Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Banjo Basics

I’ve been working on “The Sweet By and By” for about a month. I’m making progress and absolutely loving this arrangement. However, there is one minute detail that is puzzling me, and Ben may be the only one that can answer it, but I would still appreciate any member input. Below are measures 3 and 4. Note the highlights.

Here is my question. Why is the first highlighted note designated to be played by the middle finger, and in the next bar designated to be played by the index.

This is how it is intended because Ben specifically points it out in the video. Probably a bit annoying question, but I really am curious. What am I not seeing? :thinking:


Jack, there is timing difference between the 2 things - measure 3 and 4. It is 1/8th hammer on in 3rd measure while it is 1/16th in the 4th measure. For quicker pick involving 1/16th note hammer on, I assume Ben uses Thumb and Index, while he uses a Index and Middle for the pick involving 1/8th note hammer on. Another reason could be just to get you accustomed (to give you practice) to the different ways of picking to get better practice.

Btw, this is the first song I learnt after joining this site! In fact this song was what brought me to this site actually. It took about a month to learn.

All that said, I don’t use this style of picking as I don’t play banjo. I use thumb for strings 6,5,4 and index, middle and ring for 3,2,1. I don’t know if this is the optimal style but for beginners it is a much easier style to get up to speed quick. Ben, do you see issues with this style of picking or what are pros and cons?

P.S: Please ignore my post!!! I sometimes confuse Banjo with Guitar posts.


Hi Jack, This is a great question and great observation.

In this lesson @BanjoBen is introducing what is commonly referred to as an Inside Roll, A hallmark of Alan Munde 's style of melodic banjo playing where the middle finger is used to pick a string (often a melody note) other than the first string which is more common in Scruggs Style . If you look closely at the two highlighted measures and imagine the hammer- ons are not there. In the first measure you see a forward roll TIM on strings 532 in the second measure you see an alternating thumb/index roll TITI 3243. I hope this goes some way to answer your query.

I should say that Earl did use the inside roll from time to time although not as often a Alan.


It’s all about the fingers leading up to the note in question. In measure 3, you’re playing T, 1, 2. In measure 4 it’s T, T, 1.

I haven’t learned this song, but I have to admit, looking at this tab with 3 Ts in a row, I might be tempted to play measure 4 more like measure 3. There is a timing difference, though, so I’m betting Ben’s tab makes sense in that context.

Edit- I just watched the preview and that part of the lesson. It’s definitely the preceding finger usage, but also the timing. Ben’s really swinging the beat, so his finger choices make sense. You could probably change up the finger choices in measure 3 to eliminate that inside roll, but this is a great song to get your picking hand introduced to it. I highly encourage you to play it as written.


Hey Jack, I’ve been playing this tune for some time now and it’s one of my favs. I tried to play it as written but I keep reverting back to playing both with my index finger. It just comes more naturally, even if I play it really fast.

The only thing I can think of is that Ben was just trying to introduce the inside roll, picking the second string with your middle finger, but @BanjoBen would have to address that. I suspect it’s simply an Alan Munde thing like @Archie said and as you may know, Alan Munde was Ben’s teacher.

Ben uses this in other tunes/lessons as well, for example in Keep On The Sunny Side on a backward inside roll in measure 21, first note, and I DO play it with my middle finger there, because it’s about the only way to do it, and it comes more naturally.

I would say play it the way it works best for you, but there is a lot to be said for knowing the whys. There have been several times I played something the way “I thought” it worked best for me, only to find out after some investigation that I had missed something and was playing it wrong or just inefficiently. It’s a lot harder to have to unlearn something in order to do it the right way, than to just do it the right way from the get go.

Hopefully, Ben will chime in here.


Excellent and useful feedback from everyone. It’s very appreciated. Now it’s time to relearn that third bar.

You can actually do it either way, and it may have even been a typo–sorry! I do tend to grab that 2nd string with my middle more and more these days, and it is required later in the arrangement.

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