Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Help! I dont know how to practice!

I have been playing for 6 years (and learned to play several songs on this site years back) and i still dont know the right way to practice I know several songs and can play them but i dont appear to be getting any faster at playing them. …what am i doing wrong…


Easy…,you’re worrying too much. As a Beginner, I’m an expert on not playing fast enough. (for whom?)
The question of “how to practice” has been bantered about a lot here. I think I even asked the same question a couple months ago. The overall impression I got was to mix it up.
Let’s say you practice for an hour. The first 10 minutes should just be noodling around, loosening your fingers and making happy sounds. No songs, no licks, just banjo sounds.
The next 10 minutes might be playing an old song that you are familiar with. Again, just noodle around with it, but try to be precise with your fingering. Try to make it sound the way you want it to…not fast, just “together.”
Next 10 minutes, try working on a new lick. Thus will hurt your fingers and make terrible sounds, but tomorrow you will play it a bit better. Already a half hour is gone! (Normally at this point I would get a beer, but that’s not part of Banjo Ben’s teaching philosophy. Besides, it’s hard to hold a beer with finger picks on.)

For your next 10 minutes, play something fun. Your brain may be aching from the new lick, so it needs the comfort of an old friend. Play something you know and love, but try to work in that little “ornament” you practiced last week.
Now go back to that new lick you were working on 10 minutes ago. See if you remember anything.
Have you been using the TEF files? IF not, this is a good time to fire one up and play along with it. Since you can adjust the speed, play where it’s comfortable, then goose it up a little. This is a great way to increase your speed.
And for the final 10 minutes, beat up on the banjo with everything you’ve been doing for the past 50 minutes. Jump from one song to the next, one roll to another, the bar some chords up the neck. Play with your banjo, so the next time you pick it up, you can be more relaxed as you continue to learn to play the banjo.
And finally, 15 minutes four times a day is just as good as one hour one time a day. And it may help keep your fingers limber longer.

That concludes my Expert advice as a Beginner.


Getting faster is a little tricky, since you have to push yourself a little outside your comfort zone, but not so much that your playing gets dirty. You should use a metronome to measure your progress. It also helps to relax and learn the song, or the lick you’re working on, to the point of being able to play it without having to think about each note.

Hope this helps.


This is the key right here. By the time I’m playing a song as fast as I’d like, it’s not uncommon for me to have played it 1000+ times. I know I’m getting close when my wife comes in and begs me to play anything else. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Thanks everyone!! I guess the easy answer is that we all have our unique ways of practicing. I dont have a lot of time to practice and that is one of my issues. All my songs need work and I i just seem overwhelmed with work to do, does that make sense? Recently i have been focusing on one song, playing it for 20 minutes, then moving on to another. The metronome is working (driving the wife nuts) but i never really had an issue with the beat or tempo. Its consistency, and “fast fretting” speed that i need.


That’s true, we all have our own way of practicing, but the common thread
is “f-u-n.” If it’s not f-u-n, then it is w-o-r-k, and that’s no fun!

There’s an old story about a wannabe listening to a very good guitar player. When the player was finished, the wannabe said, “I’d give anything to be able to play like that.”
The player replied, “How abut 7 hours a day for seven years?”

Since that’s not going to happen, I’ve readjusted my sights. Now I will be thrilled when I can effortlessly play the G Lick and have enough confidence to toss it into “Cripple Creek” or “Bile Dem Cabbages.” Who knows? By then I might even know another song! :grin:


20 minutes isn’t nearly long enough. My suggestion is to pick the easiest song you want to play fast, and focus on it for at least an hour a day. Make sure to take plenty of small breaks during your practice. I practice at my computer so I can play along with Ben’s jam tracks. I have a post somewhere here where I’ve uploaded 10 minute long jam track loops for songs I’ve worked on. Maybe some of them will help.

As I practice, I keep Facebook open in another tab to have something else to do if I get frustrated or need a few minutes for integration. Some find it a distraction. I find it an absolutely necessary part of my learning process.


