Mike Moxcey ©2005


Frailing or Clawhammer is an old-time way of playing the banjo. It sounds almost identical on a ukulele and I have used it on tenor guitars (aka. baritone ukuleles) and nylon string guitars very effectively as have some other folks.

The basic stroke is a boom-shukka where each half of the word lasts for the same amount of time.

You hold your hand as if you were hitch hiking, with the fingers curled in and the thumb stuck out.

For the “boom,”, move your whole hand down and have the nail of the Index finger thump a string, usually the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. Don’t flick your Index finger out; it’s a hand movement, not a finger pluck.

For the “shukka,” bring your hand back up and do the downstroke for another “boom,” but this time also twist your wrist and get the thumb to move into the instrument and catch on the top string (the 5th string of the banjo). The Index fingernail on the 1st string sounds the “shuk.” Now you stop the hand going down and twist the wrist back the other direction to pull the Thumb off the top string and make it sound the “ka.” The Thumb doesn’t move in relation to the rest of the hand. The entire motion is in the wrist.

It’s an easy natural movement that sounds very nice. If you like that sound, you’ll want to study up on Frailing or Clawhammer style on a banjo. There aren’t many books on it for ukulele or guitar.

Make Up Your Own Style

You can also make up your own style. That’s how all the current styles were created—someone invented them using materials at hand. There are people who pinch a flatpick between their thumb and index finger and also fingerpick with the other three fingers. I pinch my fingers together to strum on the banjo with my thumbnail for the upstroke and my ring and little fingernails for the down stroke when I’m wearing fingerpicks. I had a jazz teacher who made a record of bowed piano—horsehair strings laid out so a group of 10 students (in socks so they wouldn’t make any noise walking around) could bow particular strings at a given time and perform what sounded like a string symphony.

If it sounds good, it is good.

There are also lots of different sound effects you can make such as pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides, chokes, chimes, and animal sounds.
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