Percussive Techniques for a Plectrum Banjo

by Henry Francis
The extra string on a plectrum banjo presents an extra opportunity for percussive techniques.

The extra string on a plectrum banjo presents an extra opportunity for percussive techniques.

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Percussive techniques on a plectrum banjo are an intermediate set of techniques that help to introduce a structure and liveliness to your play. Perfect your percussive techniques to help take your banjo play from basic to impressive, as percussive techniques demonstrate your skill and aptitude as well as sounding great.

Plucking and Strumming

You cannot incorporate any advanced percussive techniques into your plectrum banjo play until you have mastered the basics of plucking and strumming the instrument. Spend plenty of hours practicing your play until you have developed and honed your own clawhammer technique before you try to attempt any percussive techniques. You may find that you naturally start to introduce percussion to your strumming and plucking; this is particularly prevalent for guitar players who start playing the plectrum banjo, as techniques such as clucking, palm muting and thumping are all used by guitarists.

Clucking

Clucking is a percussive technique that is commonly used by plectrum banjo players. The technique produces an instantly recognizable sound to banjo players and casual banjo listeners that is created when a string is played and then deadened swiftly afterward. The note initially rings before making a "cluck" sound as you stub it out. To incorporate clucking into your play, practice playing the first of the five strings --- the one nearest your face --- with the back of your index fingernail before deadening the note with the tip of your index finger. To achieve a tidy and percussive cluck, watch other banjo players and their clucks to see how rhythmic and infectious this percussive technique can be.

Palm Muting

Palm muting is a popular percussive plectrum banjo technique, and arguably one of the easiest techniques to learn. Similar to clucking, palm muting, as the name suggests, involves a player strumming at least two strings -- but more commonly on a plectrum banjo five strings -- with the backs of his fingernails on his playing hand before muting the sound using the flat of his palm. Experiment with different attempts to mute the strings, which will create a hard "thunk" sound when successfully achieved. Palm mutes are nearly always followed by more strumming or individual notes, which helps keep the melody alive after a palm mute.

Thumbing

Thumbing the head of your plectrum banjo is another commonly used technique to add percussion to your play. Thumbing often occurs naturally, and it is done solely by the thumb of your playing hand. Play a note or strum using the backs of your playing hand's fingernails and then, as you strike the fifth string with your thumb, slap the body of the banjo somewhere near where the neck meets the body of the instrument. This produces a knocking sound. Even when you play the plectrum banjo and don't intend to "thumb," most players will find they do so inadvertently anyway, as this is the natural path of the thumb once you have struck the fifth string.

About the Author

I have been involved in coaching and administration of youth soccer with the Herts FA for several years. I have many years experience with the technical side and equipment of soccer, cricket, rugby, snooker and poker. I studied the health and fitness and dietary side of competitive sport while at University. Currently, I am not ready for on-camera opportunities, but this could change with access to training and equipment.

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