How much preparation is needed for banjo?

“I received your jam camp orientation materials today. After looking it over I am wondering if I am getting on board a bit late. I know two songs that I can play, Worried Man and Bile Dem Cabbage Down and I have never sung either one, I am not even sure what the words are! The only person that has ever heard me play banjo is my wife and son, and I rarely play when they are around. If you think I should wait a year and be better prepared I will. Your thoughts?”

The info materials tell people how to prepare, assuming they have time to prepare. The prep is not necessary, just recommended. The requirements of the camp are spelled out, and if you meet them (can tune your instrument and play 4 chords) you qualify and can get a benefit from the camp.

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Is a four-finger D chord on the banjo needed?

Absolutely we do not require or even recommend a 4-finger D chord. Many people seem to think that D is “supposed to be” a 4-finger chord, but it actually sounds *better* as a 3-finger chord, leaving the 4th string open. The open string is a low D, after all, so that chord sounds fuller than a 4-finger D. I suggest using all but the ring finger, leaving it free to play the 4th string (or the 3rd) when and if the melody calls for it. The 4-finger version I guess is often taught because unlike the 3-finger one, it’s a movable position, usable at other locations as an F chord, G chord, etc.

In the key of G, the easy 2-finger D7 substitutes fine for a D. But that substitution doesn’t work in the key of D, where the D7 is not interchangeable with D.

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Would clawhammer style banjo fit in at a jam class/camp?

It would fit in at the jam camp, but it’s appropriate to mention that clawhammer is not the “style of choice” for bluegrass, and the reasons for that.

On one hand, any song playable in Scruggs style (3-finger picking) banjo can also be played in clawhammer style, and as an accompaniment in a group setting, either style of banjo would work. If played well and tastefully, it can sound good in a variety of bluegrass settings. As a good example, the late Merle Watson did some fine clawhammer work on Doc Watson’s most “bluegrassy” record, Greenville Trestle. Ralph Stanley and others have occasionally played clawhammer style, perhaps a single song in a set, as a welcome novelty.

However, the reason the style is not normally heard in bluegrass is that, depending on what sort of clawhammer style is used (single notes, vs.

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