No doubt that’s true. Now we get to the hard part. What if 20 minutes is all you have? Many people have many other obligations. Banjo practice tends to fall way down on the list of priorities, what with the family, the job, the church, the civic organizations. Everybody wants a piece of you, so 20 minutes may be all you have for yourself.
I watch the guy who lives on my street. He’s a soldier, loves his family, gets deployed a lot and tries to practice the banjo. He will never have a solid hour a day to devote to practice until his life circumstances change. Managing expectations may be just as important as managing your time.
There may be a reason so many members seem to be old retired people who have finally dusted off that old banjo in the closet.


Getting fast does not just happen over time -especially with the average amature play who may only play a few hours or less per week. I suspect that some people have naturally faster reflexes than others. I have been playing for the past 6 months at least 10 hours per week and am still not fast.

For the past couple of weeks I have spent a lot of time working my middle, ring finger and pinky trying to build up strength and quicken the reflex by just going on and off the same note as fast as possible until the muscle on the top side of my forearm gets sore.

I prefer to play along with songs for practice because I find the metronome to be extremely boring so to practice fast i play fast songs and try to keep up.

I would say that my speed is increasing a bit (slowly) but having good strength in those outside three fingers helps tone and precision as well.

I will have to work on it another month or so I can have a more definite assessment of whether the method is good for speed.


“I know I’m getting close when my wife comes in and begs me to play anything else.”

That’s exactly my approach, when my wife screams “For the love of God, would you please play something else!” :slight_smile:


At a workshop with Jens Krüger, he told us: play a simple forwardbackwardroll, concentrate on your thumb for 2 minutes while playing this roll, then on your index finger for 2 minutes, then on your middle finger. then you play this roll very slowly but as loud as possible. the fingers have to build up the muscles, and they do that when you need strength and play loudly. then you can slowly get faster. repeat this exercise regularly. I think that’s a very good exercise.


Interesting subject line!

People might ask “don’t know how to play”, and you could advise and say “practice”!
Now when someone asks “don’t know how to practice”, wonder what would Ben think or say!! :slight_smile:

Sorry Kevin S, I think I understand what you’re asking, :wink: Welcome to the forum!! :slight_smile:


Fortunately speed isn’t everything and you can still have fun even if you can only practice an hour per week. Just need to stick to slower songs or strip notes out of the ones you want to play fast.


Hey @specialkj43

I like to have a little structure on my practice plan so as a speed building exercise I really recommend you do 5-10 mins of each of these lessons:

You will work on each finger over 4 different variations, this is a great fundamental lesson I still practice often

  • Play them at a comfortable tempo first, always use a Metronome, I cant emphasize that enough. Than up the tempo 2-3 points and do it again. Make sure the sound is clean and on time before trying to level up again
  • Consistent practice is very important. Do it every day if possible, if not, every second day. I can tell you by experience it is much more efficient to practice 30mins a day than to cram 7 hours in on a Saturday. It is just the way our body works, at least for most ppl
  • Record yourself and watch your own videos playing banjo so you can critique hand position, posture, sound, tempo, cleanliness and consciously work on what you think needs polishing

If all you have is 20 minutes, that’s 20 minutes more than a lot of people have! Use it!


Hey Ben I just wanted to thank you for teaching me how to play “Nashville Skyline Rag” few years back…it is one of my favorite tunes to play…I got it down pretty well…Thanks!!


It’s true that having fun is the main objective, but… some work does have to be involved if you really want to improve, get faster and play cleaner. I believe in doing both! Have fun doing anything you want on your instrument (play something you know very well and enjoy where you’ve gotten from where you were some time ago). But also, challenge yourself by trying to play something you see as “impossible for me to ever play”! You will surprise yourself over time when you’re playing that very piece that you thought you never could!

The only way to really get better and faster is to keep trying harder and faster things. It’s not easy and it comes at a snail’s pace, but stick with it and you will see results!

Good Luck!


Playing faster is an end result that needs ability so with limited practice time I would focus more On playing steady and clean within your ability and that way you are developing firm foundations upon which speed will develop

Practice and learn songs by all means but you can get stuck and frustrated trying to do a full break so focus on licks, hammer on’s, pull offs etc until they become so embedded you don’t needs to think about it

Remember most Scruggs breaks/playing is a collection of licks

Keep it fun and set weekly goals you can meet within the practice time you have