Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Critique my playing

Well after a few years of not being able to post for some reason here on the forums I have finally made it back. Looks like a lot of new faces and still some of the old crowd from a few years back.

I’ve advanced over the past few years, tons of scale practice, learning how to “hear” music, wrapping my head around theory, and now just plain ol’ having fun with it.

I’m at the point where I am concerned about my technique (both hands) and wanted to see if you guys will critique it for me? Maybe Ben will chime in.

This is a really rough recording with a cell phone of my playing over top of Tony Rice’s version of Jerusalem ridge (in my haste I named the video wrong).

I’d appreciate some feedback from some of you pickers in what I am doing right and wrong with either hand.

Again, this is a rough recording/video. Wife just hit record on her phone and let me play, no edits, horrible sound, etc…but you can see both hands fairly well.


I like your shoes . as for your playing it is fine, of course I am not a critic and have no business telling any one how they sound . but you sound real good , bear in mind sometimes the little things people do that is wrong turns out to be so right for them and the listener. To thy own self be true. I am not saying you are doing anything wrong.


Thanks Welder.

About the shoes - I’m no longer a “northerner” from Ohio but now in Tennessee. One thing about the south is that we have a lot of red clay. That red clay stains your carpet and hardwood floors, so momma makes us all take our shoes off in the breezeway before coming into the house as she hates that red clay. Oh, and don’t mind my grass cutting hat. I’m a golfer and likewise keep up with about 5 acres of lawn at my place…way too many 60 year old golf buddies are having cancer burned off their face, so I figured I’d better protect mine with an ugly hat. I’m probably outside in the sun at least 6 hours every day and sometimes 12 or so. I’m by no means a “pretty boy” but I don’t want to go through having parts of my face removed like a lot of guys have to that spend that much time out in the sun.

I was not ragging on your appearance , I think you looked good . I go around in my sock feet all day and only put my shoes on when I go somewhere . I am from Tenn and live in Ohio . it had to do with jobs and stuff back in the early 50’s Dad had to raise a family and he did a nice job of it . I hope that you got what I was saying about to thy own self be true, it means I can not be Tony Rice nor can I play like him I may be an awful player but it my own world I think I do fine . You sound great !

Sounds and looks great! The only feedback I’d give (and this is basically generic advice that applies most everyone… it certainly applies to me) is to avoid doing things that cause one to tighten up. As odd as it sounds, force yourself to relax. An example I would note is at 0:35 where there is an 8th note picked out descending run. Your left shoulder pulls in and the neck goes up in an expressive fashion. I suspect that movement added tension to both arms/hands. Try playing that section like it’s just “Mary had a little lamb” (the kid’s song version as opposed to the SRV version). See if that helps make it more fluid and makes the notes pop even more clearly. When I see Ben, Bryan Sutton or TR hit a difficult section they typically look the same as when are playing whole notes. They aren’t bored, but their shoulders, arms and hands look that way. It may or may not help you to try that approach, but it’s worth a shot.
Again, it looks and sounds great!

Ben is right on tension I am Mr tense in the flesh.

Thanks for the help Ben! I need to work on that a bunch.

Jesse, I forgot to mention it earlier, but I like that it is obvious that you LOVE playing. That’s carries through in the way it sounds. Keep on picking!

Thanks for the responses guys, they are helpful and I hope this helps out others also.

Seems we start playing an instrument out of simply wanting to make music. Then it starts to snowball into getting “decent”, then you become obsessed with trying to get “good”. I realized my obsession a few months back once I figured out all my scales, figured out my ear, figured out what notes go better with others, etc…and then I said to myself:

“Self you have been neglecting that right hand”. So I am gonna make a serious effort into correcting it.

MIke - yeah that spot you mentioned is not “tough” for me, but I am tossing in a lot of notes there and if i don;t approach that like a “dance move” then it goes south quickly. I will work on that phrase.

Ben - I’ll surely be watching all those videos.

It seems that there is not a lot of resources out there for us flat pickers. I truly appreciate your guys feedback and am pretty confident that I will be askign more questions as I go along. Most of you may know that I played college golf back in the day and I look at playing an instrument as being no different - you not only have to the fundamentals but you must have the discipline also. I am going about my guitar playing the same way.

To note: I made that vid for a friend. He was trying to get me to use blue chip picks, so one day the mail man came and he had sent me two blue chip picks. with a note that said "I want to see a vid of you using them. So I ran into the house, grabbed the guitar (did nto warm up), tossed on this version of Jerusalem Ridge and played over it…didn’t warm up or anything. Then I sent him the vid. It was the first time ever with the new pick and I was a bit stiff.

