Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Getting started with rhythm tracks

I can’t seem to get going with rhythm tracks. Could someone help me understand how to use them? Every time that I have tried, so far, I finish my part before or after the rhythm track does.

Please give me an example of a particular lesson so I can show you. Thanks!

Whenever I end before or after (usually after) the rhythm track it highlights for me the importance of working on my timing. It’s a sobering, yet important lesson.

The rhythm tracks usually (always?) feature multiple passes through the song. One thing to watch is that some lesson tabs include an ending or outro that wouldn’t be played on each pass. Throwing in four extra measures would definitely send you off into no-man’s land. The Salt Creek Melody guitar lesson is one example that comes to mind.

Hi Ben, It’s actually all of them, but to use the Boil dem Cabbage down forward roll drill as an example:

The piece has 24 measures. For this the rhythm track uses 48 guitar strums or 2 per measure. Almost all of the notes are eighth notes so I need to play 4 notes for every guitar strum. Is that right? . Even with the slowest rhythm track, that seems very fast. I don’t know how to develop the ear to hear how many notes I’m playing per strum. I set the metronome to 110 bpm and look to play 2 notes per beat. Is this the best way to build and hear the speed?



Ben will give a more eloquent and technically correct answer, but in the meantime, if it helps…

Don’t focus on the strums. Focus on the beat. Each measure has 4 beats. Ben is playing an alternating bass note / strum pattern on the guitar. What I think you are referring to as strums are happening on beats 2 and 4 of the measure. On beats 1 and 3 he is playing bass notes. If you’re part is to play eighth notes then you want to play 2 eighth notes per beat or 8 eighth notes per measure.

Ben counts off in the beginning of the track. Tap your foot to the 1-2-3-4. Don’t try to play, just keep that count going in your head and foot and follow along on the tab. You should get a feel for the beat. Listen for Ben’s chord changes. That will help let you know if you are ahead or lagging behind. Hopefully you get to the end at the same time Ben does. Once you do, pick up the banjo and play two eighth notes per each of those beats. One when your foot hits the floor and one when it is up in the air. (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &)

I hope this is halfway coherent.

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Hey John! I assume you’re using the TEF files for learning. If you’re not, you really need to. Download the viewer here:

After you install it, download the TEF file from whatever lesson page you’re working on.

Let’s use Boil Dem Cabbage Down as our example. Just like Ben’s backing tracks, there’s a guitar part in the TEF file that is played exactly the way Ben plays guitar in the backing track. Each measure gets an alternating 2 guitar bass notes and 2 strums. As you’ve already noticed, there are 8 banjo notes per measure.

It sounds to me like you’re just not ready for the slowest speed backing track that Ben has, and that’s OK. It takes time build up speed and accuracy. So, here’s what I’ll suggest.

1 - load up the TEF Viewer and open Boil Dem Cabbage Down.
2 - Go to the MIDI Menu option and turn on the metronome. Make sure it’s volume is turned up.
3 - Go to the MIDI Menu option and click on “MIDI Options.” You’ll see 2 Vol sliders next to “Banjo open G” and “Guitar Rhythm.” Pull the Vol slider next to “Banjo open G” all the way to the left. That will silence the banjo track so that you only hear guitar.
4 - Go to the MIDI Menu option and click Relative Speed… Adjust the slider down as slow as you need to go to feel comfortable with the speed. I’ve had to go as low as 20% when starting out on some lessons.

Now, once you hit the Play button (or the Space Bar) you’ll pick 2 notes on the banjo for every click of the metronome. If you have trouble hearing the metronome over the guitar, go back to the Metronome window, make sure the volume is all the way up, and if so, change the “Patch” in the drop down menu to something that sounds better (I like cowbell. We could all use more cowbell.)

Once you get comfortable with this method at about 70 to 80% speed, you should be ready to move over to the backing tracks.


See if this helps, @johnbmcglade. You picked one of the older ones and I’ve changed the count-in since making that one:


Hi Ben, that was very generous to make that little video for me. That makes it much more understandable. I have to start using my ears first and the fingering later.

Thanks very much and all the best,



Hi Mark, thanks for your very thorough answer. I can see that trying to wing it, without counting is a mistake. I get your point and will spend some time, before I start playing to figure out the timing. I had been using just the .pdf file. Now I’ve tried the .tef a few times and I can, at least, see where I’m going wrong. This is advice that I’m going to follow.

Thanks again,



Hi Woodshed,

It makes perfect sense and is something that I know that I need to work on. I wan’t hearing the bass notes before, or at least, wasn’t thing about them.

