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BASIC CLAWHAMMER RHYTHM
Hopefully that little "How to Read Tablature" .pdf file didn't scare you off. If it didn't let's take a look at this simple little snatch of tablature...
That is all we are going to attempt to play right now. (Remember that those double lines with 2 dots simply means to repeat the enclosed notes.)
Next, let's look at some photographs showing that basic clawhammer lick step-by-step. In the photo on the left you see my hand in the "claw shape" hovering above the strings and ready to move downwards. The photo on the right shows the hand after it has come down in one unit with the index fingernail striking the 1st string. A micro-second later my index finger would be just below the 1st string and you would hear the note! You will also notice that the thumb has come to rest on the 5th string but has not played the string!
In terms of the tab we have now played the first quarter note. Below, in the left photo you see my hand has risen upwards as a unit, still maintaining the "claw" shape. Then, in preparation for the 2nd and 3rd notes, you will see (on the right below) that the index fingernail is again sounding the 1st string and the thumb is resting on the 5th string.
The third note shown in the tab is a note on the 5th string and it is to be played shortly after the 2nd note. In the photo below, on the left you can see that the index nail has already played its note and the thumb is beginning to strike the 5th string. In the photo on the right you can see that the 5th string has been played.
OK, that takes care of attempting to explain the first 3 notes! Don't throw in the towel yet! Luckily the next 3 notes are just a repeat of those first three! And on and on and on... that is the basic clawhammer rhythm.
Are You Confused Yet?
Perhaps I can clarify things. Let me summarize the steps for playing the first 3 notes...
1. Hand in claw shape above the strings.
2. Hand moves down, index nail sounds the 1st string as thumb lands on 5th string BUT DOES NOT PLAY IT.
3. Hand moves up to original position.
4. Hand comes down exactly as before and again the index nail sounds the 1st string and the thumb lands on the 5th string. (Step 4 is exactly like step 2!)
5. The thumb plays the 5th string.
6. The hand moves up to starting position.
7. Repeat steps 1-6.
Still Confused? How about a free video demonstration?
Words and still photographs may not be the best way to visualize something like this and you certainly cannot hear it that way. However, there is something to be gained by seeing the "stop action" I think. Well, anyway, to make it easier to understand the basic sound, motion and technique might I suggest that you watch the following video? This free video lesson (filmed by some banjo picker named Brad Laird... oh wait that's me!) will make things much clearer to your mind.
Free Lesson - Basic Clawhammer Lick - Learn the fundamental lick in this short sample video.
You will need to practice that basic rhythm for a while until it becomes smooth. My other video lessons are here if you want to check them out.
When you are ready, move on to Lesson 4...