Another question:

I’m a short fellow. used to be about 5ft 7 and with my my age (approaching 50) I have shrunk a bit. For someone my size, that big ol dread is a lot to wrap myself around. If you were going to buy a slightly smaller guitar, what would it be and still retain that bluegrass sound/volume that comes out of the D18?? I sure like my old Martin, but I feel I may need to switch to something a bit smaller. Any ideas?

— Begin quote from "oldhat"

If you were going to buy a slightly smaller guitar, what would it be and still retain that bluegrass sound/volume that comes out of the D18??

— End quote

An OM18 sounds like a D18 with a little less volume and bottom abut a little more punch and more clarity for lead lines. Super comfy too. Give one a shake and see what you think. Give it a good long trial. At first strum you’ll think “this doesn’t have the bottom I need”. After a while I bet it grows on you. I have an OM18v, which has a V neck, but there are variants available (MFG and elsewhere) that have the modern profile neck.

Great to have you back here on the forum Jesse!

Thanks for posting the video and good job.

This isn’t really critiqueing, but I’ll tell you what has been helping me. I noticed that you drag your pinky and maybe even ring finger on the guitar top. It’s not planting but more like your brushing the top for stability. (At least it appears so). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, countless players do it and so do I. But I’ve found that using a closed fist (very loosely - not like you’re going to punch out your boss or maybe someone at Wal-Mart) and letting the bottom of my wrist brush the tops of the bridge pins has helped considerably with speed and control. It was very un-natural and uncomfortable at first and it took alot of time, but now it feels very natural and going the other way feels strange. The funny thing is that on slower songs, I still like to put my pinky down. I really only lift and go with a closed hand on faster flatpicking or rythym. You may want to try it, it has definitely helped me.

Ben and Mike are both right, keep it loose and try to not tense up. I’m the pot calling the kettle black as I said that because I have the same problem with tensing up.

Remember, this works for me. It may not work for you or others, but maybe it will. Try it for awhile, see if it helps.

Looks like I butted in on you guys, sorry. I think we were all on at the same time.

— Begin quote from "oldhat"

If you were going to buy a slightly smaller guitar, what would it be and still retain that bluegrass sound/volume that comes out of the D18?? I sure like my old Martin, but I feel I may need to switch to something a bit smaller. Any ideas?

Steve Kaufman switched to an OM (primarily a Collings). I know he’s always recieved some criticism, but I still like him. I went to two weekend classes at Wildwood Music in Coshocton years ago and he was more than helpful. I mean he really seemed sincere about helping people learn to play guitar. He even let me play his 7 string Gallagher (the original one).

Check out some of his later you tube videos playing his OM, I think it sounds great.

BTW: What are the Blue Chips your friend sent and how do like them?

— End quote

I missed JW’s previous posts… must have been we were typing at the same time (so it didn’t show me I had unread posts in this thread). JW, you didn’t butt in on anyone, but thanks for being so polite :smiley:

I too am a knuckle dragger. I too have tried going to loose fist and found it felt REALLY weird. I got more comfy with it over time but drifted back to being a knuckle dragger. I bet it would have helped if I stayed with it.

I didn’t know Steve went to an OM. I’ll check it out. I also didn’t know he received much criticism. That seems kind of weird as he is a top flight player and he also seemed like a “good guy” as well.

I like the blue chips. I’ve played with high end picks for some time now and to tell you the truth I have now switched over to BlueChip.

My friend ordered me the TAD 40 and TAD 55. I was already accustomed to playing the larger pick, so that transition was easy enough.

I thought I’d like the TAD 55 but that is not the case. I have really settled into the TAD 40 as there is a bit of flex to it. I can feel it, but it is by no means like roasting a hot dog on a sapling over the camp fire. I personally think it suits my playing perfectly. Where the TAD 55 feels like a 2x4 made from Oak…it’s stiff.

I think the two picks that were sent to me (even had name engraved) probably were close to $100.

Oh, I was sent the picks due to stopping by unannounced while I was in Ohio and playing a small venue with a few pickers that I had not seen in 4-5 years. They ended up getting enough donations from the folks that we each were entitled to $100 or so. I turned it down. He had been trying for some time through emails and such to get me to switch, so he took what he considered my share of the money and sent me the picks.

