Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Hey Ben... How do you think?

Crazy subject, I know. But not too far off from what I would like to know.

You have some very instructive videos about all manner of playing bluegrass guitar. My questions are pretty specific though and deal with your thought process when you are working out arrangements and when you are just jamming with your musician friends.

So here it is. When you are working out an arrangement, what are you thinking when you are putting the whole arrangement together? Are you thinking about always following the melody closely, or do you occasionally just put together a riff that starts and ends on the same notes as the melody would in the same measures? I know you have explained (in some detail) in your videos how to spruce up a melody, especially one that allows for lots of space between the notes (quarter notes and half notes in a melody), but what are you thinking (Ben Clark) when you fill in those licks/riffs? Are you working from a library of licks you have stored in your head, are you trying to syncopate the melody/riff to give rhythmic interest to the arrangement, are you just trying to hit important melody notes that might fall at the same time as your superimposed riff… or what?

And when you are jamming, are you thinking the same things as above or is there a completely different thought process happening? Do you feel more free to take more liberties with the melody during a jam and in turn feel freer to just have some fun? Or is it important to you to continue to stay close to the melody during a jam?

So to the questions above… What is your thought process, what do you think and do… and why do you think/do that?

Thanks in advance!


— Begin quote from "Banjo Ben"

There were a few times when I’d let it fly, but I’m not the best at that. I’m better at pre-creating solos that I think are tasty. Some people may criticize that, but many of my favorite players work up solos to play live.

— End quote

I’m not one to criticize that method. Most I have heard that criticize the method of planning and rehearsing do their “improvising” by playing pentatonic phrases (or canned licks) that have nothing to do with the song. There are the people who can just cut loose and truly create around a melody (or have a huge enough bag O licks that it sounds like they are doing so) on the fly, but they are a rare breed. It’s certainly not me.

Thanks very much for the reply.

I am very interested in the thought process of master musicians. It has been my experience that some musicians do everything by ear (like David Grier or Wes Montgomery). These folks “hear” what they want to play, either from their library of memorized licks, or from the movement of the notes beneath their fingers. They can hear where the line is moving to and know interesting ways to get there. David Grier seems to be exceptionally good at this:


David claims to not have a clue about the difference between a root note and a blue note (I have no reason to doubt his word) which makes listening to him all that much more astounding.

Some musicians tend toward strict music theory and note reading and musical techniques to perform as they do. Here is Pat Martino explaining some of his thought processes when soloing over an A7#5 (altered dominant) chord:


Can you imagine what might have happened if Doc Watson popped out a riff like these in Hot Corn Cold Corn? :open_mouth:

I know that you are a musician that uses both your ears and mind during your writing and arranging. I was curious if (to what extent) you are thinking about blue note placement or if you prefer to do more of what David does and follow the melody in interesting ways using both licks from your mental library and just listening closely as to what your hands are doing at any given moment while finding fun things to do during that process.

I think you have explained it quite well above.

Thanks again Ben!

Good stuff! A well thought out question and an equally well thought out response.