Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

"Advanced?" bluegrass rhythm guitar

I’m having a blast learning flat-picking. I’m able to keep up on most songs (rhythm), but I really get myself tied up, sometimes. I notice when people are playing a fast song (and I do this, myself sometimes out of necessity), the number of “sweeps” (and you guys are going to have to correct me on the nomenclature) decrease and the most important thing is (as always) keeping a solid rhythm on the beat. Where I have trouble is…the timing of the backbeat. I tighten up my strumming pattern on the backbeats (when playing fast), but it’s really hard for me. I’m guessing this is something that’ll simply get better, over time.

My question today is…does anyone know of an instructional video or series on this very subject?

I may be wrong (or, I may be the only one who finds this area hard?), but it would seem like a GOLDEN teach-able moment. Even if a new player isn’t going to go to jams and take leads…he/she STILL needs to be a competent rhythm player to even be able to participate.

Just something I’m working on…and seeing “some” progress in. I’d love to know if there’s anything out there that would straighten out the learning curve (sort of an A-Ha lesson).



**Edit - I’m working hard (trying) to keep a loosey-goosey thing going. I notice when I’m doing my best, my wrist and my right forearm are loose, and my right forearm is rotating. It’s not something, for me, that’s automatically repeatable, though. I have to kind of work into it. A lighter pick hold and even a little different pick placement in my fingers seems to also help. I just don’t know if I’m doing something wrong; missing something that’s easily fixed; gonna have to work into it…or, a combination of all of the aforementioned.

Good thread jv. I think everyone runs into the same kind of thing at some tempo. It sounds like you are working in the right direction. I think for the most part, top end speed just slowly comes with time and good practice. In addition to loosening up, try slightly arching your wrist in ward (towards the palm) for faster rhythm patterns. This is not a suggestion that is written in stone for guitar, but for me, it helps me get that relaxed motion going. As to why it helps, I don’t know if it’s mechanical or if it just serves as a reminder for me.

I think an advanced rhythm guitar series would be great. It could cover things like extreme tempo handling, and maybe even stuff like Rice’s cross picking in rhythm playing.

I’m learning that traditional bluegrass guitar only did a beat-strum. Now, if one were inclined, I suppose that would make handling extremely fast tempos, more easily. And, that may be what some do to “hang on”. I don’t really know.

As an example of what was (and still is, to a lesser degree) trouble for me is Dierks Bentley’s redition of roving gambler. I just went and played it again…and I did well. A couple weeks ago even, that was tough.

But look at something like a lightning fast Orange Blossom Special…Hard for me to keep up.

When the tempo gets fast I crank way down on on how far my right hand travels. If a song is fast enough, I’ll play the the “chuck” of my boom-chuck with just two or three strings.

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…Hard for me to keep up.

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Me too!

I’m getting better, so I don’t get discouraged.

I have hundreds of hours of practice time under my belt now, and I’m still not skilled yet. But I’m getting there and so will you. I’m amazed at how much better I am compared to when I started, and it’s all because of ben’s video lessons.

By the way, the speed of the “sweeps” you mentioned (strums) is the speed at which you’ll be able to play eighth-notes, so you won’t be truly able to loosen up your wrist/forearm unless you put in all three strums after the ‘boom’ part of the rhythm on beats one and three of the measure. Unless you can play the full rhythm loosely, you won’t play individual notes loosely. Simple boom-chick is ok for following along with fast players, but I believe that, during practice sessions, it won’t help you get faster. For that, I think you need the full 8 notes per bar rhythm.

Have fun!

I play a lot of the fast songs (what I consider “fast”) from day to day…and I’m noticing improvement. One I was having trouble with is Dierks Bentley’s rendition of roving gambler. I’m doing a lot better with that. It’s not 100% clean, but it’s coming.

The other speed demons (roll in my sweet baby’s arms; orange blossom special; etc…) still challenge me on how to attack them.

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Playing fast rhythm is HARD, for sure. When it’s absolutely blistering, I don’t stick to a regimented boom-chic pattern and start doing more of a syncopated brushing pattern. Another thing I often do is do a big strum on the first beat when the chord changes. I’ll try to detail this in a video!

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I haven’t worked on this in a while but one time I tried to follow along Dueling Banjos on guitar, just rhythm to see if I could keep up. It gets so fast, to me at least, it almost sounds as if the guitar part isn’t even strumming, he’s just basically playing a bass line in between the guitar part licks. Could that be the way they did it?


Ben…I appreciate the fact that you’re listening!

That would be awesome (lesson). I’ve searched youtube and one (lesson) doesn’t exist for this. To top it off, I saw Bryan Sutton today. Watching him made me think back to a tip someone told me years ago about keeping a light touch. He’s smooth as silk, no matter the tempo or drive. I paid special attention to his right hand. It’s simply incredible. That’s all I know to call it.

I would MUCH appreciate even a little mini-lesson on this. Like I said, most grassers I know relegate themselves to rhythm until they build and build confidence in their breaks. If you have trouble with the super-fast rhythms…you can’t even do that, though.

Thanks, in advance.