Most of you know I’m a musician. Although I spent more than a few years as a professional keyboardist, in the mid 70’s, while living near Branson, Missouri (and working as a keyboardist in the theaters there) I discovered traditional American folk music and the script for the rest of my musical life was set.
Although this is an over-simplification, American Folk Music falls into two basic categories, Bluegrass and Old Timey. There are subsets of each, to be sure.
Bluegrass is what most folks seem to be most familiar with…folks like Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, The Osborne Brothers, and more. Bluegrass, with it’s roots in Irish, Scottish, English, and Old Timey Music, generally is accepted to have come into it’s own starting in the late 1930’s. Of course, we know Bill Monroe as the father of Bluegrass. Old Timey is much older, with the same roots. One COULD say that Bluegrass is the child of Old Timey.
Some of the differences…Bluegrass, especially traditional bluegrass, has some pretty distinct rules…for example, you’ll never see a dulcimer in true Bluegrass.
Perhaps the biggest difference is in the style of banjo playing. In Bluegrass, its 3 finger, or Scruggs style playing. The player wears 3 picks…a thumbpick and two finger picks.
Clawhammer, the player doesn’t wear picks at all. Scruggs style, it’s up and down picking by the fingers and down by the thumb, in clawhammer, it’s nearly always all down…the player makes his hand into a “claw” and uses it.
I’ve always been interested in clawhammer banjo, much more so than in Bluegrass style, because, to me, it’s much more raw and traditional.
This weekend, I found out about a clawhammer banjo workshop in Southern Indiana, so I’m going to take advantage of a free Saturday and go for an introduction to clawhammer banjo.
If you’re interested, here’s a demonstration of what Clawhammer looks and sounds like. Wish me luck!