Watch the Right Hand Triplets online guitar lesson by Matthieu Brandt from Modern Mountain Banjo: Clawhammer & Up-Picking
Most clawhammer and old time grooves are in 4/4 or 2/4 with a straight binary division of the beat, meaning that everything can be split in to 2, 4, and 8. Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, 16th notes, etc.
This is a result of two factors. One is of course the construction of the banjo combined with the up and down clawhammer movement of the arm. This paired motion is the most comfortable for us and leads to steady grooves. A lot of old time clawhammer grooves are meant to be danced to. And although there are dances in a 3/4 rhythm, a 6/8 rhythm, and even in irregular timing, most dance tunes use that binary division of 2/4 or 4/4. But, music can only exist if there is a balance between tension and release, between something we know and the unexpected. Breaking up the beat into odd segments like 3 and 6, instead of 4 and 8, will give you rhythmic tension. That tension resolves when you get back to the binary groove 2/4 or 4/4.
We're talking about triplets and sextuplets here. Dividing the beat in 3 or 6. On the banjo, we can do this in two ways: with the left hand, through a combination of hammer-ons, pull-offs, open string pull-offs, or slides, and with the right hand with a combination of Pete Seeger Style up picking and regular "bum ditty" clawhammer. We're in triple C tuning here, meaning CGCC and pedal G. We'll look at the right hand triplets first.