Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

An apology and A Confession

First let me apologize to both Ben and the “ol’ Tymers” around here that know me from the old site. I’ve been absent for awhile. Doesn’t mean that I had given up. But there’s really no excuse for me not showing up more often. Sorry!

Now for the Confession:

I pretty much abandoned bluegrass licks and learning fiddle tunes for the past two years. It had absolutely nothing to do with bluegrass music…it was all due to me.

You see I skipped a large portion of my learning before diving into trying to flat pick at a million miles an hour. My goal was to be able to jam while in the middle of a bluegrass tune and have it sound like it fits.

I’ve been banging on this 50 year old Martin nearly everyday over the past year…and I have not changed the strings in well over a year. Gotta be at least 1000 hours on them. Past year has not been about “tone”. It still stays in tune, although a little dull.

Two years ago I herniated a disc in my neck and was pretty much bedridden for 3 months. I didn’t sulk, I decided instead to take advantage of it. I laid there and studied music. Between youtube, google searches, etc I tried to consume as much info on “Music Theory” that this old beat up noggin’ could handle. I also studied musical improv. At the end of the day I settled on Jerry Garcia as being probably one of the better guitar players I’ve ever heard when it comes to moving around the neck and picking out a lead while still maintaining the discipline to to make sure he hits those qtr notes on the first beat of the measure that corresponds with the chord it’s in at the time. The other thing that stuck out differently was his ability to move across the wide range of the fret board in large leaps.

So I backed up a bit. I backed up and said “self you have to know the note you are on all the time”…ie “master the fret board”.

Scales, scales, scales, scales, scales, scales, etc. So I practiced scales hours and hours on end. I called out each of the notes by name and in tune. I studied their shapes. I practiced arpeggios…over and over and over and over and over.

Today I really no longer have to look. My mind’s eye sees the frets and strings (little white dots and all). My left and right hands just simply jump to the right fret and position all while being verified and/or corrected by the ear. The other side of this ol’ noggin that isn’t the side seeing the fret and strings is basically tracking where we are in the song and trying to be both whitty, funny, sinister, sad, happy, etc in creating something musically that fits. It’s also tracking the note that I’m on. To top it off it’s also showing me my options of notes above, below, in front of, and behind that are part of the triad I am in at that time. The amount of brain power is astronomical to me in the process. There’s 4-10 things running through my head at any given split second while it’s all understood, comprehended, and acted upon by my left and right hand.

I can jam!

It’s now time to once again sample those tasty BanjoBen licks and work those those tasty suckers into some of the places I can make them fit.

I’m back!


Good to read you again Jesse! Glad to have you back around!



Welcome back!

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@oldhat40 DITTO !!! Hey! thanks for sharing. I am on a similar adventure and your experience is encouraging,


Glad to see you back on the forum again Jesse! I’m not on here as much as before myself.

What you did is HUGE and quite an accomplishment! Way to take advantage of your down time!




We’ve all probably been there (or will be). I guess you can say I finally identified my biggest weakness and decided to remedy it. In the process of all that scale work I managed to get both my left and right hand in proper order too. There was a lot gained. There was A LOT of time spent.

During all that scale practice I would take time to work on “jamming”. I have one of those large “Smart TVs” with surround sound mounted on the wall of my bedroom. There’s 2 Youtube “jam tracks” that I’d played over and over and over (has to be several thousand times each by now) and I’d basically just keep on trying to jam to them (wife and kids are probably pretty tired of hearing them). About 6 months ago it all started coming together…I finally knew the guitar well enough that I didn’t have to think about it…then the creativity starting showing up.

I am happy that I decided to go back and discipline myself enough to learn what I needed to learn .

I am having so much more fun playing today than I ever have. It’s funner than barrel of monkeys and I love it. I am really looking forward to the next 20 years of my life with this old guitar.


@oldhat40, welcome back! Question… When you say scales, scales etc. is that CAGED pattern or any other specific patterns that you practiced?

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Hey Jesse! Welcome back!

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I would second the question about the scales. Was there a specific reference/technique you used to memorize the notes?

