CLAWHAMMER BANJO with Evie Ladin

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About This Course

Learn old-time clawhammer banjo from the beginning, with basic clawhammer technique exercises and lots of great old-time and traditional songs to play.

EVIE LADIN

Evie Ladin’s polyrhythmic clawhammer banjo style, resonant voice, and percussive dance have been heard from A Prairie Home Companion to Celtic Connections, Lincoln Center to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Known as a driving force behind San Francisco’s Stairwell Sisters, Evie has two solo CDs that feature her banjo playing and songwriting: Float Downstream (2010) and Evie Ladin Band (2012).

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Evie grew up in a trad folk scene up and down the Eastern US and now travels the world, while calling Oakland, California home. Her childhood home was a hostel for folk revival artists touring the East Coast; John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers first put a banjo in her hands at age eight, and she got her first lessons from Bob Carlin. Raised on fiddlers’ conventions and square dances, Evie’s playing is firmly grounded in tradition, while taking the instrument into new territory. She is also a crackerjack percussive dancer and incorporates that rhythmic work into her playing and singing. A popular instructor at many music camps, as well as Berkeley, California’s Freight and Salvage when she is home, Evie tours frequently with her partner Keith Terry and their band Evil Diane.

“Evie Ladin is a natural entertainer with a gift for infusing folk practices with contemporary verve.”  —San Francisco Chronicle

evieladin.com

 
 

 
Clawhammer Banjo Course overview.

Latest Clawhammer Banjo Lesson

June Apple

The classic old-time tune “June Apple” is in the key of A, played in G tuning, with a capo on the second fret and the fifth string tuned to A. Even though “June Apple” is in the key of A, it has a strong G natural note (the flatted seventh of A) in the melody. With Tablature and Play-Along Track

Peghead Play-Along Tracks

Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly. 

Clawhammer Banjo Lessons

Subscribe to Clawhammer Banjo today for access to all of these banjo lessons and new material every month! Most Clawhammer Banjo lessons include tablature.

CLAWHAMMER BASICS

  • An Introduction to Clawhammer Banjo Evie gets you started on your clawhammer banjo journey by talking about the African roots of the style, showing you the parts of the banjo, and explaining open-G tuning (the most common banjo tuning). She also gives you advice on how to hold your banjo comfortably, what kind of banjo works well for clawhammer, and what gauge strings to use. You’ll also learn good hand position for both hands as well as how to get in tune.
  • Basic Clawhammer Technique, Part 1 Learn how to orient yourself by keeping your thumb on the fifth string as well as the basic clawhammer stroke, in which you brush down with your fingernails and pluck the fifth string as your hand comes up. You’ll also learn the bum-ditty rhythm and how to keep your hand moving in a regular down-up motion.
  • Basic Clawhammer Technique, Part 2: Single Strings After you learn the basic clawhammer motion you can start to focus your downstrokes on single strings using one finger. Learn how to hit one string at a time with your downstrokes and alternate it with your thumb stroke. You’ll also learn to combine single-string downstrokes with strums. 
  • Chords and Chording, Part 1: G, C, and D - Sample Lesson Learn the basic chord shapes on the banjo. The I, IV, and V chords are the most commonly used chords in any key, and in the key of G (the most common key on the banjo) those chords are G, C, and D. Evie also gives you advice on how best to place your fingers on the fingerboard to play chords, and then gets you playing the bum-ditty pattern with G, C and D chords.
  • Chords and Chording, Part 2: “You Are My Sunshine” If you’ve learned the G, C, and D chords, it’s time to play a song. Evie shows you how to play “You Are My Sunshine” and sings it and plays it at a comfortable tempo so you can play along with her.
  • Chords and Chording, Part 3: Exercises Learn some exercises and drills that combine chords with the bum-ditty pattern and some single-string clawhammer patterns.
  • G Major Scale Since G is the most common key to start playing in, it’s good to know the G major scale: the notes you’ll use when you start playing melodies. Evie shows you how to find the notes of the G major scale in relation to the chords that you’ve already learned and gives you tips for fingering the notes. 
  • Pull-Offs, Hammer-Ons, and Slides By using pull-offs, hammer-ons, and slides you can get different sounds on the banjo, play more melody notes, and create more intricate rhythms. You'll learn to play each one and how to add them to the bum-ditty pattern. 
EVIE'S BANJO
  • Evie’s Open-Back Banjo Evie had no idea that she was getting an instrument for life when she bought an open-back banjo with no visible name on it from her brother-in-law, musician Sam Bartlett, in the early ’90s for $150. “When I got this banjo from Sam, I thought, ‘When I get better, I’ll get a better banjo. But the better I got, the better it sounded,’ she says.
FIRST CLAWHAMMER TUNES
 
