Clawhammer Ukulele

July 2015

A lot of ukulele players tune their instruments with the low G as the fourth string, although the uke traditionally uses a “re-entrant” tuning, with the high G. I don’t know which tuning has the longer pedigree, but I suspect it’s the latter. In any case, I have two inexpensive ukes, a tenor with the low G, and a concert with the re-entrant tuning. The reason I bought the concert uke was the discovery that, with the instrument set up this way, you can adapt traditional, folk, and old-timey music from the banjo repertoire. The old style of banjo playing, known as “clawhammer” or “frailing” translates pretty well because, like the uke with its high G string, the banjo also uses a high-pitched string at the top. I’ve only been practicing it for a while, and it takes a lot of time to get it under control (it’s still a work in progress), but I got a lot of help from the website, where the fellow who runs it, Richard Hefner, has posted some great instructional videos and charts.

Just to help out the cause re clawhammer ukelele, I’ve also done a bunch of charts, including the basic chords, the melody with one verse, staff notation of the uke arrangement, and a tab of the same. I’ve posted them here, and will add to them over time.

Clawhammer is a fussy technique which requires the development of some pretty fine muscular control, and it’s not something most people can achieve without many hours of practice. One person on the internet commented that you’ll only get it if it’s something you really want; most people will likely abandon the project. My two-cents worth: Take your uke and a folding chair out to your nearest park, and just practice a single chord or two, while listening to the birds. Either that or park yourself on a downtown street and watch people. Takes your mind off the endless repetition.

Banks of the Ohio click here
Billy Grimes, the drover click here
Boil Them Cabbage Down click here
Cluck Old Hen click here
Cotton-eye Joe click here
Cripple creek click here
Don’t think twice, it’s all right. Bob Dylan click here
Didn’t he ramble click here