Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Confessions of a Tab/Tef User

DISCLAIMER: I’m about to make some sweeping albeit personal statements about TAB in the following post. THEY ARE SPECIFIC TO GUITAR. If you’re a banjo player, these comments don’t really apply to you so when you find yourself in violent disagreement with me, just close the thread and move on. Thanks!

I am finding Ben’s guitar lesson tab/tef accompaniments 100% invaluable to my comprehension of both his lesson material AND the song itself; without these study aids, I would be missing key elements of his instruction. I’m going to spend a few minutes of your reading time explaining to anyone interested just why I feel this way, what it is I’m using the material for, and how I’m going about it. Specifically, I’m going to tell you exactly how these materials are making me a better guitar player.

First and foremost, when I approach a new lesson of Ben’s, I watch the lesson Overview pretty much like everybody does. Then I download BOTH the tab AND the tef files, because I intend to use them both in my study, but for different purposes.

The first thing I do is try to run through the song as a rhythm guitar player. I do this because I will undoubtedly spend more time accompanying a group as their guitar player than standing in front of my sidekicks pretending that I’m Tony Rice. This, to me, is the heart of my approach to these tabs at the moment, in my quest to replace Jimmy Martin (no,… just kidding, Mr. Martin). Since we’re talking about a maximum of around three to five chords per song, it’s not like I have to learn (left hand) new motor skills most of the time. Anyway, I like to run through the tab as written and play rhythm guitar to the exact note values written in the tablature. That’s right,… I am a proponent of my being able to sightread BEAT, using the exact timing values Ben has written, and even more important, using the down/up principals that Ben has gone to so much trouble to expose both in his tablature AND in his video explanations. Will I ever end up fronting a group playing guitar like this? I sure as heck hope so, because it’s up to me as the band’s percussion-and-rhythm section to make sure I don’t fight the singer or the soloist on the phrasing of the tempo. And that of course goes double for when I’m backing myself singing. Clearly there’s more to strumming rhythm than standing there going down-up down-up chick-a-boom for six minutes. And using the lead line phrasing to mold my rhythm-and-strumming is a great place for me to start. I even try to relegate my cross-pick phrasing into the written beat, a lesson in itself most of the time.

Now,… will learning from Ben’s tablature dilute or inhibit my musical creativity? I only wish the words “are-you-flipping-insane” had a better two-syllable shorthand than “SayWhat?” I mean, does anyone seriously believe that learning to read music stifles your inner Beethoven? “SayWhat?”

I am making it a serious point this year to learn to sightread tab for guitar, specifically because it will simply make the lessons go faster and a little more to the intended tempo. I can’t think of a single skill I wish I had more right now than the ability to sightread Ben’s tablature. So by this time next year, I’m hoping that this will have become a reality.

I know that the tef files and the associated reader hold huge promise for my learning, but seriously, at this point in time, I find the tab files completely adequate for my needs. I use the tef file to spend time listening to two or three measures at a time, in repetition as I try to commit a lick or a phrasing to muscle memory.

I’m beginning to appreciate the huge amount of time and effort that Ben Clark has put into each and every lesson he offers, and the thought that he has placed into the lesson plan and his use of media to convey musical instruction.

So in short, let me recap my feelings here very succinctly: I believe that being able to actually read Ben’s tablature is making me a better guitar student, and consequently a better guitar player.

Your mileage may vary. Alot.


Hi Billy.

Lead line phrasing while playing rhythm can be useful at times. It makes a nice part of a warmup routine also.

Are you aware that Ben includes the actual rhythm he plays on all the Tef Tabs?

Reading either tab or notation gets easier with time, like anything else. A great companion study to help your reading skills is to write tab also.

Reads like you have a pretty good routine set up.

If I could make one suggestion…also practice playing while not reading…in other words, work on memorisation. even if it’s only one measure or lick per day.

Example: yesterday (actual 3rd day total) I ran through the tab of Fisher’s Hornpipe.until I could get through it without having to check the tab …today I will start my playing by checking how much I remember of what I previously went through. I am betting I don’t need to rely on the tab at all today…I’ve been doing this a long time, so it doesn’t take that long.

