Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Confused about the speed of the mp3 playalongs

Brand new banjo player here, having lots of fun and trying to get better.

I’ve been working on Worried Man Blues and playing along w/ my metronome and now I want to try working w/ the backing tracks.

I’m confused about the 100BPM w/ Banjo backing tracks( titled WorriedManBlues-Banjo-100BPM ). The song is in a 4/4 measure, but when listening to the tracking it sounds to me like Ben is playing more at 200 BPM ( based off of the last measure of the song). This track is also half as long as the 100 BPM guitar backing track.

Should I be striving to be picking at 200 bpm for this song? It seems like that is a pretty big jump from 60-80-100 to then 200.


I’m not a banjo player, but I’ve encountered this at a local bluegrass jam I was attending for a while last year. Some folks are using quarter notes as the baseline and others use eighth notes. The group (intermediates) at this jam said they’d play at 80-100 bpm. I thought it was going to get bored quickly, but they were actually playing at what I considered 160-200. Depending on the tune, I start crashing and burning on the mandolin anywhere between 200 and 230.

I figured that might be the case. I was just feeling pretty good about myself being able to play 100 bpm on my metronome, so I thought I’d try to play along that mp3 and it was a bit surprising. I’ll just have to start working up through the 100s :slight_smile:

Which leads to my next question: When starting out, is it more beneficial to just work on one (or two) songs until you can play up to speed before trying to learn others? IOW, should my initial focus by on building picking speed (with accuracy, or course)?

Some of the other guys here turned me on some practice sites that have backing tracks. I use these two alot:

I suspect different people will give you different answers about when to move on to learning new songs. Personally I wait until I have a decent handle on a song, but not necessarily playing it at speed. The first link up above lets you control the tempo w/o losing pitch. And you can turn the full band off and on, and loop. The second site is just one guy and a guitar, who plays at different speeds in each of his clips.

So I played along with the mp3s and at 100BPM, you are playing the song at pretty much full speed, the same speed that Ben plays it in the preview for the lesson. So if you try the 60BPM version, it will be just a bit faster than what you’re used to now (at YOUR 100 BPM). You repeat the break three times during the practice mp3s.

I’ve been learning with Ben for three years now.

I think, especially if this is your first stringed instrument, that speed is not so important right now. To play really fast, you have to play without thinking, almost automatically. This takes a lot of time and a lot of practice.

What’s more important than speed is keeping your interest up. Learning new songs is fun and makes practicing fun, not dull and repetitive. Anything you can do that makes you want to practice more is good!

My method is to first memorize the song and throw away the tab. This way, you can practice anywhere (like sitting in front of the TV while watching your team lose the hockey game!) and you don’t need a book or screen to play. This way too, you can concentrate more on the sound and less on marks on a piece of paper.

Once you can make the song sound sort of, kind of recognizable (probably after playing it 100 to 300 times or so) I would feel all right about learning a new song. But I would still play the songs I already knew at least once a day. I think this is REALLY IMPORTANT to do.

Ben chooses songs that teach you the fundamental vocabulary of playing the banjo. As you learn more of this vocabulary and can play it without thinking (which means practicing and repetition) learning songs and learning how to play the sounds you hear in your head becomes easier and easier.

Have fun and practice…a lot!

Thanks for the explanation, maybe I don’t fully understand how time signatures work?

The time signature is 4/4, so shouldn’t there be four quarter notes per measure? So when you say it’s MY 100 BPM, I think I"m playing based on what’s on the PDF. At Ben’s speed, it sounds like there are two quarter notes per measure. I just want to make sure I’m understanding where I’m mistaken here…

As for the rest, I’m close to mistake free at 120 bpm (with my metronome)…or should I say 60 bpm? :slight_smile:

Alright, cool, I think I got it figured out. When Ben counts out at the beginning, each count is for an entire measure. Now I’m playing along w/ the 60 bpm mp3 (poorly, of course :slight_smile: )

Derek, it sounds like you understand time signatures to me. I actually no longer understand my own explanation vis a vis 1/4 notes and 1/8 notes. LOL. Maybe it’s better to think of it in terms of the pulse provided by the Bass player. Usually they’re playing on 1 and 3 in a 4/4 song. Some BG songs are so fast they can go beyond what a metronome can handle if you try to hit every quarter note beat, plus for me anyway, the mind starts to boggle. I wouldn’t be surprise if that’s how this convention of halving the time got started.

Jim your explanation above makes sense. I think the missing ingredient is the count value assigned to a note. I can play “Mary had a little lamb” using quarter notes (for the first seven notes of the song followed by a half note) at 4/4 100 bpm. It will sound identical to the same song being played using half notes played at 4/4 200 bpm. So in general, if someone is playing a moderately fast bluegrass song and they call it as 110 bpm, I am going to guess they are playing alot of sixteenth notes. On the other hand if they call it 220 I am going to guess they are using many eighths (for the same notes that were 16ths at 110). Both versions of the song would sound the same to an outside listener.

I hope I didn’t confuse the issue more.

Again, I’m not exactly an expert in music theory, but does the 4/4 mean that 1/4 notes are one beat? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be 2/4? That’s how I understand it.

Sure, if I’m playing by my lonesome on the banjo, it doesn’t matter. But it does when I’m playing along w/ backing tracks.

Anyways, sorry if I’m getting too pedantic about this, I’m an operational engineer by trade and I get very nit picky about the definitions of words and using correct values, so I just want to make sure I understand fully.

— Begin quote from "derekdaz"

but does the 4/4 mean that 1/4 notes are one beat? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be 2/4?

— End quote

2/4 time would mean there are 2 beats per measure and that a quarter note gets the value of a beat.

In a more generic definition, the upper number is number of beats per measure (2) and the lower number identifies what type of note gets a beat (quarter note).

If one wrote out a song, you could write it in lots of ways. I could write it in 2/4 or 4/4 and the only difference would be how many beats there are in a measure. The 2/4 version would take twice as many measures, but would sound identical. The only difference is the person reading the music would be counting 1, 2, 1, 2, 1… in the 2/4 version and 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2… in the 4/4 version. If someone really liked counting higher numbers you could write it as 8/4 and use half as many measures as the 4/4 version but counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1. This isn’t usually done, but you can do it.

Back to the confusion in the original post: If I go to a jam and some girl next to me is playing the same song, in my mind it could be 200 BPM and in hers 100 BPM. The difference would be for every time I play an 1/8th note, she is playing a 1/16th note, when I am playing a 1/4, she is playing an eighth (and a similar relationship of 2 to 1 would exist for all note lengths). Neither one of us is wrong. The time value of a note gets tied to a particular type of note only when you are writing or reading music.