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It was basically learning the 5 positions of the Ionian (major) without having to be able to look and at a fairly moderate tempo/bpm.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew of scales and somewhat was familiar with the CAGED system but I was not efficient at moving around through the different positions nor was I efficient at moving from one position to the next position. I had to physically look. I sometimes would even hit the wrong string with the pick. Moving around on the guitar was a daunting task for me. Sure I could stay in a single scale position and do something with the notes but I could not be creative with them.

I guess you could say that the effort I was putting forth was tasking my brain so much that the creative side was completely shut down and not permitted to express itself with MY personality. Any attempt at a “jam” I’d find myself falling flat on my face in just a few short measures. Sure other folks that didn’t play lead thought it was amazing, but I knew I wasn’t fooling the musicians, it was garbage, made no sense whatsoever and failed miserably on the melodic side of things…I could wear out a G lick or a few other licks here and there but to me it just wasn’t acceptable. I was not creating music, I was copying music (or licks) that others created. I wanted to be my own musician. Call it a “composer” if you will.

Once I decided to learn the scales I gave up on everything else, scales it would be…for how long I did not know, but I was ready to make both the attempt and effort. To note: a person will see the CAGED system at some point if they simply learn the major scale in 5 positions or so. Those two terms are one in the same or equal. The CAGED system helps visually.

During all of this scale practice one should also know what notes make up the triad or chord. These 3 notes of a triad can be used in just about in combination creatively and you can get by with using only them and do OK with a lead break. The famous “G Chord” - G-B-D are the notes of the triad. If you are majoring in G then you can wear these suckers out while inside of the G chord of the progression. Also pay attention to their location to the root note.

For those that have not practiced their scales realize that outside of when you have to use the dreaded B string string the 3rd of the root is always one string below and back a fret. The 5th is always 1 string below and two frets forward from the root or 1 string right above the root. When switching to the next chord (say a C chord majoring in G and leaving the G to C) always practice hitting the first 1/4 note beat of the measure by hitting a C note. This sounds so much more musical. You can practice your scale work in the same manner. Grab a backing track that goes through a progression that you are accustomed to. We major out of G a lot, goes to C, back to G, then to D. A good way to practice is to start playing the G scale in time. The 1st qtr note of the measure there should be a G note, at least try to hit the next G an octave up in the scale on say the 4th (or last) quarter note of the beat. When the chord progression changes to C then simply start that scale practice out on a C note but work your way up (or down) the G major scale so that you land on a G note at the same time the progression moves back to G. Practicing this will make you become familiar with the “space between” those two ever import notes. That space is short when you start, man it flies by. After putting in a lot of time practicing the speed of things slows way down and you could bake a cake between those 2 important notes…and fill them with whatever your creative side can come up with.

It’s really difficult to explain via writing. I could explain it in person so much better.

Scale practice is physical and mental work. Those scales need to become 2nd nature so that you can free up some brain power to be creative. I am one that had to free up the brain power in order for creativity to reveal itself…memorizing those scales/patterns/notes, etc freed up my mind and permitted me to be creative. Some are born with this ability…the rest of us need to put in our time in the woodshed doing scale work up and down the neck until it becomes almost like breathing.

At the ed of the day now most progressions sound just as simple as the old 12 bar blues progression. We all hear that progression and think “man this is easy to follow”…over time and lots of practice nearly all progressions will be approached with the same simplicity.


To expand on this a bit-

Once scale positions and notes become second nature then your ear can do a lot of work.

Currently I can zone my ear into listening to the bass and what the bassist is doing, I can have fun and mimic whatever they are doing, next split second I can drop all the other instruments into the background and bring forward the mandolin, pick up on what the mandolin player is playing and mimic that and play it back. Drums anyone? I can even pull the drums forward and play that beat through notes. In all of this I am managing the time, always slightly slowing down to mimic or slightly speeding a note up to keep it all together and in time. There’s a whole lot of space and time between the 1st and last quarter note of a measure in 4/4 time…it hasn’t always been like that to me…those suckers use to be jet fighters blowing by me at 700 miles an hour, now they are old ladies pushing a walker. Scale practice helped me slow that space between those quarter notes way down.

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I would say the note in tune just like one would singe Doe, Ray, Me, Fa, So, La, Tea, Doe. but instead use the notes of the scale.


