Style & Banjo - Clawhammer Banjo

A lot of people ask about my banjo style and wonder what clawhammer means. So here is a bit of an explanation about my style of banjo. Clawhammer banjo refers to playing with the back of the (usually) middle finger nail in a downstroke movement while the thumb concentrates principally on the 5th string which is a drone string. Most of the movement is from the arm rather than the wrist. The style is a very old one used primarily in American Old Time music though players like Ken Perlman, Michael J Miles and myself have experimented with other genres using the technique. The good thing about the style is it can cover lead, chords and percussion all in one so it makes a great solo style.

Clawhammer is the foundation for pretty much all my playing although I do a little of the other primary 5-string style 'Scruggs' style, named after the great Earl Scruggs who invented it which is more akin to guitar finger picking. I tend to use this as a contrast to the quite rhythm-heavy clawhammer style. I also use techniques such as finger-tapping, pinched and slapped harmonics and all manner of slurs. Any questions or for teaching enquiries feel free to contact me through the contact page.

Note there is also the four-string tenor banjo, played with a plectrum which is used primarily in trad jazz and Irish traditional music.

Banjo Influences

My influences are far and wide - in terms of banjo players my main idols are Ken Perlman, Michael J Miles, Bela Fleck, Barney McKenna, Gerry O'Connor and Earl Scruggs.

Recommended Teaching Resources

'Clawhammer Style Banjo' by Ken Perlman


I play Deering Banjos -
I play two sierra banjos, one made of walnut. One uses a fishman rare earth pickup, the other a headway pickup
I also use 'Dr Arm', an innovative alternative armrest made in the Czech Republic -
I play a Freshman guitar with an LR Baggs pickup again with d'addario strings