When it comes to tone, I think they are on par with about anything I have ever used on the high end. I honestly have zero complaints and the TAD 40 (1.0 mm) probably has at least 4 months of wear so far (I probably play a minimum of 20 hours a week and during winter probably more like 50 hours a week. Also note that the 1.0 does not feel as “floppy” as those cheap picks of the same thickness one can pick up for $1.00 each).

I chose to settle into the TAD 40 because shifting from flat picking a break right into rhythm is an easy transition and sounds good going either way. The TAD 55 I found myself having to adjust the pick prior to the transition into either. I don’t mind flat picking with the TAD 55 but I don’t enjoy banging out those fast bluegrass rhythms with it. I never lose it, but it seems I am doing a lot of in-flight adjustments with it.

The beveled edges are great. Both of mine have the “speed bevel”. These to me are the best feeling picks for sliding like butter across a string.

Here is a picture I took of them on my guitar for your reference. I am a blue chip pick guy now and since you’ve reminded me I will will probably order 2 new ones once I finish this post. Because we all know how horrible it is to lose your favorite pick and not have an identical back up. I typically can keep track of a pick for a year or so, but you never know.

Fellas I messed up. The TAD 55 I was referencing above is actually the CT 55. Please note it, my bad. Next time I need to actually look. This pick is the one that Chris Thile uses and was designed for him (No wonder my buddy chose it, he’s also a mandolin player).

About my pinkie:

Man I have tried everything to get that thing off the guitar. It floats across the top and I very rarely “plant it firm”. To me my martin sounds best on the 1-3 strings back a bit. I’m wearing a hole in my guitar because of my pinkie.

I’ve watched the Bryan Sutton video before about closing your hand like you have a sandwich in it. I switch to that for awhile then go back to my old habits without even realizing it. Or I will start getting comfortable with it but not competent and maybe a few jams will come up and I have to resort back to my old style to “keep up” and that puts me back to square one again. One of these days I’ll be determined enough to say “enough is enough” and just deal with the switch.

On a smaller guitar:

I’d switch today if I could find one that fits the bill. My D18 has this rough in your face type sound when flat picking, I love it. It as smooth as butter on the strum when I’m in rhythm mode she’ll sustain for days. It sounds great on songs like “Angeline the Baker” since it is all in D and G and the droning effect is spectacular. I can bang a down stroke on that for the last beat, grab it by the neck, walk over and place it on it’s stand and it’s still chirpin’. When other music or musicians are playing and I am not, it wants to get right up and jump out of my lap…it sure oscillates.

I’ll probably go off the above suggestions, head to Gruhn and a few other shops here in the Nashville area and spend a day or so with a few guitars and go from there.

If you go to Gruhn’s check out the 0000-18 customs they had made. It’s basically like a D18GE with a 0000 body. Sound wise it falls between the D18GE and the OM18. It’s not a small guitar, but if you want D18 type of tone, I think you’ll like it and I find the 0000 a bit more comfy than the D.

BTW JW, I went to look up Steve and his OM. I had seen that before and just forgot. It looked “normal” once I saw him. The vids on youtube with the OM go way back with him playing an OM.


We need to get to bed. We are in the same time zone. I Hate being on the eastern most part of this time zone. It’s dark by 4:30 here in the winter.

I’ve got family rolling in for the Holidays tomorrow and I have been working on getting our guest house in order. But I am soon to be off to bed.

I seen one of those Gruhn exclusive customs on craigslist a few months back. The seller didn’t really go into detail in what exactly it was and I didn’t make the effort to do my research. Now I know thanks to you. I’ll check one or two or three out.

You mentioned a smaller guitar… if you get this we could be twinkies:
theunofficialmartinguitarforum.y … vqJg9IrJiw

That was a great review of the BlueChips oldhat. Nothing I could add that you didn’t say. Ironically I own the same two picks. The CT-55 is used only for mandolin as like you I find it too heavy for guitar. I got the TAD 40 for Christmas and am slowly getting use to it. I’ve used Wegen Bluegrass (1.2mm I think) picks for years and it’s taken a little time adjusting to the larger size even though I use the same size for mando. Also, the BlueChip is my “pick” of picks for pulling the best tone out of my guitars and mandolin.
Sure enjoyed your posts and earlier clip in this thread!


Is odd that we ended up with our first BlueChips being the same! I tell you what, if you decide not to use the 40 on the guitar then I’ll swap ya the CT55 so you can have two for your mando. :laughing: