Frailing is a strumming technique used to play old-fashioned banjo tunes. It is one of several methods required to play old-time banjo music, and students must master frailing before they are able to play old banjo tunes in the authentic style. Frailing is the most basic banjo strum; it involves using the backs of the fingers and nails to strum downward on the banjo strings.
Banjo players use a specific right hand position when frailing that allows their fingers to be flexible and agile. To begin, they form their right hand into a fist. They then extend their index finger straight out and their thumb upwards. The other three fingers are in a relaxed fist with the middle finger extended slightly.
Basic Picking Motion
Frailing involves alternating between picking individual strings with one finger and strumming each string with all the fingers. To set up for a basic picking motion, banjo players rest their thumb on the board of the banjo just above the strings. The middle finger is then slightly above the first string. While frailing, banjo players strike down on the first string with the back of the middle finger. They move their whole hand downward with a strong movement while leaving the fingers still. To strike strings that are farther down, the thumb is used as a pivot point from which to adjust the angle of the hand so that lower strings can be struck with the other fingers.
Strumming is the second step in the frailing technique. While using the thumb as a pivot point from which to strike the strings, banjo players pull their hand back up to their thumb and strike downward across all five strings with all four fingers. To employ the entire frailing technique, players alternate between one pick and one strum. The strings they strike are written in the musical score.
Clawhammer is a more advanced method of frailing and is used for more advanced and complicated rhythms. Clawhammer involves dropping the thumb down from its position on the board of the banjo to strike a string. This technique is used when rhythms are too quick to allow another finger to strike the string. Clawhammer is a modified version of frailing. Players may use frailing for most of the banjo tune and only use clawhammer for selected passages. The clawhammer technique is required to play many old-time banjo songs.
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