Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Hit a brickwall with playing backup

hello everyone, i having trouble fully understanding how to play backup. i have watched bens videos over and over but just doesnt sound good at all when i put it into practice. Should i just go pay someone local to teach me or is Bens videos teaching the same that they will? just really want to learn this,and not be missing soemthing. any help i would be very thankful for… have a good day

I’ve been playing with Ben’s lessons for 2 1/2 years now. I just play on my own and my backup is pretty non-existant. For instance, in Ben’s most recent lesson, The Entertainer, the most difficult part of the lesson for me is playing the tabbed out backup.

That said, here is my take on backup after a couple of years. It is a lot harder than it looks. You need to have a lot of skill to play and create backup. You need to be able to play your chords up and down the neck without thinking. You need to have a nice vocabulary of licks, turnarounds and endings at your fingertips without thinking.

If you’ve only been at it a few months, then maybe it’s not too much to ask but if it was me, it would be. After 30 months of practicing, I am just now getting to the point where these things are starting to be a possibility. It’s a question of time and practice. Because it’s only by repeating the same things over and over again that they get drilled into my mind and hands.

If you have the above skills, then Ben’s backup lessons make more sense because he wants you to make your own backup. But if you’re still at the stage where you’re going ‘how does he do that?’ then they aren’t going to be too useful.

I have never taken any other lessons than Ben’s online lessons so I may be wrong about this. Maybe someone can really ‘teach’ you how to play backup. But in my case, it’s more like backup is coming to me as my skill level increases.

Good luck and keep on practicing and having fun!

thanks for the info, its well taking.I will take your advice.I feel like a kid in a candy store with no money,and want it all at once…'i will keep picking at it and let it come without forcing it on myself to learn after 5months. I sure in the end it will all make sense. thanks again for the info…

I recall that for me, things were still very confusing at 5 months. I play piano and guitar but for me, the three finger picking was and still is, a great mystery. As I said, after 30 months I am beginning to know where to put my fingers but for instance, how to improvise with three fingers is still a mystery.

Anyway, one thing that you could do to help your backup (I don’t do this however, choosing to spend the time learning song breaks and hoping that it will ‘sink in’) would be just to vamp to each song that you learn. So you just play the chords, no rolls just doing pinches. You would start with down the neck chords but then you would work on up the neck ones too. This is how you will be able to play chords without thinking.

Like I said, I should do this but I don’t…yet!

I am new so I’m reluctant to post 2cents

Banjo isn’t hard and fast notes it is noodling start with the tab don’t be afraid of mistakes precept upon precept keep your fingers loose BB King was asked why he spent so much time on scales For banjo it is the big 5 Rolls and scales Joke It is a challenge! Make an exercise to keep your fingers loose like not setting your fingers i.e. 2-3hammeron 2nd and 3rd string pick your fingers up 1st down 1st finger up 2nd finger down 2nd finger up both strings until you can move fluidly war
M up before you play train your ear train train train then play a song Most important find a way to have fun make it restful sometimes I fall asleep!



This site is a great one. That being said, I would recommend taking lessons. I have been playing banjo for a little over a year now and used this site in conjunction with bi-weekly lessons. If you are learning golf you can learn on youtube but you need someone watching you and help tweeking. Music lessons are key. Also, I bought several of the Pete Wernick dvd’s. They are from Homespun tapes. It has slow jam and other play alongs. Lastly, is there a jam group in your area. We have one locally and it meets twice a month. There is ultra beginners, beginners, intermediate and advanced. It is a very non threatening environment where we play, everyone messes up and we have good laugh and encourage each other. Best wishes for whatever you choose to do.

I struggled with backup as well. I don’t have much opportunity to play back up. I still practice it though. I would suggest a few things.

First - Listen to the music and pay particular attention to what the banjo is doing
Second - Consider purchasing Back Up Banjo by Janet Davis.
Third - Consider purchasing Band in a Box. I use the software everyday. It plays whatever chords you type in. You can create your own chord progressions or if you want to just have it play one. It also plays at whatever speed you would like. So for example I created a chord progression of CCGGDDGG to match up with Ben’s Bag O’Licks up the neck. Out on the internet someone created the chord progression to many bluegrass tunes that you can download. There is also the ability to create solos with other instruments so that you can practice different styles of back up (i.e. vamp for guitar, picking for a fiddle). I really enjoy the software because it never gets tired and sounds realistic.

Let me know if you have any questions

New guy here. Seasoned guitar player, but still getting the hang of the banjo, so I’m not an expert. I echo what tertom said. You’ve got to get our there and jam, with a group or with friends. That is how your playing will truly come into its own.

Also, some lessons with a real-live teacher will give you some good feedback.

Finally, I have avoided the slippery slope of one self-help book and DVD after another. Personally, I’ve found this site to be an excellent way to learn songs, and a great addition is the book Earl Scruggs and the 5-String banjo, which comes with a CD where Earl himself gives you some instruction and demonstrates the music (rolls, kick-offs, endings, songs) he is teaching you. The book teaches you in small, easily digestible bites.

Once you get going and learn a few songs, you should start getting the banjer “in your blood,” and be able to jump into new songs with more confidence. You’ve got to get out there and play with others.

Don’t get discouraged. Playing an instrument, like life, is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the scenery along the way. Even Banjo Ben himself would probably tell you that even at his professional level, he is still learning (although at the PhD level, while I am still in grade school :wink:

just wanted to say THANK YOU for all the input. Im still working on it, but not beating myself as hard to learn it so fast…still watching bens videos and, my wife plays guitar and got my brother starting to play mandoline…So we have started playing together in my basement(lol).having a great time just learning everything. i will post some updates when i can figure out to do that,copy/paste thingy…Thanks once again for all your help,its well taken…