Majoring in G

G = Doe
A = Ray
B = Me
C = Fa
D = So
E = La
F sharp = Tea
G = Doe

just call out/sing the names of the note in tune with that note.

Everyone knows the ol’ Doe, Rae, Me, Fa, etc…why not simply replace them with the note names?

Also see above for my response to an earlier post where I elaborated a bit on it all when asked.

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I see you are still putting that Hello Kitty guitar to use.

Maybe if I ever pick up one I can have you sign it?

Good to see you are still around. I know I popped my head back in here about a year ago for a split second then vanished. I think I’ll be here moving forward…gotta learn those licks.


@oldhat40, thanks for explaining it all in detail. I did practice the CAGED scale patterns recently but as for as jamming, I might be worse than the old you.

Some takeaways: (if i understood it correctly)

  1. Practicing the 5 scale patterns until it becomes a second nature.
  2. Knowing/remembering the notes for a triad/chord in the scale, (I only knew the root in the scale patterns. Will this be for major chords or all chords in the progression including minor?)
  3. Playing the notes between the note of the chord that you are in and the note of the chord that you will land in in a progression. (I mean if I phrased it correctly.)

I realize I need to put in a lot of effort to get it in the head to play without thinking.

This will help, thanks so much!!


I like the experimenting replacing Doe, Rae, Me etc. But if you are in a chorus and sing harmony, it is probably going to mess up your starting note for the part that you sing unless it is soprano. :wink:

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Harmony -

Lead singer gets to start on whatever note they want that is in the major. There are some rules there but for the most part the lead singer gets to pick. If we are majoring in G but the lead singer starts with a D note, then the rest of us signing harmony have to chose between the other notes. Just because one is majoring in say “G” does not mean that you have to start on a G note.

View a “triad” as your immediate family. In a G chord you have G,B,D…call this Father, Mother, Sister. The A, C, E are cousins. The F sharp is the black sheep that nobody likes and really only talks to in passing just because they have to. Play your family notes, sometimes play your cousins and a good time to play the black sheep of the family (F sharp) is when you are walking past it to get back to your Father (G). It’s a semitone below the G, it really doesn’t belong but sounds pretty sweet as a passing note to get to G.

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I agree! That’s what I meant. You explained it well. Usually people know the melody. So for the soprano singer, it is not going to matter if they have to start with the 1st, 3rd or 5th note. They know the note from the melody. But I meant the starting trouble when others have to start with the other notes in the triad to create the harmony.

P.S: hmm interesting thing to note in what you say to remember the notes in a scale. For G scale, G, B, D is 1,3,5 for G . Then go up a whole which is A, and A, C, E is 1,3,5 for A. From G go down half, F#. They make up a scale??!!

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Yep, you’ve got it figured out.

On playing music:

Some are gifted in different ways, me I excelled at athletics, played college baseball and college golf, both were relatively simple to me. From an early age people would approach me and say “man you can hit that baseball to any side of the field you want, that’s amazing”…I might of been 8 years old, even in college that 90 mph fast ball came at me a lot slower than it did everyone else. Math was easy, Calc 3 meh, give me something challenging. I was horrible at grammar and music…no talent what so ever, it just wasn’t natural. I had to work HARD at music. We all have different talents but we all can be talented in just about whatever we choose if we can dedicate the time to it.


You’ve got the C mixed up in what makes an A triad- It’s a C sharp that’s the 3rd in A major. The C in A major makes the A chord an A minor chord.

If you do not know, a C major is exactly the same! A minor and C major are all the same notes. Just like the relationship between The “E” in the G major scale…they are pretty much identical twins. In G major the E note (6th degree in the scale) is minor as a chord/triad and has the same notes as the G major scale - That’s why it’s called the “relative minor”…if you know an E minor scale then you can pretty much treat that as your G major scale. So in C you can play the A minor scale if you chose since it’s the same scale as the C major scale.

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Oh ok. Yeah I see I got it mixed up. The P.S. in my last post will not work then. But I understand the major and relative minor chords notes. But knowing it in the fret board or its application with playing the scales over the chord is my challenge.

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