Forum - Banjo Ben Clark


So I have had a couple of banjos for quite some time. An old Kay and some kind of custom built one from Tennessee…seems to be very good quality without all of the fancy inlays, etc. It holds a tune extremely well. I took some lessons from a guy named Dave for a few months and found that I was getting nowhere really. He is a great player and all, I just felt like I learned more by listening to him play at full speed then going home and practicing on my own than I learned from what he was trying to teach me at the music store. Eventually one thing led to another and in between kids wife work ball etc…i just felt like i ran out of time…so I put it down. Fast forward a couple years…still have two banjos…acquired a 6string guitar and amp…bought and sold a full size electronic keyboard…can’t play any of them lol…and my bro-in-law wants to learn to play the banjo. It seems that it has sparked my interest to learn again…but with a different sort of passion for the sound. Now let me be very clear, I can’t read a lick of music aside of tablature. I have no idea what chord progressions are and I struggle to change from chord to chord. I manage to play cripple creek in a very broken sort of way, but it tends to sound like it is played on internet radio by professionals lol…only because of finger memory I believe. I love the music and sound that comes from a banjo and my family has a fairly rich history in music. I want to be a better player in the worst kind of way but I feel like I am lacking…maybe theory…Like I said, I don’t understand keys and other specific terms, but I do realize that different chords change the pitch of the strings picked. I don’t understand why certain chords have to be used in certain places rather than picking and fretting a particular sequence of strings…I don’t exactly remember which fingers are used to fret which strings on the neck…I do remember the C chord, but thats the only reason…finger memory again lol. When people say things like…lets play ‘%&*($(#’ in the key of ‘F’…I have no idea what that means. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

You should start at one of these links. Ben has a lot of info on beginning picking available, and is you have any further questions feel free to post them hear and we will do our best to answer them.

Here are two links two the banjo section of this website:

sounds like you might want to start with the theory video, good basic info there to get you started understanding how music works and why it works the way it does.


Best thing to do when you’re a beginner is to prioritize. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Be a specialist. At least in the beginning.

Start by learning 3 banjo chords - G, D, and C - along with some basic rolls. Everything else can come later.

Cool…thanks so much. I will get right on these and watch them as soon as I get a free minute.

Charles, you’re not alone. I too don’t have any theory down but still love to play some sort of music on the banjo. I’ll never play in a band and don’t have the desire to do so. I just like pickin’ and learn from the tabs that Ben supplies along with his videos. That seems good enough for me. Maybe down the road my mind may change but for now… HAVE FUN!

— Begin quote from "Stich"

I’ll never play in a band and don’t have the desire to do so. I just like pickin’ and learn from the tabs that Ben supplies along with his videos. That seems good enough for me. Maybe down the road my mind may change but for now… HAVE FUN!

— End quote

Looks like we’re on the same page on this…

Its great to know that I’m not the only one in this boat. Its frustrating because I feel like I am missing something that could make huge leaps in my picking quality. I do aspire to one day be able to play with others and carry on my own solos, however, I want to make sure I am good enough to not make a fool of myself because of something I didn’t know lol…

— Begin quote from "Charles"

Its great to know that I’m not the only one in this boat. Its frustrating because I feel like I am missing something that could make huge leaps in my picking quality. I do aspire to one day be able to play with others and carry on my own solos, however, I want to make sure I am good enough to not make a fool of myself because of something I didn’t know lol…

— End quote

Definitely not alone - many out here just like you.

I have been picking for a short amount of time, and decided that if I work the basics - the rest will follow easier - for the most part, I have no complaints.

I was able to play backup to a friend’s lead last week. I found that to be a great step forward.

It is frustrating at times to not be further along in my playing ability - but…its a process that takes time. One thing to note is that with Bluegrass - most of the time close is good enough!! :laughing:

Keep pickin!

I dont have a ton of money and I noticed that Bens theory videos are required to be a paid member to watch. I have a feeling that the theory side of learning to play will teach me more about how to be in a certain ‘key’ when someone wants to play something. I would assume that this is a very important part of learning to play lol. I am going to google it tonight and also a friend gave me a beginners book by Geoff Hohwald…i think thats how its spelled…I am going to read through it tonight and see if I can make sense of it all. Any tips or help would be greatly appreciated.

Ben’s subscription is $ 5 bucks for 30 days. Great value for virtually no expense.

My banjo came with Geoff Hohwald’s book & CD. I found it quite useful.

Charles - note that $5 is for EVERYTHING, not per video.

do you have a capo? If not I would suggest sticking to the key of G for now. Once you get the basics down on that you might choose to learn out of other positions.

The main chords in key of G are G, C and D. this will cover at least half the songs in bluegrass probably. (once in a while there is another chord thrown into a song) If you are wanting to learn a particular song let us know, we probably either already know the chord progression or can figure it out fairly quickly.

The second most used postions that banjo players will play out of are:
C postion includes: C, F, and G positions
D position includes D, G, and A positions

most banjo players spend 90% of their time playing out of G postion.