    Cotton-Eyed Joe
  • Cotton-Eyed Joe, Part 1 “Cotton-Eyed Joe” features some of the pull-offs, hammer-ons, and slides you learned in the previous lesson. It's a well-known old-time fiddle tune played with the typical AABB fiddle tune structure in which you play the A (or first) part twice and the B (second) part twice. Evie shows you the A part to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in this video, taking it phrase by phrase and giving you time to play along with her.
  • Cotton-Eyed Joe, Part 2 Got the A part to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” under your fingers? Then it’s time to move on to the B part. You’ve already learned half of it, because the second half of the B part is the same as the second half of the A part. Evie plays each phrase slowly and then puts them together so you can play along with her. 
  • Cotton-Eyed Joe, Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing “Cotton-Eyed Joe” at a relaxed tempo along with Evie. 
    Nancy Rowland
  • Nancy Rowland, Part 1 The great old-time dance tune “Nancy Rowland” moves up the neck of the banjo. Evie walks you through the melody one phrase at a time.
  • Nancy Rowland, Part 2 The B part of “Nancy Rowland” starts at the fifth fret. Evie walks you through the melody phrase by phrase, showing you a new D chord at the fifth fret, and giving you advice on moving your fingers up and down the neck. 
  • Nancy Rowland Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing the melody and chords of “Nancy Rowland” with Evie.
    Cluck Old Hen
  • Cluck Old Hen, Part 1 Learn the classic old-time tune “Cluck Old Hen,” which is in G modal tuning. Evie shows you how to get into G modal tuning and teaches you the A part of “Cluck Old Hen” phrase by phrase. 
  • Cluck Old Hen, Part 2 Learn the B part to “Cluck Old Hen.” Evie takes it apart phrase by phrase, giving you time to play each phrase along with her. 
DROP-THUMB TECHNIQUE
  • Drop Thumb, Part 1 Up until now, your thumb has only been playing the fifth string, but in this lesson you’ll learn the drop-thumb technique in which your thumb “drops” down to play other strings, usually the second or third string. Evie demonstrates the basic technique and gives you some simple exercises to help you practice drop-thumbing. 
  • Drop Thumb, Part 2 Once you’ve started to get the hang of drop thumbing you can add some drop-thumb licks to “Nancy Rowland.” 
MORE BEGINNING CLAWHAMMER SONGS AND TUNES
 
    Waterbound
  • Waterbound, Part 1 Learn the old-time favorite “Waterbound” in the key of G. Evie starts by teaching you the simple melody to the A part, giving you time to play (and sing) along with her. Then she shows you a few variations to the A part melody, with slides, pull-offs, and drop-thumb licks. 
  • Waterbound, Part 2 Learn the B part to “Waterbound.” Evie starts by showing you the chords before adding the melody, then she plays the whole tune through so you can get the basic version under your fingers before adding variations to the B part. 
    Shady Grove
  • Shady Grove There are several versions of the traditional favorite “Shady Grove.” This one is in G modal tuning. “Shady Grove” is a one-part tune, and you’ll mostly play the melody, not chords, whether you’re playing the melody by itself or singing the song. Evie starts by playing and singing the tune, so you can get it in your head before you start finding it on the banjo. Then she walks you through the melody, showing you how the words of the song match the melody.

    Say Darlin’ Say

  • Say Darlin’ Say, Part 1: Double-C Tuning The old-time favorite “Say Darlin’ Say” is in a new tuning: double C. Evie starts by showing you how to get into double-C tuning and how to play the I, IV, and V chords in double C. You’ll play a simple bum-ditty pattern with these chords, so you can get used to fingering them, and learn the C major scale. 
  • Say Darlin’ Say, Part 2: Learn to Play “Say Darlin’ Say” “Say Darlin’ Say” has unusual timing, with just three short phrases. Evie plays and sings the song so you can get it in your head before starting to learn it. Then she breaks it down, phrase by phrase, and shows you some variations on each phrase.
    Goin’ Across the Sea
  • Goin’ Across the Sea, Part 1: Melody The old-time song “Goin’ Across the Sea” is played in double-C tuning. Evie starts by playing and singing it through and then shows you the song’s chord structure. Then she breaks the melody down phrase by phrase and plays each phrase in a “call and response” so you can play along with her. 
  • Goin’ Across the Sea, Part 2: Variations You’ll learn some variations to the melody of “Goin’ Across the Sea” in this lesson, including some drop-thumb licks that add rhythmic variation.

    Pretty Polly

  • Pretty Polly The well-known murder ballad “Pretty Polly” is another modal tune, played in G-modal tuning. After reminding you how to get into G-modal tuning and showing you the notes of the G-modal scale in open position, Evie gets you to sing the melody while just playing a bum-ditty pattern on the open strings. She also shows you a hammer-on lick you’ll play between lines of the song, and then shows you the banjo melody, phrase by phrase.
  • “Pretty Polly” Play-Along Track Use this video to play and sing “Pretty Polly” along with Evie at a slow tempo.

