Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Best Applications


As many of you probably know… I am a proud lifer of the site and have previously requested @BanjoBen to do a “Best technology” lesson… informing us on those items that he might use or recommend…

However, it sounded like a great topic to submit to all.

Is there a nice app on iTunes you like? Is there a book or DVD lesson that helped you (to only act as a compliment to Ben’s fine teaching and guest instructors, of course)? What about a good reference manual, chord book or Instrument “Bible” to pick up from Amazon?

Right now, I would like to get a nice book on Mandolin… and some items for measuring humidity - not only in my case… but also a nice one for my home. I am also curious if anyone has used the Wood Treatment that is in the store?

List 1… or 10… but share the little thing that’s made a big difference.

Looking forward to reading your replies!

I am a big fan of el cheapo electronic hygrometers ($8 at wally-world). I have several around the house. Many folks will say the cheap ones aren’t worth anything, but they are consistent and I can cross check them with each other. You can do a calibrated check if you want (I did with the first one). They tell me what I need to know (when to humidify).

Hi @WillCoop

  1. Sean Ray and Jack Hatfield books are excellent
  2. Alan Munde DVDs are pretty advanced but well worth the investment.
  3. I have used Glyde Cote from Stelling. Read somewhere recently that it’s no longer available perhaps @Jake Our Quartermaster could advise on this. @BanjoBen Is now an Authoriser Stelling Dealership

Snark tuner. Matches snark teen :joy: :smirk:

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Software I use (in no particular order) :

For pc and mac, not available on mobile devices :

  • “Band In A Box” : gives accompaniment at any chosen speed. A bit pricey, and you have to put in the chords yourself. A lot of styles (bluegrass, jazz,…) to choose from. And lots of bells and whistles.

  • “Audacity” : free software to edit audio files, for example adding effects. I use it solely to slown down songs of records so I can hear the solo note for note.

  • “MuseScore” : free software to create standard music notation scores. I only use it for arranging vocal harmonies.

  • “TablEdit” : cheap but good software to create and play tablature. Since I don’t use tablature a lot, I don’t use it often. Still, for its low price it still is worth it.

  • a metronome application, any one will do. Thàt I use a LOT !

For mobile devices, not available on pc or mac :

  • “iReal Pro” : like Band In A Box, gives accompaniement at any chosen speed. Dirt cheap, and it comes with a library of songs, eg 300 bluegrass standards that you can download. Also a lot of styles, but not as elaborated as BIAB. Worth every penny. [Correction : iReal Pro is also available on Mac, so no need for BIAB there if you’re happy with basic backing tracks. Yet the app is not available on Windows machines]

  • “Amazing Slow Downer” : does what the name says. Also very cheap, also worth every cent.

[Update : To amplify the sound of my mobile devices, I use JBL Charge 3, a Bluetooth speakerbox]

I have lots of instructional books, CD’s and DVD’s, like Jack Hatfield, Earl Scruggs’ book, the Murphy Method, Tony Trischka’s, etc etc etc etc. None of whicb I have ever fully completed. I have a reasonably developed brain, but when it comes to learning music, I have the attention span of a mayfly with ADHD.
That’s why I just tell myself to learn tunes. Lots and lots of tunes.

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I used a Korg PS50 for years and my timing improved greatly , . I also had a PSS60 which in my opinion one of the best back up machines of all times . still have the PS50 but the 60 bit the dust long agon . I may go with band in a box. I do understand the benefit of having back up to ,make you and me a better player… The Korgs had a steep learning curve is the only reason I may change as they require a lot of set up to get just one tune or song started .

Can you elaborate on this one? I’ve never heard of it, but I looked it up and it sounds pretty cool. There’s no trial, so I don’t know what all comes with it. Are those 300 standard bluegrass tunes a separate purchase?

Hey Mark, there’s nothing much I can add, it’s all so easy and fluid. You can start with an unpaid version I think, but it has limited capabilities if you want to create and save your own accompaniment tracks. I went to the paid version very quickly - and to my pleasant surprise, you pay only once and you can install it on every device that has your google-account (on Android), so no need to re-purchase if you upgrade your mobile.
The song libraries (playlists) are free, you just go to the forum and download them.
Creating your own track is a bit of hassle, so read the tutorial carefully. After a while you’ll get the hang of it.
Band In A Box has a lot more features, eg. Solomaker, but I’m only interested in having an adjustable backing track, so iReal Pro works just fine.
Correction : iReal Pro is also available on Mac, so you don’t even need BIAB but not a Windows machine.

