Forum - Banjo Ben Clark


Hi Y’all

I know this is going to sound basic and nieve maybe and i’m sorry for that but as a newcomer to all this banjo stuff i feel like i’m missing some vital info in regard to the big picture… like i say this might be basic stuff to y’all

Q1. Are all the wonderful tunes we are presented by Ben during the learning tracks the SOLO parts that are played during a break?

Q2. if the answer to Q1. is yes, then wouldn’t it be good to have the backup parts included so were not just vamping away… i know Ben covers backup in various lessons but would be great to maybe have specific parts to learn so we can then plug them in to other songs etc.

Q3. because my knowledge of Bluegrass/Gospel is at its infancy maybe as part of the lesson a link to the full version of the songs would be useful so we can play along and get used to both the lyrics/melody and the arrangement etc. even better would be Ben playing and singing the whole song at least then Ben would control the arrangement so the lessons fit in and wouldn’t it be great for us banjo players who have no-one to turn to play along with a guitar/vocal

Thanks LG

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Hey there Lee!
1- yes

  1. Back-up will change depending on what the rest of the group is doing…what fits one version of a song doesn’t always fit all the others. The methods Ben teaches are meant to be used as options to “plug in” top places they may fit.

Example: if you play a certain thing behind the guitar and something different behind the mandolin or fiddle or dobro or vocals, you need to pay attention to when and whether each of those might be in the lead …it is a fluid thing that changes, and different styles of backup fit well (or horribly) against different things.

  1. You can play backup to the rhythm tracks as easily as playing a lead to them. You will find that arrangements change every time you change musicians when out jamming.

Including whole songs with all the parts arranged is an immense amount of work that would take away huge amounts of time spent providing lessons to get you started learning new tunes & concepts.

Including links to other’s recorded material may create copyright issues , as well as give you the idea that there is only one “correct” arrangement to a song. In addition, it isn’t difficult to look up a tune on the internet fr ourselves and this gives us the advantage of hearing different versions of the song and the ability to pick the style and arrangement we prefer to work with.


Hi Dave

agree pal and like i say it was a basic question coming from someone who has little experience with all things banjo related so was just putting some observations out there that im having and i totally understand that Ben is very busy and copyright issues might be an issue etc

Im just confused that i’m able to read TAB and play the sols’s quite well as thats what were focused on to learn but not 100% sure how to play backup as well as the solos and don’t want to sit in to a session just for the solos’s if you know what i mean

i don’t want to become great at playing solos and crap at backup…lol

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I understand completely, and you’ve got the right idea about being able to play both to be involved.

The site is meant to give you a start & suggestions on how to take things your own way…even the lead breaks are only good suggestions on an approach to take toward a piece…they are not written in stone, that is why Ben includes the “build a break” lessons: to get the idea across that certain things can be interchangeable in music and you can mix and match them to create your own style.

I suggest listening to different versions of a tune you like and hearing what other players are doing to back up different things… Crowe, Stanley, Reno, & Osborne may all play the same song, but they will each approach it in their own unique way. You have to decide what you think works & sounds the best for the situation you are in at the moment when playing out…it’s a whole adventure unto itself learning how to help others shine when they are in the spotlight (which is what playing backup is all about)

ok thanks for the info appreciate that

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We’ve actually started a discussion on this in the past that I can’t seem to find right now. The short version of it was that some folks were going to go through Ben’s lessons (of any instrument) looking for some banjo bakcup that Ben is playing, identify those songs here on the forum, and then if Ben still has his backing tracks, I was going to go through them and tab it out and give it to Ben to add to the lesson.

Either no one identified any lessons they wanted this done on, or Ben didn’t have the separate backing tracks saved. I don’t remember which.

Improving my backup picking is at the top of my list, along with being able to improvise a lead in a song I don’t already know.

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Hi Mark

If you come across anything from a backup perspective you think is great please share


This is a great lesson here if you haven’t already tackled it.

I used this lesson exclusively when playing backup in this video:


thats great thanks for that

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Hi @Lee_G. Yes, basic questions but good ones and I had the same questions not so long ago. All great info from @fiddle_wood and I agree wholeheartedly.
I might add that it is very helpful to learn and memorize the chord progression for each tune to play backup successfully and Ben puts the chords in the tabs thankfully.

Once you have the progression down, you can change from vamping to rolling to licks to whatever on the fly. And if you can learn the chords in terms of the Nashville Number System, all the better, because then you’ll be able to play backup on a tune in any key.

In real life jams, someone suggests a tune, someone else may ask “what key?”, a key is agreed on based on what’s common or how a certain player learned the tune or who’s singing and their range and then players rush to get their capos placed just right (mostly the banjo and guitar players) and it seems it’s always the banjo player that needs the most time because the 5th string has to be dealt with as well and then some fine tuning is usually required after capos go on or come off.

Whoever suggested the song tends to be the boss or leader for that song so while you’re playing, you make eye contact with the boss now and then. If you have not made any prior agreements or they are not familiar with your skills and abilities or whether you even know this song, they’ll give you an inquisitive look, meaning hey, do have a break and are you ready? If so, you nod and if not, shake your head. If yes, then be ready for the nod or a bony finger pointing at you or they might just say “Lee, A part” or whatever.

And be careful that you don’t go too far. The leader may already have others lined up for breaks so they start their break while you’re still playing yours and bloody chaos ensues, oh the humanity…

Now, I’m no expert, I haven’t played in jams yet because I’m shy and just chicken you know what. And, I’m still learning backup and the NNS. I do attend jams regularly though and these are just my observations.


Great job Mark. Man, you’re a country mile ahead of me on video editing. I’m barely a beginner on Avidemux. Would like to learn more, but takes away from my practice time. Frustration!! :grimacing:

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Thanks, but you aren’t kidding about the frustration part. I’ve only done 2 video editing projects (this one and the Will the Circle Be Unbroken contest) and after each of them, I swore I’d never do it again. I think I spent more time editing than recording and videoing combined. :astonished::weary:

Mark that was outstanding! Well played! :+1:

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Hi @MissMaggie

Thanks for the detailed reply it makes great sense and if i ever attend a session which in Wigan, UK is very doubtful …lol i will await the nod from the boss…


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Mark has way too much time on his hands if you ask me Neil… :grinning:


He’s a computer fixer for a living. He probably does this as a test for each computer he fixes


LOL!!! I’d only be able to fix one computer a week if I did that! :laughing::laughing::laughing:


But the end result is worth it. :+1:

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Oh, I meant to say earlier, find almost any video of a bluegrass performance and wait for the guitar solo, cuz you can almost always only hear the banjo backup when the guitar is soloing

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That was me right there. I can memorize tab, but that does not help in a jam. I am just now becoming comfortable playing backup in a jam. It takes time listening for chord changes. What really helped me was watching the guitar player’s hands and knowing what a G,C,D (1,4,5) looks like on a guitar. Vamp while watching that until you get a feel for the timing of the chord changes (how many beats). Once you know the beat count for the chord change you can use rolls instead. I like to pick just a couple of roll patterns and get good at chord changes with them. Once I get some backup songs under my belt like that, I will play with cool licks to add in as well. I will try to post a video soon showing how I do this. Right now, I use either forward/reverse roll or just forward roll. I also learned a swing timing to the rolls to give it some variety.

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