For myself, the sooner I can ween myself of having to read the piece to get through it, the sooner I start to really hear and understand what I’m playing. It opens up a lot of doors like paying more attention to timing & dynamics, where I might throw in possible substitutions & variations etc.

Have fun!



Hey Dave,

Thanks for reading and responding!

Yeah,… to make a long story short, when I stand up in front of people with an axe in my hand, they’re gonna be hearing a lot more Billy Shaw and a lot less Ben Clark. Anything “Ben” about my performing is going to have been embedded into muscle memory weeks or months beforehand.

Thanks again!



That’s what it’s all about.


Also, while I’m trying to learn a new song, especially off tablature, I make it a point to see if I can find videos of:

  • Tony Rice
  • Jimmy Martin
  • Jerry Garcia

doing the song… That pretty much covers my bases…


I think Ben’s music gives more than enough practice in all different picking techniques while it also gives the satisfaction of learning a great arrangement. My approach is to do sight reading to get it clean first to speed it up gradually. The faster pace relaxes the fingers. Memorization also becomes easier at that point. Playing is getting easier day by day. Once I’m fully comfortable with all these, I will think about more theory and creativity as I’m lazy for that now.


Going your own pace, taking the approach that works best for you is a big theme of this site. It takes a while and some experimentation for each of us to even find out what learning method works best for “me”.

It’s good to keep in mind that Ben includes building licks/breaks, lick replacement, and improvisation as part of several lessons. should you get to the point of wanting to learn those things to begin teaching yourself. .


In the last couple of months, I’ve taken to videotaping my picking hand. I’ve been really picky on myself on right hand (picking hand) motion and picking technique. When I first started playing banjo, I spent about two years working on my right hand… so I don’t think that spending a couple of months getting the flatpick motion itself down correctly is out of the realm for the way I usually approach learning a new skill.

Does anybody else here use video specifically for self-evaluation? I’d be interested in what you use it for and what you actually look for in your critiques.



Agreed. I’m planning to devote some time on that sometime.


Many of us have checked out technique with video., both alone and posted here for critique.comments.

I’ve done it but have just as good of luck identifying & correcting problems when playing by eye. & feel.

I go beck to the fundamentals quit often. Currently I’m working on both hands, but by far the biggest emphasis has been big on flatpick technique and clean, ringing notes.


The more I pay attention to this, the better my guitar ends up sounding! I never realized how much I was holding that poor thing back until I actually starting learning what the heck I was doing… and now it’s sounding more like the Martin I brought home.


I think freeing up of fingers and smooth movement (comes from practice) also helps with better sounding/ringing tone.


I couldn’t agree more.

Absolutely. Relaxation is an important key in playing and a constant goal for me. When we tighten up, we sound tightened up.



Great post, @BillyD! I do work hard on the tabs and I’m glad you appreciate them. It’s silly for anyone to say that learning tab is counterproductive. I will say that forcing yourself to learn by ear will engage the brain in a slightly different way, and should be pursued as well :wink:


I appreciate them VERY much and I think it’s safe to say MANY others do as well. Your super clear accurate tabs add tons of quality and value to your already great lessons. I’ve seen far to many tabs (from other people) that are a little confusing and just don’t quite match what they play. But not yours!


Ok so here’s my tuppence…
Tab is a tool, and tools are meant for use.
Lessons, videos, tef, forums, and even CDs are also tools.
Each on can help you learn, and each one, if used exclusively, can hinder you from learning by other methods, but only if you’ve decided that you won’t learn by another method. Each tool uses a different part of your brain, just like physical tools use different muscles. It’s no good deciding you only use a hammer when you need to saw something, and it’s no good deciding you only work from tef when you need to transcribe something from a CD.

It makes the most sense to me to learn to use all the tools I have to the best of my ability so I don’t wear out my screwdrivers trying to get a nail out.

So go ahead, use your tabs, learn to sight read, and while you’re at it, learn standard notation too, it’s another useful tool, and will open up a whole new world of repertoire.
But while you’re at it, don’t neglect to learn to work something out from a CD or video, and especially don’t neglect memorization!

Learning to use all your tools will help make you a more well rounded player, and also will make you smarter, not just more knowledgeable, but actually smarter as it helps you learn how to learn.

Wish you all the best, and I hope you won’t let any of your tools get rusty from disuse.



Well put Gunnar!