    The Blackest Crow

  • The Blackest Crow, Part 1 The beautiful old-time song “The Blackest Crow” is a waltz (in 3/4 time). Evie sings it in the key of A, in G tuning with a capo at the second fret. She shows you how to use a capo, and either tune your fifth string up to A or use a “railroad spike” to capo your fifth string. Then she shows you how to turn the bum-ditty pattern into waltz time (bum-di-ditty) as well as another pattern where you play melody notes on the first and third beats of the measure. Then she shows you the chord progression with the bum-di-ditty rhythm and plays through the whole song so you can practice the chords in 3/4.
  • The Blackest Crow, Part 2 You’ll learn to play and sing the melody to “The Blackest Crow” in this video. Evie gets you started by singing the melody to the bum-di-ditty pattern and then walks you through the melody phrase by phrase.
  • “The Blackest Crow” Play-Along Track Use this video to play and sing “The Blackest Crow” with Evie at a medium tempo. 

MOVABLE CHORDS

  • Movable Chords, Part 1 In this lesson, Evie talks about basic chord theory, so that you understand what she means when she refers to chords by numbers, and shows you some “movable” chords: shapes that you can move around the neck to different keys and fingerboard positions. The first shape you’ll learn is the F shape, and Evie shows you how you can move that shape up the neck to play G, C, and D chords. You’ll also learn the one-finger barre chord.
  • Movable Chords, Part 2 Learn a third movable chord (the D shape) and learn how to find all the shapes for G, C, and D chords from the bottom of the neck up to the 12th fret. 

INTERMEDIATE CLAWHAMMER SONGS AND TUNES

    Ducks on the Millpond

  • Ducks on the Millpond, Part 1 The great old-time fiddle and banjo tune “Ducks on the Millpond” comes from the Round Peak area of North Carolina and was often played by old-time masters Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, and others. It’s in the key of D, in double-C tuning with the capo at the second fret and the fifth string tuned up to A. The tune starts by breaking the standard clawhammer pattern, putting the fifth string on the downbeat. 
  • Ducks on the Millpond, Part 2: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Ducks on the Millpond” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her, and gives some advice on practicing your drop-thumb technique.

    Mississippi Sawyer

  • Mississippi Sawyer, Part 1 The classic old-time tune “Mississippi Sawyer” is a D tune with two standard-length parts of eight measures. It’s in double-C tuning with the capo at the second fret and the fifth string tuned up to A. Evie starts by showing you the basic melody of the A part and then adds some variations. The first part starts with a melody up at the fifth fret, so Evie gives you advice on fingering and walks you through each phrase.
  • Mississippi Sawyer, Part 2 You’ll learn the B part of “Mississippi Sawyer” in this video. Evie breaks down each phrase, showing you some simple variations as she goes. Then she plays the B part through slowly so you can play along with her.
  • Mississippi Sawyer, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Mississippi Sawyer” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    Soldier’s Joy

  • Soldier’s Joy, Part 1 The Civil War tune “Soldier’s Joy” is an old-time classic. It’s in the key of D, played in double-C tuning. Evie plays and sings “Soldier’s Joy” through and then starts breaking down the A part, phrase by phrase, with some variations. You’ll learn to play the A part in this video.
  • Soldier’s Joy, Part 2 You’ll learn the second part of “Soldier’s Joy” in this video. Evie walks you through each phrase, showing you some variations as she goes.
  • Soldier’s Joy, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Soldier’s Joy” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    Spring Creek Gals

  • Spring Creek Gals, Part 1 The dance tune “Spring Creek Gals” is another D tune, played in double-C tuning. It’s also a “crooked” tune, which means it doesn’t have the usual number of four or eight beats to a part. Evie starts by showing you the “crooked” A part, which includes a fair amount of syncopation. 
  • Spring Creek Gals, Part 2 The B part of “Spring Creek Gals” is a little straighter than the A part, but still has some syncopation. The melody is mostly played on the lower strings, which can be tricky. Evie plays it through and then takes it apart, phrase by phrase.
  • Spring Creek Gals, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Spring Creek Gals” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    Greasy Coat

  • Greasy Coat, Part 1 In this lesson, you’ll learn to play in A modal tuning, which is the same as G modal, but with a capo on the second fret. And you’ll learn the old-time tune “Greasy Coat,” which is pretty straightforward melodically. It’s often played at a pretty fast tempo, so keeping it simple is a good idea in this case. Evie plays the A part through and then takes it apart phrase by phrase. 
  • Greasy Coat, Part 2 You’ll learn the B part of “Greasy Coat” in this video. Evie plays it through, then shows you the different phrases slowly, and puts the whole tune together so you can play along with her. She also talks about just playing the top two strings when you strum, which will give your playing a tighter, more percussive sound.

