Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Chris Nissen from Merrimack, New Hampshire

What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
Primary reason was to help develop brain function as I’ve read how amazing music is for brain health and development; secondary is a long-time admiration for mandolin players speed and dynamic range of playing. Finally, I love all theory behind it and the challenge of putting theory into practice and how relaxing and satisfying that is as skills develop over time and become second-nature (as our brains rewire!)

How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
Just over a year; bought my first mandolin in December of 2018; joined BanjoBen’s shortly thereafter. Many motivations as described above but in a nutshell, understanding music and being able to play is so satisfying and makes one more well-rounded.

What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
Oh that’s a hard one - there are so many! I would say the series on Rhythm, understanding the fretboard. My greatest challenge has been timing which all of the lessons, given the TEF files and the ability to use TablEdit to work on building up timing and speed are invaluable.

What’s your goal when playing?
Accuracy, timing and speed and getting to the point where I’m so familiar with the fretboard that it becomes second nature (that’s a ways off for me still!) Also being able to play without sheet music. I’m just starting to be able to do that for portions of certain songs.

Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
I purchased a keyboard because of the teaching value in understanding what’s going on on the fretboard and the fun in mapping music from one instrument to another. Also an octave mandolin as someday I’d like to start learning some Irish tunes and its nice to hear the lower tones. Also good to practice with larger finger spacings on the larger fretboard. I find the sustainment of the Octave gives certain tunes an amazing character.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I have literally dozens of hobbies but music is the one that I’ll never move on from so I guess it would be to continue to grow musically. That’s something that will easily last the rest of my lifetime!

Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
Cross Picking

What artist(s) most inspire you?
Chris Thile - I saw an interview with him talking about the future of music being “Genre Hopping”. It is amazing to watch him work a classical piece into the middle of a folk or bluegrass piece! It’s so exciting to imagine how this could change music in such interesting ways and challenge us all. His rendition of “Another New Day” is simply amazing.

What do you do for a living?
I am an electrical engineer specializing in communications systems by training but I work on identifying and solving long-range big strategic challenges for the security of the U.S.

What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
For right now, the upcoming Banjo Ben’s Inaugural Camp of 2019! Can’t wait!

How did you find out about Banjo Ben?"
I travel a lot and so it wasn’t practical to find a local tutor so I put a lot of time and energy into finding the best tutor I could available on the Internet. Banjo Ben is by far the best! So it was through personal research.

Who are your favorite pickin’ heroes (bluegrass and country artists)?
Too many to mention - I used to listen to the Grande Ole Opry on Saturday night on WSM with my Dad in the 70’s when I was growing up so I like all the classics. I remember the first time I saw a mandolin player on TV it was Bill Monroe and I asked Dad what he was playing. He would be thrilled to see me learning it if he were still alive. But I like the music of Tom T. Hall, Waylon and Willie, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Bob Wills, Hank Williams Sr and Jr, all the old-school. More modern I love Patty Loveless’s bluegrass sounds, Brad Paisley’s pickin’, and Tom Petty (yes, he has some great country tunes too!)

Anything else you’d like to add?
First of all, just a big THANK YOU to Ben and everyone at Banjo Ben’s! I cannot say how much all of your efforts have made learning music in an isolated environment not only possible but enjoyable. With my current work schedule it would be almost impossible to join a small group of amateurs to improve my group play but that is certainly a goal for the future. Banjo Ben’s teaching and lessons, especially with the TEF files provide us lone pickers the ability to learn everything from basic to advanced techniques and practice our rhythm and timing solo to the point where we’ll be able to start playing with others more easily in the future.


Congrats Chris! Very interesting to read and learn more about you and your goals with the Mandolin. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do something that is both relaxing and fun with the added benefit of achieving a skill. Happy Picking!

Thanks! I hope I get the chance to meet you some day!

Welcome and congrats! Hope to see you around the board

Welcome aboard Chris, and congratulations on gpotw! Thanks for sharing. Like you, I’m somewhat isolated from a firsthand teaching experience and really appreciate Ben’s website. Looking forward to meeting you at the camp!

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The mental challenge of music one of the things I love about it. It’s also very group oriented and requires a lot of teamwork.


That’s a very interesting concept.

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Nice to meet you Chris, thank you for sharing your story with us