7 Free Modern Clawhammer Banjo Lessons

7 Free Modern Clawhammer Banjo Lessons

In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the rise of banjo players firmly rooted in the old time style of playing: Clifton Hicks, Adam Hurt, Abigail Washington, Rhiannon Giddens, among others have revived the banjo for modern country and folk.

TrueFire’s Matt Brandt celebrates this style of playing in his new course, Modern Mountain Banjo Vol. 1: Clawhammer & Up-Picking. These two playing techniques are examined among other techniques like syncopation, right-hand triplets, left-hand triplets, alternate string pull-offs, double thumbing, and more.

In these free modern clawhammer banjo lessons, you’ll find several exercises to develop some of these techniques as well as performance studies to help you put it all together. Let’s get pickin’!

Double Thumbing – Exercise 1-5

Download the tab and notation for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

In a regular “bum ditty” groove, you play the pedal string with your thumb and it sits on the off beat of 2 and 4. Double thumbing is the technique where you play that pedal string on every off beat. So also on the 1-and and the 3-and. This will give you more options in your grooves and works especially well in higher tempos. Mixing this up with drop thumbing and leaving out the expected pedal notes will give you a lot of new choices for your melodies too. We’ll play these exercises in G sawmill tuning, meaning DGCD with a pedal G.

Peter Seeger Plus – Exercises 1-4

Download the tab and notation for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

In this banjo lesson, we’re going to explore the mix of regular “bum ditty” patterns with up picking, often referred to as Pete Seeger Style. Adding double thumbing and drop thumbing to this already potent mix will get you almost unlimited possibilities for melodies and grooves.

Clawhammer “bum ditty” playing has certain limitations because of the structure of the banjo, with the short pedal string played on the off-beats. No matter what tuning your banjo is in, it makes certain melodies very hard to play. Adding drop thumbing, double thumbing, open string pull-offs and hammer-ons only gets you so far. Adding Pete Seeger style up picking is like opening up a huge new toolbox with almost endless melodic options while you keep your basic groove going. You literally don’t have to skip a beat.

Sequential Rain – Performance

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

This banjo lesson will show you the power and versatility of combining regular clawhammer technique with Pete Seeger style melodic up picking. With this combination, you can play melodies that can’t be played using just one of these techniques without dropping the groove. An additional freebee you get when you put these two together is that you can move the palm of your right hand closer to the skin, which makes for all kinds of nice extra percussive sounds. If you’re having a difficult time integrating these techniques, please check out the Pete Seeger segments in this course. It’ll give you the basics and then some. We’re in double C tuning, CGCD with pedal G.

Sequential Rain – Breakdown 1

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

Sequential Rain – Breakdown 2

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

Tagline Blues – Performance

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

This banjo song lesson is a 24-bar non-modal blues in the key of C with the chords C7, F7, and G7. The tuning is double C, so CGCD with pedal string tuned to G.

We’re playing all these lines clawhammer style, with drop thumbing and some effects like slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. There is no up picking in this tune, but I’m using some open string pull-offs. The approach I took is something a bass player or backup guitar player would play in a blues setting, combined with some fills higher up the neck. These fills generally sit in between whatever a vocalist would sing, mostly at the end of a 2 or 4 bar phrase.

Walt’s Cooking Chords – Performance

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this banjo lesson on TrueFire.

This is a typical melodic clawhammer song in open G, so DGBD with pedal G. In the first part, the harmony is implied by playing melodies that target specific chord tones. In the second part, we’re adding melodies up the neck, again around chord tones. And the third part uses melodies within full chord shapes, adding or removing fingers to keep the harmony going, while you’re playing the melody.

As a bonus, I’m throwing in quarter triplets to create some rhythmic tension and I’m using a technique I picked up from Walt Koken. He’ll use kind of a sloppy right hand together with double stops on top of a pedal bass note. Check it out!


Make sure to watch more free banjo lessons from this course on TrueFire. There you’ll find the many more banjo techniques used by modern players, and performance studies to apply what you’ve learned.

As always, you’ll get the tab, notation, and jam tracks for each banjo lesson included in the course. Be sure to check out the full Modern Mountain Banjo course!