    Pretty Little Widow

  • Pretty Little Widow, Part 1 The old-time fiddle tune “Pretty Little Widow” is in the key of A, played the same as G tuning, but with a capo on the second fret and the fifth string tuned up to A. Evie walks you through it, phrase by phrase, showing you some subtle variations with slides and partial chords. You’ll learn the first part of “Pretty Little Widow” in this video.
  • Pretty Little Widow, Part 2 The second part of  “Pretty Little Widow” has some notes of the G chord in the key of A, giving it a “modal” sound. Evie walks you through the second part of  “Pretty Little Widow,” phrase by phrase, giving you some ideas for variations on the phrases.
  • Pretty Little Widow, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays  “Pretty Little Widow” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    Buffalo Gals

  • Buffalo Gals, Part 1 In this lesson, you’ll learn the old-time classic “Buffalo Gals” played in the key of G, in G tuning. Evie starts by playing the melody of the A part through, showing you a few different ways to interpret the melody on the banjo, and then walking you through each phrase.
  • Buffalo Gals, Part 2 The B part of “Buffalo Gals” has some similarities to the A part, and Evie starts by playing it through so you can hear which sections you’ve already learned. Then she breaks down the new material phrase by phrase, including some variations that use drop-thumbing, pull-offs, and the Galax roll.
  • Buffalo Gals, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Buffalo Gals” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    North Carolina Breakdown

  • North Carolina Breakdown, Part 1 The old-time tune “North Carolina Breakdown” is in the key of G and covers a lot of the fingerboard, from the low D string to the B note high up at the ninth fret on the first string. Evie begins by reminding you where the G-scale notes are up at the fifth, seventh, and ninth frets so you’ll be able to find them easily when the tune goes there. Then she shows you the A part of “North Carolina Breakdown” slowly, phrase by phrase.
  • North Carolina Breakdown, Part 2 The B part of “North Carolina Breakdown” is probably the most memorable part. It starts on the IV chord and ventures way up the neck to the ninth fret of the first string. Evie starts by playing you the chord progression of the B part and then teaches you the B part slowly, phrase by phrase. She also shows you a few variations, including a syncopated strum on the offbeats.
  • North Carolina Breakdown, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “North Carolina Breakdown”  a few times at a medium tempo so you can play along with her.

    Waynesboro

  • Waynesboro, Part 1 “Waynesboro” is another great old-time tune in G that uses the whole fingerboard. Well, at least up to the ninth fret. Evie plays it through and then breaks it down, phrase by phrase, starting with the A part. The A part uses some internal drop thumbing, in which you use your thumb on the G string. You’ll also learn a syncopated phrase that skips a note played on the downbeat. Evie finishes this video by playing the A part all the way through a few times so you can play along with her. 
  • Waynesboro, Part 2 The B part of “Waynesboro” moves up the neck, starting at the ninth fret and moving back down through the seventh and fifth frets. Evie shows you some variations on this simple melody, including one that uses small chord shapes and drop thumbing. Evie walks you through each variation and then puts it all together. 
  • Waynesboro, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Waynesboro” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

    “Shady Grove” in A Major 

  • “Shady Grove” in A Major, Part 1 In this lesson, you’ll learn a version of the old-time and folk standard “Shady Grove” in the key of A major. This means that you’ll be in G tuning, with a capo on the second fret and your fifth string tuned to A. You already learned “Shady Grove” in mountain modal tuning, which is probably the most common way to play the song, but Evie shows you another version in A major, with the song starting on the V chord and with a second part, as opposed to the modal version, which just has one part.  
  • “Shady Grove” in A Major, Part 2 You’ll learn the second part, which is just an instrumental section, to “Shady Grove” in this video. Evie plays it through, showing you which parts are different from the A part and which are the same, and then breaks it down for you. 
  • “Shady Grove” in A Major, Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays “Shady Grove” a few times at a slow tempo so you can play along with her.

June Apple

  • June Apple, Part 1 The classic old-time tune “June Apple” is in the key of A, played in G tuning, with a capo on the second fret and the fifth string tuned to A. Even though “June Apple” is in the key of A, it has a strong G natural note (the flatted seventh of A) in the melody. 
  • June Apple, Part 2 The second part of “June Apple” is the part with the words. You’ll learn the melody on the banjo and the words to the second part in this video.
  • June Apple Part 3: Play-Along Track Evie plays and sings “June Apple” a few times at a medium tempo so you can play along with her.

 


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