I get blown away by how generous everyone on Banjo Ben’s is with their time and advice.

Thanks again,



Hey John. Exactly what @MarkRocka and @BanjoBen and @Woodshed said.

I think too, that another important aspect of being a musician, is the ability to actually play with another musician. This is vitally important. Learning to play with another musician I think is one of the perhaps hidden aspects of Banjo Bens lessons. The lessons accomplish at least two very important things: 1) You learn how to Play the song 2) You learn how to “Perform” the song with another musician, in this case, using the back-up track at a steady tempo. You’re off to a great start!

Lastly, I think that most musicians would agree, that in order to “Perform” a tune well with other musicians, we must develop the ability not only to “play”, but to listen to the rest of the band (or back-up track) while we are playing our instrument and adjust as necessary for the better overall sound. This does force us to multi-task! Keep up the great work and please let us know how you are progressing. I must warn you though. The more you learn, the more fun playing your instrument becomes! :wink: HAPPY PICKING!!

Hi Neil,

How do you go about memorizing a song? Do you think about the string progression like 3251 3251 or do you memorize the actual notes ie. GBDD, or just use muscle memory and the melody in your head?

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I memorize either a “statement” , four notes, or a measure at a time, depending on phrasing, by getting the melody in my head and then by playing it (learning note by note) until comfortable and repeatable without looking/ play-along.

then I go to the next statement/measure and repeat

Then put the two together and repeat until comfortable and repeatable without looking/ play-along. Speaking for myself…Forcing myself to memorize first and learn to execute later has at least tripled my learning & memorization skills/speed…I’ve found that having it down cold in my brain is essential for me to progress with any noticeable speed.

Generally I do this successively with each statement/measure until the entire piece is learned.

When I started out some ten years ago I spent a lot of time learning roll patterns. This wasn’t so much about learning how to memorize and play tunes. It was more about learning the mechanics of playing the banjo. I didn’t think in terms of 3251 I just looked at the pattern of strings and just picked them over and over until it became second nature.

When you first climbed on a bike or sat behind the wheel of a car you had to learn the mechanics of operating these vehicles before you became competent enough to operate them. Making the journey came much later when you acquired certain skills.

Memorizing a song comes from listening. You listen then you hum or sing along. Once you have the sound in you head you try to replicate the melody by picking out the notes on the strings. @BanjoBen 's Build-a-Break lessons guide you through this process. Then it’s all down to practice.


Hello John. Great question and it gives me pause to think about it. To be honest, when I’m sitting around a campfire or jamming with other folks in the living room, I pretty much have programmed rolls and licks that I can play around a melody in my head that I pick out, with the rolls around the melody. For example, I rarely play the same version of “I’ll Fly Away” twice. In contrast, learning someone’s Tab, like Banjo Ben’s for example, I’ll learn note for note exactly to learn what’s going on in Banjo Ben’s Head. Since he is a professional, I have to accept that he knows what he’s doing. After I memorize his Tab and get comfortable with it, I’ll invariably start playing it MY way with small modifications. However, I must say, that B.Ben’s Tabs are what you might call “Premium”. They are honestly, the best I’ve seen on the Web as far as accuracy, clarity, economic finger movement and tasteful arrangements. But as far as memorizing, I learn Tabs by setting up short 3-4 measure ‘loops’ and the memorization comes with learning. You’ll get different opinions for different folks I suppose, but you’ll find out what works best for you.

Tonight we recorded Meli and myself playing June Apple. I’ll post, but you can see from the video, I’m reading a lot of the Tab while I’m playing, but most of the difficult passages you can see I have memorized. Have fun picking. It’s a blast!!

Thanks, this sounds like good advice. I have been playing the whole song repeatedly and of course keep getting tripped up at the same place.

Hi Archie, yes it’s the mechanics that’s killing me. I’m probably not listening enough. I just want to get right in and start playing.

I have a hard time translating what’s playing in my head into my fingers. I can hear when it’s wrong, I just can envision what is right. I’ll try listening more and it will hopefully get better.

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patience…it all takes time. Good news…you’re normal.

Hi Neil, I’m more at the stage where I’m struggling with the tab and improv seems way down the road. I sure sounds like more fun. I’ll look out for your June Apple post. Thanks for your help.

Fiddle wood nailed it. It does all take time. Maybe take Banjo Ben’s demo recording way slowed…down. Then try to copy his picking and timing note for note. Maybe only a measure at a time.