Clawhammer Banjo Lessons

I'm Theo Parmakis, a clawhammer banjo teacher based in Sheffield (UK.)

What is Clawhammer?

Clawhammer (also known as frailing) is probably the oldest way of playing the banjo, predating modern bluegrass styles by almost 100 years. Clawhammer was adapted in the 19th century – along with the 5-string banjo itself – from much older African styles of playing.

The hallmark of clawhammer playing is a seamless combination of melody and rhythm, so it doesn't matter whether you want to play tunes solo, accompany other instrumentalists or back up a singer or another melody player.

Of course, clawhammer is pefect for playing American folk dance music from the South Eastern United States (often known by the shorthand "oldtime music"). But with a little imagination, the style can be adapted to serve all kinds of music.

I personally specialise in a style called melodic clawhammer, and I love to take tunes which aren't traditionally played on the 5-string banjo, such as Irish jigs, English polks as French Bourées, and open the up to the rhythmic drive which clawhammer style has to offer.

Pricing is £28/hour, £18/half hour for an online lesson. I also offer in-person lessons, although due to the current COVID situation this may require a little coordination beforehand.

My standard lesson tunes come with a full set of supplementary resoures - TAB and audio at various speeds. Also online lessons may be recorded for future reference to make sure you can get the most out of them *.

To get started, drop me a message at, call 07906 654571 or email

* Dropbox account required for recording lessons. Please do not redistribute recorded material without permission.

I am also a qualified instrument maker and technician, and can set your banjo (or other types of instrument) up at my Parmakis Instruments workshop to make sure you can get the best out of it.

I'll teach you:

I teach from beginners to intermediate – no prior musical knowledge required. Don't have a banjo yet? If teaching in-person I may be able to provide a spare instrument during lessons. Instrument rental is also an option.

If you're a new player, I'll give you the groundwork to get you up and clawing steadily. After comprehending the basics, I believe the best way to grasp the style is through learning some catchy and danceable tunes.

I can teach you a variety of tunes and show you how to pick up more as you go, all while developing new techniques and deepening your understanding of the banjo. I'm happy to teach by ear, or with TAB & sheet music; if you want to learn music theory then I'll teach you that too, but it's not required!

I can also cover some fingerstyle and plectrum techniques for students wishing to add further variation to their playing.



For those wanting to improve their clawhammer style banjo playing Theo is a fantastic resource and not only because music teachers in clawhammer are rare gems - they are few and far between, but because of his ability, knowledge and enthusiasm for this genre of music.

I have been a student of Theo's for many months and have been impressed by the huge repertoire of tunes he is able to draw from, which includes anything from traditional English/Irish folk tunes to well known American tunes. There is guaranteed to be something to suit all tastes and all levels of playing.

Practical teaching is complemented and supported by MP3 recordings of different speeds to practice to. It is also worth pointing out that Theo has a good understanding of banjo set-up and can advise on how to get the best sound out of your instrument.


Theo is a great teacher. Always warm, friendly and inspiring. Each lesson he breaks down concepts and techniques into easy to understand chunks.

He is happy to tailor lessons to my personal interests, needs and learning style. He creates a supportive and friendly learning environment with great support between lessons via email. Happy to take things at my pace.


I have been having lessons from Theo for around eight months and was a total beginner when I started. Theo's friendly and relaxed teaching style has ensured that i have navigated the clawhammer stlye of banjo at my own pace and using the style of tunes that i personally like.

He is a very patient teacher and supports the lessons with both tab and audio recordings, which are invaluable when practising at home.

He is very knowledgeable about the workings of the actual instrument as well as just the playing styles and has helped with the set up of the banjo as well as my playing.


Theo is a fantastic teacher with a contagious enthusiasm backed up by an extensive understanding of the instrument both physically and melodically. His ability to break down this knowledge and convey it in a manageable way has meant I’ve walked out of each lesson feeling quantifiably better with a banjo! With an extensive and impressive repertoire, Theo tailors each lesson on what style/ direction I want to take and then stages his teaching in a logical and easy-to-follow manner.

All in all, Theo is a talented and friendly teacher whom I would highly recommend to anyone looking to learn or develop their clawhammer banjo. For each piece I’ve learned, Theo has provided tablature and recordings of the tune (played at various speeds so I can play along at home as I practice). He even has his own website I use for finding and playing around with chords. Where else would you get this kind of service? 10/10!