Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Banjo (& other instrument) Improv practice


All of us grateful students recognize and are blessed by your incredible talent, teaching and inspiring insight to these instruments on your site and store.

That said, the following quote from @markmacrae reached out to me:

I offer a Suggestion/Request: Maybe there is some way that you can make a series of lessons that would have backing tracks with chord changes and rhythm tracks (all instruments MINUS the instrument for the lesson) to allow players to work on filling 16- bars with something like a crafted simple break - or suggestions for making one.

This may give each player the room to play over the rhythm.

I once had such a track on Vinyl records (yeah, I am THAT old) where I could improv over blues chord changes with my trumpet - practicing on jazz/blues improv.

Then, the lesson could help the player/instrument in question (Banjo/Mando/Guitar) fill up a certain part of the song.

Having this may help us all on how to practice to fill up a break. Better still, if lesson focused on using some of your other lessons to embellish a break session - WITHOUT scripting the whole solo…

I know I have seen you suggest various ways to change out certain passages in your kessons - so I know you can find a way to help us open up this aspect of playing. You have encouraged us to play what feels right… or given “permission” to change out a line with an alternate roll here… or a pinch there… saying it’s “OK” to mix things up.

This type of “open section”, unwritten backing rhythm would allow us freedom to try things out. Maybe even have a little contest to allow people to submit their breaks would help us listen how players approached this exercise…

I am humbled that you consider this idea and please understand it is offered with good intentions to assist fellow students who seek help and gratitude that you take the time to hear ideas offered by your students/fans.

May God Bless you Sir!


Excellent suggestion @WillCoop Jack Hatfield does something similar with his CDs where he places the banjo on the right channel and other instruments in the left. So by changing the pan on your sound system you can fade out the banjo. What your suggesting goes that much further.

I have been trying for years to find a better way to practice playing with other instruments, something that allows me to control the speed and have the function to loop. The best I have come up with so far is TablEdit where I have taken Ben’s Mandolin and Guitar TABs and tried to created some banjo backup to accompany the solos with limited success.

I think what your proposing would be an improvement on what I currently do and would welcome any suggestions that enable me to improve and practice my backup playing skills.

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I appreciate the feedback.

I had in mind to focus on the instrument Break that throws the panic of fear into us (definitely me included) beginning/novice and even intermediate students when it comes to a jam and/or an open “solo” part of a song.

I also like the idea taking it back the other way… having a song with a “melody” section and then a lead provided by any other instrument (for example, a Banjo student playing any song with say… a 16-bar guitar or Mando break where banjo vamps in backup)… then revisit the theme and close… i.e. no solo for the student at all.

That also would be so useful to allow us to play support or back up a lead… but in the context of the song structure.

That way, we students might have fundamentals on how to do this in a jam… without feeling “off the song structure” and lost - unable to contribute.

I know Ben has some some backup lessons and so this may well have already been done.

As I am still learning the basic melodies to these very basic and “traditional, classic” songs… I have not progressed to those studies yet.

It would be great to combine them, where you have a guitar solo, space for student solo, mando solo, space, banjo solo space, etc. So you can practice what it’s like to play with others, i.e. take a solo, play backup, and so forth

I believe that nearly any existing backup track for a lesson here would fill this need.

We learn to experiment by experimenting. Improvising is simply on-the-spot experimentation.

I think Ben will back me up when I say the things he teaches are suggestions on a direction to go…not the written in stone way something must be played. this is the entire reason for the “bag-o-lick” type lessons he provides.

To learn to jam along with anything, you need to practice just jamming along with things (at a slow pace to start).

There are several sites that provide tracks with one instrument missing…a simple search can direct you to them.

You can always alternate between different backup styles and a break during a rhythm track…

The tracks you suggest would take a huge amount of time for a single person to produce, and in my opinion, take away too much time from the real purpose of this site…which is the teaching.


Yeah, I think your definitely right about all of that. I want backing tracks with every other solo missing, because I play a variety of instruments and like to change between them mid song (cuz it’s more interesting than playing the same song/instrument over and over, and I don’t have anyone else to fill the blank spots whilst I’m swapping instruments

Playing several instruments is a gift…you can create your own tracks and reap phenomenal benefits from it.
That is how I spend much of my time during the Winter.

Convenient timing, just yesterday, I did my first “studio artist for about thirty minutes” project in garage band. I had to use built in mics, which did no favors for sound quality, and the combined total value of the instruments was <600 $. But it was fun, I laid a guitar backup, then put solos as well as backup on top of it on guitar, banjo and harmonica, playing red haired boy. Then I took about two and a half times as long to get the file to my phone (long story) I might try to post it to the forum later, but I’m not sure how cuz of the file format

What file format?
You can use itunes to change many file formats.

To put it up here you’ll want to upload to Youtube or a file sharing site like google drive or Dropbox, then share the link here.

It’s a .band file straight from gb, I zipped it to send to my phone. I’ll have to wait till my mom gets back to help me vith a file share site, so, about a week and a half