Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Help break up the monotony please

I’m still fairly new to the 5 string, and totally love it. I’m active duty Air Force and fly a lot so I don’t get to practice as much as I’d like. I’ve got the rolls down good and am working on chords. ‘G’, ‘A’, and ‘C’ chords are pretty easy for me to transition to when utilizing and alternating thumb roll. The hard part for me is incorporating the ‘D’ and ‘F’. I space each chord change with an open ‘G’ to give myself time to prepare for the next chord. It’s slow go and frustrating to say the least. I need to break up the monotony to keep my interest, and I’d prefer to do it by learning some songs. Is this a bad idea? Anyone have any other ideas or exercises I could use that will help me with smooth transition chord changes? Thanks in advance, and any help or words of wisdom are appreciated. I plan on becoming a lifetime member within a few days.


I am not a banjo player, but by all means, I say play some songs. Even if you are just playing backing tracks or playing with a CD or YouTube. If you do a song in G, that will cover G, C and D. If you do a song in C, that will cover C, F and G. So those two very common keys will cover the chords that are giving you trouble. It’s great to work on fundamentals, but make sure you have some fun along the way as well!

I’m not a banjo player either, but I understand the monotony of practice all too well.

When I first started flatpicking guitar (about the same time that I joined up here), I would select one of Ben’s tabs and pound away at it with an enthusiasm that’s easy to get when trying something new. I would literally play the same piece of music for hours a day and it’s all I would play. I learned a bunch of stuff using this technique, but the most important thing I learned was that I needed to practice smarter.

Playing the same thing over and over wore out my fingertips, cramped my hand, and after a while left me mentally disengaged. Had I continued practicing solely in this manner, I’m sure I would have lost interest pretty quickly. Fortunately, I figured out a system that works better for me.

What I try to do now is make progress along several different parallel tracks. I still work with tabs, but now I’ll only work through a piece a few times before I give my hand (and brain) a break and move on to another area. Right now I’m focusing on improving my crosspicking, so I might move on to some crosspicking rolls and when I tire of that I might work on building my repertoire, taking a couple of songs from my wish list (mainly songs that I’ve heard at jams or on Youtube). Then it’s off to something else.

I have a dozen or so areas that I’m working on at any given time. It’s more than I can get to on any one day, so I keep a chart to help keep me focused. The big advantage to working like this is that I never get bogged down with practice I don’t feel like doing. For instance, some days I don’t feel much like singing, so instead of working on repertoire I might work on something technique oriented (like crosspicking), or maybe work through a chapter in a method book, or practice improvising with the radio, or learn some new chord forms, or… well you get the idea.

My chart has grown to the point that I always have a few areas that I’m itching to get to, and I don’t find practice monotonous any more. In fact it’s just the opposite. When I practice in one area I feel like I’m cheating myself in another and can’t wait to get to it.

So I agree with mreiz, do what you need to do to keep yourself engaged and excited about practice. The hours spent holding your instrument pay off in the long run.

Yes, play songs, scales, rolls, back-up patterns, or whatever you feel like that day.

It will come with time, have patience.

the reason to know chords is to get through a song. If your practicing chords you should be trying to get them into the form of a song…after all that’s the goal :smiley:

If you have skype I’d be glad to help you with some ideas if we could find a time to get together…

And remember to have fun!


Thanks for all of those suggestions fellas, let’s me know I’m not doing it wrong. I’ll just have to work on some really easy songs and dumb down the more intense ones till I get better with tab. Thanks again.

One more thing I would add to Mike, Larry and Dave’s good advice: Don’t think to get good at one particular song that you have to constantly practice that song over and over exclusively to reach your goal. Practice other things as well and when you go back to that song, you’ll be suprised at how much better you are at it even if you hadn’t practiced that one in a few days or even a week. We do need to spend time in learning a song or memorizing the tab or however you’re trying to learn it, but once you reach that point, break off from it and work on other things and come back to it later. It really works!

Make sure you enjoy it and don’t let it become something on a “Have to do today list”.

Thank You for serving our country and God Bless.


It is funny but I also go from one to another thing to keep interest and sure we need to focus on one at a time but to break away often is almost a needed thing for me . When learning a new tune or song I practice til I have all the notes down and then I will play back a portion of the tune and listen intently and try my best to emulate that and get that down it helps with the next part to do that because the first few bars should set the tone for the rest of the tune . Some call it phrasing I call it what it sounds like . but I have had instructors tell me that they have had students that spent hours on a few notes to get the sound just right . the same notes that make flopped eared mule also make Earl’s break down but played totally in a different way . think of music as math it is all math . lottery would be a good example . three numbers have a bunch of combinations.Three notes have a bunch of combinations it is up to us to find them all LOL (combinations) A fellow came upon an old man sitting on the porch with a guitar and he kept hitting the same note over and over and the fellow ask him why he was only playing one note while Atkins and all th others are all over the fret board and the old man said "well you know Chet Atkins and all them guys the are still looking for it and I have flat found it ping ping ping ping! Keep on looking and you will find it .

— Begin quote from "J. Bolen"

Thanks for all of those suggestions fellas, let’s me know I’m not doing it wrong. I’ll just have to work on some really easy songs and dumb down the more intense ones till I get better with tab. Thanks again.

— End quote

What I have found is the more you use something the easier it becomes. with tabs I started in a land far away in a distant time OOps ! wrong story any ways , I found that with time and practice all things come to you . The ear by far is the best teaching tool you have but you have to become familiar with the notes and believe me that will come in time also . Learning tab is almost a have to thing for me. I have to get the mechanics down first and then listen to the tune intently. I just down loaded a new one it is called "Decision at Gladys fork " And I can learn the notes get them in my memory and can listen to it and play it back right along with the tab playing . slow it down is a big help but never lose sight of the fact that in order for the tune to sound right it has to be played at an optimum speed and no I don’t mean if some one out there plays amazing grace at 300 beats that you should try that . I try to stay at least 160 beats with the faster bluegrass tunes. As your ability grows the speed will come and it may be over night in some cases . What you want it to sound like may interfere with learning as presented, try to do it like the person you listen to,embellishing the tune can come later. Taking an occasional day or three off helps also it gives the old grey matter time to soak it in . To me there is nothing more rewarding than looking at a piece of music and then playing it and it sounds just like it. Some day many will ask you to play for them because of the hard work and time you have invested.