If you learn a song in G and a singer wants to do it in A you just put a capo on the second fret and tune or capo the 5th string up two frets (to an A note) and play as if the song were in G.

Capo 3rg fret = Key of Bb
capo 4th fret = B
Capo 5th fret = C (or can be played in open C position)
Capo 7th fret = D (not mormally played here) usually played in D position w/ 5th string tuned to A

Key of E is usually played with capo on 2nd fret out of D position
Key of F is usually played with capo on 3rd fret out of D position

hope this answers some questions.

Wow this is fantastic information…and I do not have a capo although I have seen them. Basically a capo works like a bar chord…is that correct? So with that being said…figuratively…If I were to play cripple creek in A…I would capo the second fret and in the beginning when you would normally put your ring finger on the 1st string/2nd fret and pinch 1st and 5th strings then slide to 1st string/5th fret and pick 1st string again…Would I then capo on the second fret and put my ring finger on the 1st string/4th fret and then pinch 1st and 5th strings then slide to 1st string/7th fret then pick first string again?..basically move everything up the neck by 2 frets?

Yes! That is exactly how it works!
The only problem is with a banjo you have to capo or tune the 5th string to a note that will fit the key as well.

There are two ways to make the 5th string go to higher keys.

You can get a 5th string capos installed by a good instrument repair person or…

You can have what are called “railroad spikes” installed that you would just hook the 5th string under at the correct fret.

Spikes are the best way to go (Ben has them on his Banjo and I have them on both of mine as well) for several reasons, but you don’t want to let just anyone install them. It should be someone who works on banjos a lot and has installed them before.


I do not care for the the theory of music too much, I kind of like to wade thru tableture nad learn to pick notes clean ,hopefully build up a bit of speed. Maybe the theory will become clearer to me later on but one can only hope.:slight_smile:, just have fun with it.

I must say that I too purchased soem of Geoff Hohwald’s premium lessons and unfortunately became frustrated with them because I found quite a few inconsistencies between what was being fretted and the tabs. Upon asking the question I found that he and his staff totally ignore emails, I realise that none of his stuff comes with apparent support however a response would have been nice and indeed good manners.

In contrast I have found Ben’s products to be very accurate and quite easy to follow along with, and Ben seems very approachable.


Without having looked yet, I would assume railroad spikes drive into the neck and sit there until you need them…sounds like a piece one could hook the string onto when the time is needed and unhook from when not needed?
@JB…I never tried to contact Hohwalds team, so I cant really comment on the amount of help given from them. Also, the book that I was given doesn’t have a cd or dvd with it so I dont really get to compare what is written vs. what is played. To be dead honest, I have thoroughly enjoyed trying to learn ‘You are my sunshine’…I suppose it has something to do with the fact that at one point in my life, my wife was depressed after having our children and I would sing this to her at night to calm her nerves…it always worked lol. So far though, when I have played the tune for her, she can’t pick out which song it is so I must not be doing a good enough job just yet lol.

Charles, That is exactly what spikes are. When installed correctly they work great.

Most people, unless they are bluegrass musicians, don’t recognize a song played on the banjo. Many rhythm guitar players have a hard time learning bluegrass, in part because of the amount of “side notes” around the actual melody notes seem to make it difficult for them to pick out the melody and clues to the next chord that might be thrown in.

Banjo is much more reconisable when accompanied by a guitar & Bass.

I never really thought about that but I was just listening to some grass a second ago and I tried to imagine it without the other instruments and I would think it could be very difficult. Very interesting. Man I surely appreciate all this help…holy crap yall are way cooler than anyone around where i live lol.

i just started playing the banjo myself less than a year ago.i have been playing guitar for several years,nothing real fancy.but i’m telling you i never had as much fun and pure satisfaction out of it than i get while playing banjo.and with bens help i’ve been progressing at a pace faster than i could have ever imagined.that 5 bucks a month is the best money i’ve spent. 2 thumbs way up!

I know what you mean about getting pure satisfaction out of playing the banjo. My mothers family is from a long line of local musicians. The latest being her sister and nephew. My aunt plays bass guitar and her son plays drums…not so much anymore, though they did a lot in years back. But before them was my grandfather who is now passed away. He could play anything with strings. He was a lead guitar/banjo kind of guy. When he passed, he left behind several lead and rhythm guitars, banjos, a steel/slide guitar, a bunch of basses and a drum set. He just…‘got it’…he knew how to make the sounds he wanted come out of whatever he played. I remember being a little boy and going with my family to watch him play at the Greer Opry House. The music excited me. I never took an interest in playing anything until well after he had passed away, but the better I get, I feel more and more satisfaction in maybe the legacy that I could possibly continue…if that sounds feasible. Grant it, my family never went on tour or anything even remotely close to doing anything big, but in our little local town, they were very well known around small opry houses as well as upscale and downscale bars. Now I don’t fancy myself a drinker by any means and I am not the type of guy that hangs out at beer joints, but I do take pride in knowing that I am continuing on in the steps of the ones who came before me. That and the sound of a rippin solo…(as if I could do that lol)…there is no better satisfaction!