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March 24, 2023 4 min read
Round Peak is a style of clawhammer banjo playing that has its roots in the Appalachian Mountains, specifically in the Round Peak area of Surry County, North Carolina. It is characterized by its fast and intricate picking patterns, as well as its use of syncopated rhythms and unusual tunings. Round Peak banjo players often use a variety of techniques such as drop-thumb, double-thumb, and three-finger rolls to create a unique sound that is both melodic and percussive.
The origins of the round peak style of clawhammer banjo playing can be traced back to the late 19th century, when it first emerged in the rural communities of the Appalachian Mountains. The style takes its name from the town of Round Peak, which is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. This area was home to a vibrant community of musicians who developed a unique and highly rhythmic style of clawhammer banjo playing that became known as the round peak style.
The round peak style is characterized by its fast-paced and intricate picking patterns, which are often played in a rhythmic and syncopated manner. The style features a variety of techniques, including drop-thumbing, double-thumbing, and the use of the index finger to strike the fifth string. It also incorporates a range of unusual tunings, such as G modal, sawmill, and fiddle tunes, which are designed to create a distinctive and complex sound. The style is often played in a group setting, with other instruments such as fiddles, guitars, and mandolins providing a driving rhythm to accompany the banjo.
One of the most influential figures in the development of the round peak style of clawhammer banjo playing was Tommy Jarrell. Jarrell was a fiddler and banjo player from the town of Toast, North Carolina, and was renowned for his ability to play in the round peak style. He was part of a close-knit group of musicians who played together regularly and developed their own unique style of playing. Jarrell was known for his intricate and fast-paced picking patterns, as well as his ability to improvise and create complex melodies on the fly. He was also known for his unique tuning style, which included a range of unusual tunings that he developed over the years.
Another influential figure in the world of round peak clawhammer banjo playing was Fred Cockerham. Cockerham was born in Lowgap, North Carolina, and was part of a musical family that included his father, grandfather, and several uncles. He was renowned for his ability to play in a wide range of styles, including old-time, bluegrass, and country music. Cockerham was also known for his unique approach to the clawhammer technique, which included a range of unusual techniques such as the use of the thumb to strike the fifth string, and the use of the index finger to play melodies. His style was highly rhythmic and syncopated, and he was known for his ability to improvise and create complex melodies on the fly.
The Round Peak style of clawhammer banjo playing has had a resurgence in recent years, and there are several living players who are keeping this style alive. One such player is Adam Hurt, who has become well-known for his mastery of the Round Peak style. Hurt has won several awards, including the prestigious Clifftop Festival Banjo Contest, and has released several albums showcasing his clawhammer banjo playing. He has also taught at workshops and camps, passing on his knowledge of Round Peak style to the next generation of banjo players.
Riley Baugus is another well-known clawhammer banjo player who hails from North Carolina and is known for his impeccable round peak style. Baugus is deeply rooted in the traditional music of Appalachia and has spent his life studying and performing the music of his home region. He learned to play the banjo from his grandfather and has spent decades honing his craft and perfecting his unique sound. Baugus is a true master of the instrument, and his playing style is both technically impressive and emotionally powerful.
Baugus has collaborated with many notable musicians throughout his career, including Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, and Alison Krauss. He has also performed on numerous film soundtracks, including the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for the film "Cold Mountain." Baugus is known for his ability to bring the traditional music of Appalachia to life, and his round peak clawhammer banjo playing is a key part of his signature sound. He is a true ambassador of the traditional music of his home region, and his contributions to the genre have helped to keep it alive and thriving for future generations to enjoy.
In conclusion, the round peak style of clawhammer banjo playing is a unique and highly rhythmic style that has had a significant impact on the development of traditional American folk music. It originated in the rural communities of the Appalachian Mountains in the late 19th century, and was developed by a close-knit group of musicians who played together regularly and developed their own unique style of playing. The style is characterized by its fast-paced and intricate picking patterns, as well as its use of unusual tunings and techniques. It has been influenced by a range of musicians over the years, including Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, who have helped to shape and define the style. Today, the round peak style continues to be played and celebrated by banjo players and folk musicians all over the world.