So you want to play banjo, but how do you know what to choose? There are so many types of banjos available and just about as many ways of playing them. I’m JP Gilbert, banjo and guitar teacher with Brooklyn Music Lessons and I’m here to lay it all down and help make it easy to choose the banjo and playing style that’s right for you!
Clawhammer vs. Scruggs
The two most popular styles of banjo playing are Clawhammer and Scruggs. Clawhammer banjo is a style of playing that uses the flat surface of the fingernails to strike the strings. Compared to Scruggs-style banjo, Clawhammer has a somewhat softer and rounder sound. Most often beginners find clawhammer banjo easier to learn than the Scruggs approach.
The difference between the two styles is all in the right hand.
The way clawhammer works is that the right hand is held in a position I like to call the “old-timey hitchhiker’s thumb” because it looks like what a person would do to “thumb a ride” back in the heyday of hitchhiking. Then, the wrist makes a “knock on the door” motion toward the strings while the fingernail is used to strike or hammer the strings.
Scruggs-style, however is a three-finger style that resembles fingerpicking on guitar where each finger plucks a string individually in a “pulling inward toward the palm” direction. This picking is often done in very rapid succession and these fast picking patterns are called “rolls”.