Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

To Frail to Pick

Hi All

Is it just me or do you all feel that when learning the banjo theres a choice to be made upon which style to learn and its the only instrument i’ve come across where i feel guilty only playing the Scruggs style … Don’t get me wrong i much prefer finger picking than frailing/clawhammer as a style but it does seem to lend itself better to playing and singing a song much like the difference between rhythm and lead guitar… There seems to be a real divide in the communities of clawhammer and Scruggs style…

Sorry for waffling on but would love to know your thoughts on it…


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You are not alone. If you want to do acoustic solo player/singer stuff, Scruggs style seems a tough fit. You run into a similar divide for fingerstyle and flatpicking. You can make any of the styles work with a non-amplified voice, but it takes a good ear and a ton of control.

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Agree Mike and its almost embarrassing when your’e at a party and someone says “hey… he plays the banjo give us a song” and off i go into Cripple Creek, to the shouts… whats the words then"…

I guess we all just need to learn both…lol

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Fair question. I would think most folks would agree that the “clawhammer” (aka. Drop-thumb,Frailing) style is most associated with what you might call “old-time” banjo playing. For many of these old-time songs, it is nice to listen to Purists who play in this style. I would also think most folks would agree that Scruggs took banjo technique to a whole different level with the 3-finger style and the high-drive that the rolling 16th notes bring along with it. Since then, artists have even branched 3-finger banjo further, such as single-string (Reno), Melodic (Keith) and out of earth orbit (Bela Fleck)

Looking at the 3-finger style though, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile method of playing as this style is easily modified to accommodate almost any genre’ including bluegrass, folk, R&B and rock & roll on a banjo or guitar. Chet Atkins was perhaps one of the most copied player in history using the finger picking approach and amazingly played nearly every conceivable genre’. He inspired greats such as Tommy Emmanuel, George Harrison (Beatles) and others. For rhythm and singing backup, it’s easy and natural to do ‘vamping’ in 3-finger style retaining capability to seamlessly insert licks or passing tones as needed. In short, while the old-time clawhammer is certainly lovely and will always retain that purist sound, it cannot approach the overall versatility of the 3-finger style across genres, styles and instruments.

My opinion only. Happy Picking!

Hi Neil

I fully understand now the true difference and may at sometime dabble into it as it does seem a great way to play and sings a song but my true passion at the moment is 3 finger

Thanks for the great reply as always…

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Lee- If you get by Waterloo, Iowa, please stop in. Would be fun to record a Video with Meli on fiddle. I can do either guitar or banjo if you really want to do the frailing! :star_struck:

Maybe one day Neil that would be great and we do have the states in our DNA now as we got married over there in 2010 (Vegas) and have been 3 times now but other than NYC we have always been over in California as my wife is a massive Monty Roberts fan… in fact she’s almost a qualified instructor so who knows…

If we did make it over i have said to her i want to go south maybe Nashville, Kentucky… Its such a big place and very expensive for use to get over.

All the best Lee…

I play both. I prefer Scruggs style if I’m playing for people, and I’m better at it, but I love the sound and relaxing feel of clawhammer, and actually use it to put myself to sleep. It’s definitely something I think all banjo pickers should at least dabble in. But I do prefer Scruggs style in general

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Thanks Gunner I agree :+1:

Great point Lee! Just imagine Eddie Van Halen trying to play a solo and sing a COMPLETE verse well, at the same time.

I don’t think there’s a person on this earth that do a semi difficult solo and sing to their full ability at the same time , no matter the genre of music.

That’s why the big stars from Elvis to you name it, just strummed chords as they sang.

Just recently I heard a country artist say that a good entertainer can do amazing things with just two chords.

So, if you’d like to sing for people, maybe you can do some Scruggs licks and then vamp or do a simple roll while you’re singing.

Or frail and sing at the same time. No matter what, it’s always the singing that gets the most focus.

Thank you for bringing this up. It is a great subject for discussion.


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From the listener, that is.

Surprisingly, I guess Elvis basically used a guitar as a stage-prop. He actually didn’t play that well. I guess he could strum some rhythm and a few chords, but left all the serious playing to hired musicians.

In a 1965 newspaper article, Elvis fessed up about his guitar playing ability:

“People seem to think I’m married to the guitar but the truth is I’m not very good at it. I usually get credited with beating up a storm on it, but usually I have another and much better guitar player backing me up when I play it. For me the guitar has just been something to do with my hands and beat time with. What I’m really studying to play is the drums.”

The author of the article concluded with the following: “Elvis says he is virtually abandoning the instrument with which he long has been identified.”


I agree pal that most songs focus around lyrics and vocal and some arrangements in Scruggs style backup maybe are the key to the best of both worlds

I’m only talking about this subject because when I first decided to learn banjo I was so confused what would be the best style to learn and ultimately i feel Scruggs is by far the best allround style :+1:

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