Frailing in Alternate Tunings

by Steve Baughman

The joyful bounce of clawhammer banjo thrilled me the first time I heard it. Such a happy groove, so many notes, and all with such a simple little right-hand pattern. Until recently, frailing always struck me as the exclusive province of old-time banjo players. Lately however, I have found a way to reproduce that old ricky-tick sound on the guitar.

Frailing Example Alt Tunings
Click to enlarge tab.

The basic frailing pattern requires a minor adjustment of the ingrained thumb-on-the-downbeat picking style. Frailing employs the drop thumb of old-time banjo players, in which the thumb comes down on the upbeat and the fingers play the melody notes. The banjo picker’s thumb usually strikes the highest pitched string, but when frailing the guitar the thumb picks the lowest string. The basic pattern is shown in Example 1. Play beats one and three by picking upward with your index finger as you normally would. Play beats two and four by striking downward with the back of the nail on your middle finger, followed by your thumb on the ands of beats two and four. 

This particular tuning is lowest to highest, E B B E A B. The top three strings are tuned to intervals that are often used by banjo players on their first, second, and third strings. The B unisons create a bit of a drone and provide a nice modal flavor, which the sixth string provides the root.

Excerpted from Alternate Tunings Guitar Essentials

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