Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

"alternate string" hammer-ons and pull-offs

Hi all,
As some of you fine folks know, I’m trying out clawhammer style banjo after years of flatpicking and many years of Scruggs-style banjo picking. I’ve recently learned about a particular clawhammer “ornament” technique and am wondering whether it’s ever used in flatpicking or 3-finger banjo playing.

“Alternate string” hammer-ons and pull-offs, as I understand them, are when you use your fretting hand (rather than your picking hand) to sound notes on strings other than the string sounded immediately before. For example, a standard, say, “0-2” hammer-on would involve sounding an open string and then hammering on the 2nd fret of that same string, while an “alternate string” hammer-on would be, say, sounding an open string and then hammering on a the 2nd fret of some OTHER string that wasn’t sounded before, resulting in both notes sounding at once.

Similarly, an “alternate string” pull-off would be sounding one string and then “plucking” a different string without fretting it first. The pluck usually results in an open note so the “pluck” can happen at any fret with the same result.

This seems to be a common technique in clawhammer, but I’ve never heard of it being used for other picking techniques on either guitars or banjos. Has anyone else ever heard of that being used outside of clawhammer?

Thanks in advance.


I have not, but I’m very interested! I’ve recently made a friend in someone you’re gonna enjoy meeting, @Michael. His name is Dave Dillard and he has the Nashville Banjo Company. He played mandolin and other things for big acts and now makes some of the best openback banjos in the biz. I’m gonna have him make me one soon, and something tells me he’ll be doing some clawhammer teaching before long :wink:


That’s cool, I found a video on his website of playing Fireball Mail, I think the combo of bluegrass, folk, and old time sounds quite nice!

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That’s great, Ben, I remember checking out his beautiful instruments (at your suggestion) when I was shopping for my open-back. And with a name like “Dillard”, you know he must be awesome. Any relation to “The Darlings”? :smiley:


It is a technique you might run into playing modern fingerstyle guitar, but I don’t know of its use outside of that

I was wondering the same thing! The “about us” page about Dave doesn’t seem to indicate any connection though.


Nope, no relation!