Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: Intro to Banjo Chokes

Let’s look at the only possible time it’s actually GOOD to choke on something.

Ben, the shave and haircut lick is described as a G/Em lick. I was wondering if it could be moved up two frets to be made an A lick. The only problem seems to be the fifth string which is played open in G/Em. It isn’t possible to jump down, hit an A on the fifth string, and get back in time to play the rest of it. So instead of playing the fifth string, I just play A on the B string (10th fret) single string style, playing the same note twice. It doesn’t have the pizzazz that it does in G/Em, but so many tunes are played in A that I wondered if that is something worth developing, or does it fall into the “Yeah, you can do that, but it isn’t a good idea,” category. Thanks.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a banjo player play a song in A without a capo. I mean, I guess you could, but for Ab through maybe as high as B, maybe even C, a capo is really the way to go.

Do you have 5th string spikes on your banjo?

Good point. I forgot about that. Thanks. (I don’t have spikes.)

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If you don’t want to mess with spikes, check Ben’s store tomorrow. He may put these on sale for Cyber Monday.

If you do feel like being handy, here’s a video by @Jake on how to install them.

@The_Mole I think it’s great practice to figure out how to play any and all licks in other keys and how to cover or manipulate the notes that don’t fit. Great job!

When would you say that you pick the first string during this process, is it at the height of the choke or when it comes back down?


Hi Jessie Welcome to @BanjoBen ''s Forum

Great question by the way. Learning to play chokes can be a bit frustrating to master. The key is all about listening and good timing.

A choke is essentially a bend followed by a release that creates an effect - an emotion - a sound going up and coming down sometimes referred to as the decay.

So to your question. When to pick the first string ?

Well it kinda depends on what sort of effect - emotion - sound you want to create. It’s hard to define when exactly you hit the first string and perhaps the best way to learn this is to listen and to listen a lot. You’ll learn more the more you LISTEN.

If you pick the string and bend it up then play the first string you cut off the decay as you release the choke - pressure on the third string. Try it and listen as you play. Now do it again but this time release the pressure on the bend before hitting the first string. Can you hear the difference?

Now go back into Ben’s lesson and review what you have just learned. Don’t rush, take all the time you need. Really listen to how Ben plays those chokes and try to mimic what he is doing. Be patent and persevere it can take several months to master chokes.

Now check out this video of all these top banjo players - Note that no two players play the same, each has his own distinctive style - Right towards the end when Earl steps up to the mike and plays a bunch of chokes HEAR how the emotion changes and WATCH the reaction of Sonny Osborne way in the back wearing sunglasses.

Now that’s the goal your aiming for.

Happy Pickin


Welcome, @Hillbilly_picker! @Archie just gave a great answer. I’d just add that to get a choke sound, you want to try and pick the string before it begins to be bent. If you pick it when it comes back down, you don’t hear the choke effect.


Wow thank you both, I have large fingers and I was playing the first string on the way down, so I ended up muting the first string and that is my pet peeve, I have been trying to follow the bread crumbs for FMBD so I can play the whole thing, and so I was working on the foggy Mt. version of the choke is there anything special that needs to happen there?
And I also have been having trouble putting speed to the Foggy Lick itself my roll dominates it and the hammer isn’t distinct enough, any suggestions?

Hi @Hillbilly_picker Jesse. By the sound of things your trying to put the cart before the horse. Speed is the last thing to work on. Take your time. Learn the basics. The roll pattern, the hammer-ons the chokes the timing at slooow speed. It’s a difficult lick to master, be patent and you’ll get there. If you rush the process you will only mess it up and that’s why your muting that first string. Observe your fingers (in a mirror if necessary) to check and adjust your finger position. Learn to relax

Remember to bring the thumb down to the second string. Index, Middle, Thumb, Middle, Thumb, Index, Middle Thumb. 21 21 5215

I can really help you if I can see/hear you. Can you post a quick video in the video swap category, please?

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messed up on that last post hope this one makes it, sorry for the terrible audio