Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

How much time do you invest into serious practice?

I have been playing for ten years, I considered my self to be a intermediate player. I play in my church worship band and even was a worship leader in a very small church. I know all my chords and Barr chords, I thought pretty high of my self. The. I started looking on the web and at taking some serious lessons. I can me across Banjo Ben and thought tommy self why not give it a try. I went to the intermediate tab and started trying to learn.

WOW!! I realize I know nothing in the world of bluegrass. I can’t flat pick at all and I have a hard time playing fingerstyle. I moved back the the basic tab and started moving through the videos. I learned amazing grace, and basic rhythm. Amazing Grace did not take long but I can’t get down a bluegrass rhythm. I understand the concept I just hit all the wrong strings, is there a way to practice just that?

Also I am sort of retired now and I practice for 2-5 hours a day. I would think that basic rhythm would quickly be mastered with time like that but I guess I am doing some thing wrong

So here is the question, how much time are you putting in? Am I putting to much time in? What to secret to playing bluegrass?

Howdy Mort722,

The good news is that when you are first learning bluegrass is when you can really improve quickly. It takes some time to learn the muscle memory and gain the amount of right hand control needed to do things such as BG rhythm. It just takes some time and repetition. I was a primarily a fingerstyle guy (although I had listened to BG for a long time) and when I started into BG in earnest, I probably averaged a couple hours a day over quite a few months. Some days were marathons. If your fingers aren’t giving you problems, have at it. It’s not going to be a surprise, but a really big key early on is to not rush it. For example, on rhythm, pick a speed where you can think you can play through the chord progression cleanly (it might be one third or a quarter the speed of where you are currently trying to play). If you don’t make it all the way through, slow it down even more. I had to slow way down. Once I got to where I could repeat something multiple times and not mess up, I’d add a few beats per minute. I used a metronome and kept a log. Then just keep repeating the cycle, and you will be at usable rhythm speed before you know it. Don’t try to jump straight to the finish line… it just doesn’t work for most mortals.

Once you get the basic BG techniques, they come in handy. I don’t know if you play much Crowder in worship, but I end up “grassing” up many of his songs. I also end up doing grassified versions of lots of hymns. There’s nothing like waking everyone up to start the day with a little “I saw the light”, “I stand amazed” or “I’ll fly away.”

Let us know how it goes and keep at it, you’ll get there!


Check out a guy named Clint Strong. You can catch him on Youtube. Only a handful (small handful) of guitarists ever reach his level of expertise but not only can he play he is a humble guy who, in my opinion, can teach and talk guitars with anyone.
Clint talks about practicing and walking away and although it sounds a little crazy, it works! I have practiced for hours and wasn’t happy with my progress. However when I went back later and tried to play the same stuff again, I have noticed improvement by walking away. (hope I’m explaining this right) I am not saying you can practice too much. The only time I feel you can practice too much is if you are developing or practicing bad habits… i.e. pick stroke, position, etc… In the end, it all comes down to “time on the stump”. Clint is not a BG picker per say. Neither am I for that matter. But his suggestions and approach is very enlightening to those who seriously want to improve.

Hope this made sense and I hope it helps!!


I spend about ten minutes being serious and then the rest of the four hours having fun, No I know you have to practice til you get sick of the tune but that will fade away once you learn the piece. I have said on here somewhere I sort of walk away and stop even for a few days maybe a week and go back and it is better I thought it was my old mind going bad but maybe we need time to digest it . The main thing is to enjoy what you do or it becomes a job not a hobby or a thing of pleasure. HAVE FUN IT IS LATER THAN WE THINK! To thy own self be true play what you like if you are not a pro or even if you are you can still do that, many pros won’t play something they do not like.

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…Also I am sort of retired now and I practice for 2-5 hours a day…
So here is (are) the question(s), how much time are you putting in? Am I putting to much time in? What to secret to playing bluegrass?

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— Begin quote from "Mort722"

How much time are you putting in?

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Not as much as I should. I just was on vacation and I was able to squeeze in about 2 hours a day. During normal times, I am lucky to get 30 minutes of real practice time in each day. Keep in mind that I teach and play guitar for a living.

When I am getting into concentrated practice, I will play as much as 6 to 7 hours a day, but those days are few and far between.

— Begin quote from "Mort722"

Am I putting to much time in?

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Too much? Nah. However, I find at this point that it is less about hours (quantity) and more about the quality of practice time. For example, if your practice time is mostly playing through tunes that you already know and can play well, you are not getting better. However, if you approach practice with a specific goal of learning new techniques/tunes and systematically work through those techniques/tunes slowly and carefully, you can get a lot accomplished in a short time.

— Begin quote from "Mort722"

What to secret to playing bluegrass?

