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These days, the prevailing view seems to be that, if you want to sing and play the banjo, or will be playing mostly solo banjo, then clawhammer is the best style for you. Clawhammer is like a complete band all wrapped up in one style, which means it sounds great played solo, or as vocal accompaniment.
Fingerstyle, on the other hand, sounds better with a band, and not so well suited to playing as vocal backup (there’s also the impression that this is harder to do).
I used to think this myself.
Until I realized that what we were talking about here was Scruggs style banjo, rather than the broader world of fingerstyle, or up-picking.
Because yes, Earl’s highly syncopated style of playing banjo breaks sounds best when there are other instruments to fill things out (which makes perfect sense, since this style evolved within a band context, and because Earl was a singing banjoist).
But, in the world old time fingerpicking, singing and playing was not only common, it seems to have been the norm – amongst old time fingerpickers who used 2 or 3 fingers.
Back in the day, banjo players wanted to pick something on their back porch and sing along, so they figured out what sounded good.
And it turns out that 2 finger thumb lead has a lot in common with clawhammer when it comes to the aforementioned issues. With melody and rhythm all baked into one style, it works great for solo playing, and for vocal accompaniment.
So just as 2 finger thumb lead is the ideal first technique to learn when learning fingerstyle banjo, because it builds such a solid foundation, the same is true for learning to play and sing fingerstyle.
(RELATED: Many more arrangements of 2 finger thumb lead songs with vocal backup patterns are available, and many more still to come, inside The Vault in the Breakthrough Banjo course. Click here to learn more.).
Playing & Singing Workshop for
“AINT GONNA WORK TOMORROW”
I’ll be doing a live (and public) “singing and playing” tutorial for this song on June 9 at 2pm EDT. To catch it live, click here or below to subscribe to the Fingerstyle Banjo YouTube Channel. The replay of the video will be available in the workshop archive of the Breakthrough Banjo course.
And click below to check out the schedule of past and upcoming workshops (which includes the new “playing and singing” tutorial series:
“AIN’T GONNA WORK TOMORROW”
gCGBD tuning, 2 finger thumb lead
Recent Banjo Songs and Tabs of the Week:
- Feast Here Tonight
- East Tennessee Blues
- Walking Cane
- Pretty Polly
- Home Sweet Home
- The Miller’s Will
- Shoes & Stockings
- Handsome Molly
Notes on the Tab
For more on how to read the tab, click here for the How To Read Banjo Tabs article.