Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - The Book
  • Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - The Book
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FINALLY! An instructional book that starts from the beginning!

Southern Appalachian native Dan Levenson and Mel Bay Publications present Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - A Guide for the Claw-less! This book teaches clawhammer banjo the way we play, not the way others say. It really begins as though you really have NO knowledge of how to play the five string banjo clawhammer style.

The book is written in tablature form (complete with instruction on how to read tab). All audio recordings of the 12 tunes in each of 3 versions, a fiddle recording of each tune and most of the exercises and examples are now on line.

This is a 128-page book with online audio presents 12 tunes from the common jam repertoire. The basic instruction really begins at the beginning – as if you had NO knowledge of clawhammer banjo or any other instrument for that matter. Technique, scales and exercises start you off, but they are quickly applied to 12 Old Time Jam favorites. The 12 tunes are repeated as new techniques are introduced creating more developed versions of the tunes each time. The book concludes with a dozen “Kitchen Sink” versions of the tunes, ready and able to be played in a jamming situation.

The DVD set Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch (available for separate purchase - Mel Bay 5003 DVD distributed by Mel Bay Publications) is a complementary set of video instructions that follow the same progression as the book but illustrate the techniques using only one tune, Spotted Pony, a great learning and jamming tune in its own right.

Together the book and DVD set will get you started as you claw your way to old time banjo fame!

12 Tunes Taught

Angelina Baker; Arkansas Traveler; Forked Deer; Fortune; Mississippi Sawyer; Old Molly Hare ;Over the Waterfall ;Rock the Cradle, Joe; Soldier’s Joy; Spotted Pony; West Fork Gals; The Year of Jubilo (Lincoln’s Gunboats)


From: Banjo Hangout Discussion Topic

This is a very self reflective review from a member of Banjo Hangout. It really says it all and I am honored both by its content and that someone would take the time to write such a personal story for me. He has given me permission to share it with you.

Message: This goes out to Dan…

I spent five years attempting to learn Bluegrass banjo from books and DVD’s and after all that time wasn’t satisfied with my progress. I am coming up on a year now of working with your book Clawhammer from Scratch: A Guide for the Claw-less and I must say that I am more than pleased with the results.

Like most people I was probably over anxious to get through the book as fast as I could, but I find that the more time I spend with your book the more there is to be learned. For instance, after a year with your book I was able to memorize the “kitchen sink” tablature to the twelve songs in the book and was pretty pleased with that and working on refining the technique.

Then I decided I would be patient and give this style a real chance and listened in earnest to the CD’s that came with the book. Wow, I thought I was listening to completely different songs!

Feeling a little deflated, I tried just playing the songs up to speed and realized I REALLY had a challenge on my hands. I had opened up the proverbial can of worms. There just seemed to be so much that I was missing.

Feeling somewhat frustrated after my year’s investment I FINALLY gave the fiddle versions a listen and have started working on them. EUREKA! What was completely amazing to me was the realization that focus on the nuances of technique and melody really makes the music. In other words, what finally dawned on me after a year of practice was listening to the music as opposed to just learning the tablature. DUH!

The TAB is definitely a starting point, but that’s just the beginning. It’s listening to and attemping to play the little intricacies of the melody that make the songs musical. That is after all what makes them recognizable and distinct. What I find is a real help to me with respect to your book is listening to the melodies on the fiddle and trying to make my playing sound like that. Who would have thunk it, making the banjo sound like a fiddle?

Now, not only am I playing the songs at a speed consistent with recognition of the melody, every song is amazingly distinct and unique in it’s structure and it’s nuances and twice as much fun to play as just the straight tablature.

In hindsight I realize that I should have taken up Clawhammer banjo in the first place for two reasons (this might just be some friendly advice to other people starting out.) First, I didn’t grow up hearing these songs so the melodies aren’t second nature. That’s a real hurdle when you’re trying to learn songs, but it’s also one of the reasons I was drawn to Clawhammer. I could hear the melodies. Secondly, the rythyms are so much more organic (if you will) than the strict structure of roll oriented Bluegrass somehow integrating the melody. There’s just so much more bounce to it as opposed to drive.

Another reason that I’m drawn to Old Time music is I am intrigued with the idea of playing mucic that people can dance to. The integration of these two musical values also makes them so much more fun to play. Frankly in absence of the two, Bluegrass lost me. Speed had a lot to do with it and we all know SPEED KILLS! But there’s a whole other lesson that of realization, huh?

So, In spite of my impatience to get along, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up spending another six months with your book, if not a year really getting those songs down the right way. I know if I did I would really have the basics of the style down. With the assistance of your fine publication I really believe that I working on the fundamentals of one day being a real musician.

Anyway, I just wanted to say what a great book you put out Dan and how grateful I am to begin to sound musical by virtue of your instruction. It’s the most motivating force I can think of for keeping on, keeping on. I know that you put a lot of time and effort into the book and just wanted to give you a little positive feedback.

For what it’s worth.


Prescott, Arizona

Thank you for the kind words Drumstick! Here is what other have had to say:

From Bluegrass Unlimited August 2004 - Robert Buckingham

Here is a 128-page book with two CDs of instructional material married to a tune book, that provides increasingly more developed tune versions for the newly initiated.

Written with humor and compassion, Dan Levenson covers some history of the banjo, holding and positioning for playing the banjo, tuning methods, fretting the notes, and double thumbing. He promptly moves on to chords and fiddle tunes and the banjo. Here we get an in-depth lesson in playing one tune, "Spotted Pony." This tune is selected for its range of melody, chord changes, and the depths of right-hand technique that can be utilized in playing it. Starting with a brush strum, Dan takes us to ever more precise methods of melody development until we are double-thumbing it like an old pro. Of course this will take some time and a considerable amount of effort. Clawhammer looks simpler to some, but in reality it can be as mind-boggling as any three-finger style. Like all good banjo, there is a great deal of right-hand technique to master.

Dan takes time to help the student understand scales (important on any instrument worth learning) and the techniques to learn them quickly and play them accurately. The balance of the book is a baker’s dozen of common tunes in settings with more techniques applied to fill these tunes out and make the student sound like an accomplished banjo player.

There are a lot of details covered here, and the accompanying CDs help to fill in the gaps that the printed page may not convey. Actually, this dual media approach highlights details that may get lost in the interpretation, helping the student to more readily absorb the information presented here.

Speaking as a long-time banjo teacher and player, this is the clearest description of what is necessary to learn clawhammer banjo that I have had the privilege to see. The attention to detail and the depth of the techniques taught outstrip any other book that I have seen. RCB

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