Dear Ben, Is it wrong?


Hi Ben, I have been working on Nine Pound Hammer for a couple of weeks now. I have got it down pretty good but I keep stumbling on that one passage (re: measure 3) For the life of me I just can’t seem to pull that off fluidly no matter how many times I work it , watch you listen to you, etc. However, I have developed my own small riff that works for me and is still faithful to the melody. It let’s me stay fluid on not stumble which naturally now makes the song more enjoyable to play. When I worked up John Henry is was faithful to your tab and then when I got comfortable with it I added my own flourish. What I want to know is , from a learning stand point is it acceptable to abandon a phrase that I am not mastering and replacing it with something that is more comfortable for me to pull off? Anyone else want to chime in on this?


Hi Keith, Yes it looks pretty complicated but in reality it’s a very simple lick. The basic structure of the lick is played over a forward backward roll. I am pretty sure Earl called this the reverse roll.

However in this case Ben choses to play the first note of the measure as a quarter note picked with the thumb. It’s easy to see this from the TAB.

If you haven’t studied Ben’s lessons on the forward backward roll I would strongly encourage you to go work on that first then come back to this… You need to be able to play the roll pattern cleanly, No missing strings.

Ok so the other parts of the lick are slides from 2 to 4 on the 3rd string and a slide back down from 4 to 2 on the 3rd string.

You will recall I mentioned above Ben chose to play the first note of the measure as a quarter note picked with the thumb.

As that note begins to decay he then frets the 3rd string at the second fret and picks the string again with his thumb, he pauses there momentarily to allow the note to ring then slides the fretting finger from 2 to 4 on the 3rd string. Try this and listen for the tone to change. The exact same process applies sliding from 4 to 2

To help you get your head round it. practice the roll pattern and the slide movements separately several times.

For each of the slides you pick the string with the thumb. Keeping the fretting finger down on the string as you slide to the next location…

When you feel comfortable playing both parts separately practice them as one. You need to train the brain to memorize these motions.

If you are able record yourself playing to let Ben see what you are doing and advise you further if necessary


There is nothing wrong with substitution…You’ll notice there are even lessons for it here on the site…i.e. Bag of Licks etc.

But it is a good practice to isolate and work out those things you have the most trouble with…it helps you expand your playing ability.

It comes down to how much you like the way the lick sounds, how necessary it is to the integrity of the tune, and if you prefer it over other possibilities.

.There are many times I’ll have an advance version of a tune almost worked out, but can’t quite nail a couple of the riffs…so I’ll substitute a lick from easier break in that spot just to get through the break until I can do the more difficult lick.


I’ve had many songs that I have had to maybe omit a lick. I hated the idea of throwing away a whole song for the want of mastering one lick in a song. But at the same time we have to play the mind game of, “Am I really not there yet so I should not push myself at this point,” and “I’m not pushing myself hard enough to rise above it.” Both would be mature points of view as a person grows. Hard to know which voice to listen to.


Listen to both :+1: Like FiddleWood said above, do both. Do a substitute lick and keep working on the harder one.


With TablEdit there is no need to throw away a whole song. Just substitute the difficult lick with one you find easy, save the tab with a new name filename-easy and you now have two versions of the same song to practice. It’s that easy.


Yes as I said I don’t throw away a whole song. Sometimes there are some parts my stupid fingers or more likely my brain just won’t get. No worries I have found with hard work most of it comes together. :slight_smile:


There is some good advice here and I encourage you to find other licks that work, but you really need to get this lick down. Make sure you can play it with your pick hand first without any slides, then add the slides. If you can’t get it, take a short 10 second video of you trying to play it a couple times and post to Video Swap so I can help you.


Jason it’s all down to the three P’s Patience, Practice and Perseverance. I get it your frustrated Buddy, I have trod that path and it doesn’t do to avoid a lick because it is difficult. Because somewhere down the line your going to come across it again and again.