Banjo style and history

Dan is one of the UK’s leading lights in melodic clawhammer banjo. Clawhammer banjo refers to playing with the back of the index or middle finger nail in a downstroke movement while the thumb concentrates principally on the 5th string which is a drone string but also picks other strings using a technique called drop thumbing. The hand assumes a claw like shape while the movement comes primarily from the elbow. The style is a very old one used primarily in American Old Time music though players like Ken Perlman, Michael J Miles and others 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.

Dan’s style is very percussive with lots of syncopation. Clawhammer is the foundation for pretty much all of Dan’s playing although he does also use 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. Many other techniques are used such as pinched harmonics, tapping and Dan’s trademark ‘funkhammer’ style.

So then why did a 13 year old from the middle of England choose the banjo? Dan had a long standing love of Irish jigs and reels, heard a banjo playing them courtesy of Barney McKenna and Gerry O’Connor, and said to his parents ‘I want to learn the banjo’. So a banjo teacher was found – the legendary George Davies in Cannock who taught 5-string melodic clawhammer style banjo. It was only a year into playing that Dan discovered this was not the instrument he had heard in all that Irish music that being the 4-string tenor banjo! Indeed Dan had never even heard of old-time or bluegrass music so had no inherent idea of what the banjo is supposed to do! He still plays those beloved jigs and reels, influenced greatly by legendary melodic clawhammer pioneer Ken Perlman, and has added old time and bluegrass to his ever growing list of influences on his playing.

Tuition/Outreach Work

Dan is an experienced banjo teacher who teaches private lessons in person and over skype – just head to the contact page to arrange! He is also an experienced banjo workshop leader and has taught alongside some of the biggest names in American banjo at banjo camps in the USA as well as at many folk festivals throughout the world. He also teaches several music students specialising in banjo at universities in the UK. He is currently working on his first book of banjo tabs and an online video series.

He is also an experienced leader of more general music workshops with adults and in both mainstream and special educational needs schools. Projects have included a concert with a band of hundreds of schoolchildren at Wembley Arena, the recording of a single and video with teenagers in Cardiff and leading a community choir.

He has retained a huge passion for outreach work working in the fields of mental health, the elderly, people suffering from dementia and children and adults with special educational needs. Much of this work was done through the prestigious Live Music Now scheme which included a memorable residency at a Surrey care home which rekindled the musical and personal fire in former musician Glen Mason who was one of the residents. Dan’s song ‘The Song Always Stays’ was inspired by the experience and Live Music Now subsequently launched a campaign for music in care homes using the name of the song.

Gear

I play Deering Banjos – www.deeringbanjos.com
I play two sierra banjos, one made of walnut. Both use a fishman rare earth pickup
I also use ‘Dr Arm’, an innovative alternative armrest made in the Czech Republic – www.banjolit.com
I play a Fylde guitar with a Fishman blend pickup, again with d’addario strings