Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Going from chops to lead/solos, what's the best route?

Howdy guys!

Well it’s been a long road, peppered with all sorts of pot holes. As luck would have it after my first Bluegrass Jam in December of last year the Mandolin bridge collapsed. Went through the warranty process with Breedlove. Those guys couldn’t have been nicer but it took a while to get fixed. Then travels, health issues, surgeries, everything that could get in my way did. Long story short, I just got back to a BG Jam last night.

You could have shucked the rust off me with a wire brush, but I was able to chop (or when I didn’t know the chords, percuss) enough to get involved. It was really great, but like all things, now I want to do more.

The thing I can’t seem to understand is how to go from chopping and the like to doing a solo/melody/lead/?

I found Ben’s video on “licks” but what do I do with that? Is there a simple process to start building this up? These guys meet once a month, so I have picked two songs and aside from working on the chord progression, I also need to figure out a way to play the “solo”.

The first song is “Will the Circle be Unbroken” which is well known, often played, and should be a good starting point. I picked up the Bluegrass Fakebook and found a rendition of it in there.

Any suggestions would be welcome and very much appreciated.



I’m just guessing, but it sounds like you’re not currently a gold pick member. You really ought to consider it, it’s a bargain. I debated trying it for a few months and then just went with the lifetime member thing. I came for the Mandolin, but figured I’d also take advantage of the Guitar eventually. A year later I’m still way behind in the mandolin and haven’t even touched any of the guitar. There is already enough material to last me a lifetime, and Ben’s adding stuff all the time. I’ll never catch up. It’s a nice problem to have.

Once you’re in, pick off a few of the basic tunes and learn the base melody. Eventually you play them up to speed, and after that, start embellishing the melody. And when you get deeper into some of the videos there is alot of how to embellish tossed in for free as Ben goes along.

I’ve been playing in a BG jam on Mondays for the past 6 months myself. We started out at about 120 bpm on 4 tunes, and we’re playing them at up to 220 now, but it took a while. My main problem as the speed started to increase was switching from chopping to picking. The pick would be flailing at empty air half the time and take a few measures before I’d find it again. Turns out when I practiced along to guitar backing, I only played the breaks, never the chords. Once I started alternating back and forth while I practiced, it started getting clean.

It’s alot of work, I don’t think there are any shortcuts.

All gold pick member’d up. I’ll give that suggestion a shot, thanks! I figured there’s no easy path, just wanted to make sure I was on a well traveled one!


What I find is that I tend to try to bite off too much. Keep it simple and then you can play it at fast speeds. For instance, instead of trying to stick in a cool sounding a triplet lick, maybe vamp on an open chord at times to fill the space between melody notes. Keep it simple and keep the melody going.

In a nutshell, based on how I normally fail my suggestion is aim low initially and you’ll know when it’s time to start spicing things up.