it if you’re into clawhammer-style playing.

As for the bluegrass banjo, we recommend you either Recording King RK-R35 or a similar model RK-R36 banjo.

Both of these banjos are pretty popular in the Recording King brand. The RK-R35 uses a maple Resonator while the RK-R36 one uses a mahogany Resonator.

Conclusion

Clawhammer and bluegrass are these two amazing playing styles that can give you extreme pleasure while you play them. Yes, it takes time to master the art of bluegrass. 

clawhammer vs bluegrass banjo

But, after mastering it, your heart will resonate with sounds that will heal your pain.

Clawhammer is also very famous and soothing for the ears. It’s ideal for old-school hip-hop songs that need high pitch with the fifth strings of the banjo.

My suggestion will be to learn and master both of the playing styles to make yourself resourceful.  Learn both, then select the best one for you.

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