So last week, I did a blog post on playing jigs with clawhammer banjo (here). This week I thought I'd do a followup post presenting a different (and super-creative!) approach to playing jigs shown to me by a fellow banjohangout member who goes by the name "slc." His approach involves a surprising tweak to our "rules of right hand stride" from last week so I'll start by reviewing those rules below:
Rule 1 for maintaining right hand stride in jigs: The index finger of the right hand moves towards the strings on every 1, 1++, 2, and 2++ beat; the thumb never plays notes on these beat.
Rule 2 for maintaining right hand stride in jigs: The index finger is never used to play notes on 1+ or 2+ beats; these notes should be played with the thumb of the right hand, with a left hand pluck, or by hammer-ons/pull-offs from notes played on preceding beats.
Rule 2a) if the note on a "1+" or "2+" beat is on a lower string than the preceding note (or if the preceding beat contains a brush, cluck, or ghost note) this note should be played with the thumb of the right hand.
Rule 2b) if the note on a "1+" or "2+" beat is at a higher fret of the same string of the preceding note, this note should be played with a hammer on.
Rule 2c) if the note on a "1+" or "2+" beat is at a lower fret of the same string of the preceding note, this note should be played with a pull off.
Rule 2d) if the note on a "1+" or "2+" beat is on a higher string than the preceding note, this note should be played by plucking the string with the left hand.
Again, these rules are based on online advice from Ken Perlman and Mike Iverson, amongst others; also the rules assume that you count jigs as One-and-a, two-and-a, which I notate as 1 + +, 2 + +.
This is the current approach I've been using to play jigs and so far its going pretty well. I've been working on "the Irish Washerwoman" since last week - I've mostly worked out the B part and I've gotten fairly comfortable with the jig feel. However, the necessity of playing two down-strokes with the index finger in a row (on 1++/2++ beats and the 2/1 beats that follow) puts a speed limit on this technique - even at a reasonable pace, I can't help but feeling that my hand is doing just a bit more work than it needs to. Instinctively, it feels like there must be some way to have down-strokes on the 1/2 beats and nowhere else - enter the aforementioned "other" jig technique as shown by banjohangout user "slc."
Before I dissect this technique (hereafter the "slc-method"), let me show you an example. Note that I got his permission to talk about this on my blog via email and I actually requested that he record this tune ("Coleraine's Jig").
Banjohangout user "slc" showing his awesome jig technique with "Coleraine's Jig" in A minor.
Note that Mike Iverson actually has a tab for this tune on his site As you can see, he's playing at a pretty good speed and he looks relaxed - I'm betting he could go a lot faster - pretty great right?
So, whats going on here? Well, the technique demonstrated above is likely to scare off the clawhammer purists because it involves (gasp!) up-picks! To play jigs in the slc-method, one simply re-define's right hand stride a bit by breaking rule 1 in half:
Rule 1a for maintaining right hand stride in jigs: The index finger of the right hand moves towards the strings on every 1 and 2 beat; the thumb never plays notes on these beats.
Rule 1b for maintaining right hand stride in jigs: The right hand moves away from the strings (upward) on every 1++ and 2++ beat and the middle finger is used to pluck (by up-picking) any notes on these beats; the thumb never plays notes on these beats.
Again, what a hugely elegant solution - you're using both the down stroke and the resulting upstroke to get notes! Note that slc actually down picks with his middle finger, so he up-picks with his index finger (backwards from what I've done). I suppose one could up-pick and down-pick with the same finger....I've always found up-picking with a nail to feel strange - I know guitarists do this but I really don't know how they stand it.
I should mention that another clawhammer player named Steve Baughman also experiments with up-picking in an Irish context: he calls this technique "the frisco flick" and he essentially plays triplets peppered through Irish reels using the "down-pick, thumb, up-pick" pattern similar to what is used in the slc-method. Steve's playing is super clean (on clawhammer guitar too) and I would recommend checking out his youtube videos as well - I would post one here but I didn't ask Steve first.
Anyways, I've been trying out the slc-method myself and as for now it still feels a bit awkward - not sure if I'm going to convert all of my jigs yet (okay I've only really got 2 so far...) but this is a ton of fun! Thanks to slc for giving me the go-ahead here (and recording "Coleraine's" - love your playing!