Thanks for that!

I guess my biggest question is, how does it sound for bluegrass backing? The videos I’ve found make it sound like it’s really designed for jazz, having a piano, drums, and bass to play with. Are there any acoustic guitar options? Not much piano and drums in bluegrass. :slight_smile:

Think again:

Paino, drums, and an organ and two electric guitars for good measure

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Hi Mark
The Bluegrass style is “Mandolin”, “Muted Mandolin” and Electric Bass :


And it sounds like this :

A bit electronic, I know, but hey it’s better than the clicks of a metronome !


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Very cool! I can see this coming in handy for practicing while I’m on the road. Thanks for taking the time to post all of that!

O yes, I also use a little app called “Interval Recognition”, almost on a daily basis, to train my ears to hear the distinct intervals… Costs almost next to nothing.

I use many of the same software tools as above including:

  • MuseScore for notation FREE
  • Reaper for Multitrack audio Recording
  • Band in a Box for quick backing tracks for lessons
  • Tabledit for tablatures
  • for pre-made backing tracks of popular guitar tunes (Mostly rock and pop) FREE
  • for teaching basic music theory skills and lessons (I got middle schoolers writing their own tunes with this program and a few extra lessons from me on melody writing. Also great for learning aural interval and chord recognition skills) FREE
  • for hundreds of bluegrass and old timey tunes with words. (Many songs include simple recordings of the song) FREE
  • Melodia (for teaching simple sight reading) the book is over 100 years old but still is the best (simplest) graded sight reading book available (exercises go from extremely easy to difficult so slowly that you don’t realize you are getting better quickly) FREE in PDF format

I’ve got much more, but that is a decent start. :wink:


Keep ‘me coming Mike - @DrGuitar1 !

All this feedback is just AWESOME.

Of course, all that play Banjo and appreciate the Wizardry of Mr. Scruggs’ masterful work will get his book.

I am looking for something like that for Mandolin… especially with the versatility and musical scope of the instrument… there must be something out there…

Oh… and is there a “super tuner” out there that people like? I have a Snark but I am not soooo impressed with it. Sometimes, it seems to barely picks up the “E” tone of my high Mando string. It seems to “hear” it as an “A”.

I was wondering if anyone has used the Wood Conditioner product on the site?

You know… I also have a built-in humidifier in my new home (to protect the wood floors) but I am worried with the dry heat months to come in the winter.

I have a Humidity conditioner Pack for my soft shell case… but I ask @jake - what is the proper humidity level to be “safe”?

Sierra hull has a dvd available on her website, that teaches the songs from her album, secrets.

This is something I’ve noticed it does, you just have to set you hand on the fifth interval string to mute it.

I’m fairly sure somewhere between 35% and 50% is safe but it’s always good to have a luthier’s opinion :joy:

Oh yeah, mandolin for dummies!

Awesome responses @K_G - THANKS for your input and all the specific answers for my points.

My intention was to open up ALL technology to ALL Forum participants… a “best tech practices” kind of approach… so thanks again for the direct responses.

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Your welcome. I’ll stop hogging now :blush:

Nope - I want all the info you (and everyone else) can offer!

I am (and other Forum members, I am sure… like @Maggie and her cut finger, for example) appreciative because it is based on direct personal experiences. Things tried… and worked… is powerful to share! Keep the ideas coming!

Back to Snark… is there another type or company that makes a “more accurate” tuner - even at a higher cost?

For the Mando Book, I was looking for something more… uh… with the instrument’s historical context too. Like “The Mandolin: A History” by Graham McDonald… although this seems less instructional and more Informational… a reading reference, if you will. I tried to put a link to Amazon’s page for this book using my iPhone - but could acquire the link as it didn’t show up in the Address Bar.

Or, I am too dumb to use this iPhone Technology properly… :smirk: