Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: Will the Circle Be Unbroken Build-a-Break

To me, this is what makes playing banjo fun. Let’s start with the basic melody consisting only of rolls and pinches. Then, take the same melody and add ornaments to beef it up. THEN, let’s get Scruggsy and add some slick licks to really bring it to life!

I’ve been waiting for this song for a bit so thank you so much for this. I’ll start out saying that I’ve only been playing for 2 years now, so I’m not advanced. However, after reviewing the lesson, I didn’t think you had to be if I just focused on the basic melody without all the fanciness.

That being said I’m having trouble getting it to sound right. When you play I can hear the melody in between all of the fillers, but when I play, I can only hear it part of the song. I don’t think it has to do with speed, although that might be part of it. I think it has to do more with cadence or order of the picking. Without me being there in the flesh, what sorts of things can I do to improve that part of the playing? Is there a lesson on how to read/play tabs? Maybe I’m not playing something right.

Thank you for all you do, the site is great.


Hi Brian, I believe Ben is heading off for a few days. I have had a quick look at the lesson and I see it’s in the Advanced section However I believe if you work though the first part and try adding the basic ornaments.

As a second year level student you should be able to cope. I always challenged myself when I was a beginner trying stuff well beyond my skill level. It did me no harm and helped pave the way for a time when I was ready for more advanced stuff. Take your time work through it at your own pace, learn two or three measures at a time. I would encourage you to look at the Beginning Learning Track. Lessons on Rolls, Slides, Hammer-ons and Pull Offs, Chord Shapes. Get the foundational stuff down pat and other things start to fall into place. I would also suggest you try to post a video of yourself playing what you can. That will let Ben see how best he can help.

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Here is Ben’s Lesson on TAB. It’s in the Beginner Section.

Do you have a smart phone you could use to get a video of your playing? If so, upload it to YouTube and link it in the Video Swap forum. (The forum is having issues with direct video upload at the moment.)

We can give you more specific tips if we can see you playing. Just make sure both of your hands are visible in the video.


Glad to have you, Brian! These guys have given excellent advice. I can only classify the lessons as one skill level, but most all my build-a-break lessons start with a very basic version for most anyone.

It sounds like you’re not using the TEF tab files. Check that out here:

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Whoa…upload a video of me playing? That’s almost like playing for an audience. I’ll see what I can do, but those are some great suggestions. I’ll check out the TEF thing. I only downloaded the TAB file from the lesson. Look for an update in the next couple of days.


Thank you so much Ben for adding the Melody highlights. I don’t know if this will continue but I hope so…Thanks so much. I do a lot of uppicking and it really helps. Ron

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I have learned ,Will the circle be unbroken, adding some licks i’m accustomed to. I can play it up to speed with the TEF file. Is it necessary to learn all 3 of Ben’s breaks? I noticed some cool licks in the other tabs just didn’t know if i should spend the time doing it. Seems like alot of the licks are not one measure licks and wouldn’t start at the beginning of a measure. I think i have to many licks in my head now that’s hard to pull out now on the fly. But if ya’ll think it’s necessary I’ll do it. I would call myself an intermediate player. By the way, hitting those melody notes in the right place sure makes it easy to play. You can sing the song in your head and hit those notes right on time. I can see that the more a person does it, the quicker you can do breaks on the fly. Those sounds will be stuck in your head. Thanks Ben

Hi @lonewolf223 Mike, What Ben is offering up in his lessons is a vocabulary, when you learn to read and write many of the words you learn to spell may seem meaningless until later on when you need them. It’s the same with the banjo. Should you spend time learning these licks? I would say that’s entirely up to you. It’s your GoldPick membership you can make the most of it or skip through the stuff that doesn’t interest you. Personally I try to learn most of the content in each lesson. I may not be 100% proficient in everything I study but I try to have a working knowledge of each lick before moving on to a new lesson. More often than not I will return to a lesson again and again over the course of a year. Just to refresh my memory and put in some practice.


Ha! Good analogy Archie!

Three breaks of Ben’s as learning words:

Break one (Beg)= give Ball!
Break Two (Int) = give me the ball please!
Break three (Adv)= Would you please be so kind as to hand that round object over to me ?


Thanks Archie , My thinking was if I learned all three breaks and moved on I wouldn’t remember them all and maybe even mess me up in a jam setting trying to grab different pieces from the 3 and then blow the whole break. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I just don’t want to do all of it to forget most of it next month. If it’s a neccessary part of learning melodies on the fly I’ll learn all 3 , no matter what I forget. Hope I’m making sense.

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Hi Mike,
this is what makes music so fun!

You have choices!

If you find only one lick in the other breaks that you like better than the one in the same place in the first break you can replace it.

sometimes it only takes replacing a few licks to change a break enough so that you can now play two breaks to the song instead of just one. (this is done a lot)

Or you can choose to play play two or three completely different breaks.

The choices are all yours…you can mix and match if you want to …it’s part of what gives you your own sound.

Ben’s lessons are simply tasteful examples of what you might choose to play, and are arranged so you are generally playing within a certain skill set at a given time.

This is one of the big reasons he has the “bag o licks” lessons…to teach that it is OK to mix, match and replace things, to create your own versions of what his lessons might start.


I hardly ever learn all three because I’m not an advanced player. However I always try all three and I usually pick up some licks in the advanced version that I end up mixing into the intermediate version.


Don’t feel bad Mike, your not the first to ask that kind of question and you definitely wont be the last. It’s good that your asking questions because it means your keen to learn and you don’t want to spend a lot of time working on stuff you may never use.

The great thing about Ben’s method of teaching is it’s flexibility, it’s not ridged or boring like some I have tried. He is giving you the tools you’'ll need to become proficient at your instrument of choice, how you use these skills is up to you.

Our brains are complex organs and sometimes they just need a break or change in direction. Time away from study is good because it gives your brain a chance to catch up and process what you’ve learned. The past four days I have not picked up my banjo but I plan to do some studying today. I hope it will be a good day and I make good progress but if I don’t I’ll try again tomorrow. I guess what I am trying to say is don’t let the lessons overwhelm you just work through the material at your own pace but above all have fun.

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Hang in there, brother. The breaks that I create are not ends in themselves. The point is that you learn to play for yourself by learning where other people put their fingers (that’s an Alan Munde line). Alan told me that if I really wanted to be good, learn where Earl put his fingers. I did this some, but not as much as I wanted! But, when I did, I learned how someone else thought about the banjo, which then built a foundation for how I would think about the banjo. Eventually…EVENTUALLY, your own playing will form. It will be built and pieced from all your different influences, but it will be your own! So no, you don’t have to worry about memorizing all the breaks. Instead, learn them and work on the skills taught in them. When you do that, you lay another footer in your foundation.


Thanks Ben

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Hey Ben, I’ve been working on this break and love it. I just realized tonight that the g lick in measure 44 and 45 can tie right into the utility roll you and Tony Wray worked on. It seems to me that you can put the utility roll on either end of it and it sounds awesome. I’m only an intermediate player at best but it makes a guy feel good when you discover things like that. That also goes along with your comment about learning all the breaks and even if you forget a lot of them you will retain pieces of them that you can use forever. Just had to share this. Exciting for me! Thanks


This is great to hear and very encouraging to ME!

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Man… Lots of great inight in this exchange.