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This is a good question and one that does not bring a simple answer. You see, every person will take a different route to learning bluegrass and the techniques needed to play that style well. For me, I needed to understand how good bluegrass players approach scale usage (while soloing) and how those scales relate to the harmonies involved. Once I understood these relationships, I could play solos in a bluegrass style. Also, good bluegrass rhythm playing requires more than the often derided Boom-Chuck (or bass-strum) right hand technique. If you listen carefully to great bluegrass guitarists, you will hear them running bass lines and using leading tones in the bass to drive the harmony forward.

Something else that is not a secret but is important is to do a lot of listening to the bluegrass players that you enjoy and go and play regularly at local bluegrass jams to learn how to interact musically with other bluegrassers.

Have fun!

I am FAR from a bluegrass player, but I will give my 2 cents anyways =)

I have been playing guitar (non-bluegrass) off and on now for 18 years. I never took lessons or any formal training. I have always just played with friends here and there. Luckily most of my playing with others has revolved around improvisation … someone would just start playing a small progression and the jam will build out from there. I have always enjoyed that approach and it is how I learned to jam with others, and how I jam when by myself. I have always hated the idea of learning songs. It can take a lot of time, and once I learn it, I don’t get much satisfaction. Instead I usually just find/make up a progression and noodle around it, enjoying the melody and where ever it may take me for that one sitting.

Then about a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn some bluegrass. I quickly realized that it was not as simple as learning a new song. I had to retrain my rock-style brain to deal with the “boom-chicka-boom-chicka-boom” style of bluegrass. After I got that down, I learned a few songs from this site. I mainly focused on learning the rhythm and an 8-run to have a solo in my back pocket when needed. I don’t try learning the entire solos. This is mainly out of laziness; but it has also been a good means to force me to add on to those 8-runs and improvise more length to the solos.

In just a year, with this lazy approach to learning bluegrass, I have become a much better guitarist. I always had the fundamentals that ‘rock’ taught me (very influence by Neil Young); Bluegrass has focused my skills and made my fingers stronger, allowing me to really broaden my playing style. I guess my main suggestion about learning is to not force it, and don’t get in a hurry. Just make sure you keep challenging yourself, but more so, enjoy yourself. This is working for me and has allowed me to continue to absolutely love the act of playing my guitar without making it a task. Just try to focus on how far you have come rather than how far you have to go.

Oh, and one more suggestion. Always set aside about 10 minutes of running through the G major scale. Even if you have it mastered to a T. I find it really helps me focus on those finger combinations that just don’t come natural. Ring finger to pinky hammer-ons/pulloffs, middle finger to pinky hamers/pulloffs, etc. You can create your own loops and runs that are sure to make your weaker fingers stronger.

Some great stuff here from some great players…I only started on Bluegrass about 3 yrs ago even though I had a Basic knowledge of guitar, I can read music notation and tab obviously, I tried once for about a month and worked on Cripple Creek since it was fairly simple…so I thought…well I gave up and went back to my electric for about a year… In that time it kept bugging me that I gave up on it because I thought it was to hard to learn, so one day got a hair up my wazoo and sold my arch top and custom electric and amp and went out and bought my first acoustic and decided I would learn this stuff or just plain quit playing guitar altogether!
In my humble opinion…this is the hardest to learn form of guitar playing I have ever attempted, due to the combination of acoustic which is more difficult to finger and get a feel for, the horrendous tempos, the pull off and hammer ons every other note, etc. I struggled and struggled, went thru 7 guitars before I realized it ain’t the arrow but the indian shooting it that makes it hit the mark. Good equipment is essential don’t get me wrong and I love nice guitars but…if you handed me a hundred thousand dollar custom or a 1200 dollar guitar they would both sound like Me!!
So once I got over the better guitar will make me play better syndrome I woke up and started practicing in earnest and I usually average about 4 hours a day serious learn tunes and scales etc. and another couple of hours working on vocals and chords to the same. Some days from early to bed time all day I will spend on one tune until I can’t sit there any longer, those are missions with the reward being finally memorizing one particular tune perfect as I can get it. The reward is knowing it for life and having some show tunes I can play for people.
If I get in a slump which occasionally happens I will cut back to a hour or two for a few days until it passes and get back into my routine. I never leave on a trip or vacation without my guitar and never take time off from it, as I feel the amount of time off equals the amount of extra time I will need to catch up again. The only thing you need to watch is your hands, do stretching every day, and sit straight etc. because poor health will ruin it all, and acoustic guitar is a physical activity for sure.
Now after 3 yrs. I have a plain old Martin D18, I love, have it set up perfect so don’t worry about guitars now and concentrate on playing. I jam with others and whenever there is a group not to far or a BG festival I am there.
I feel now that I am beginning to understand the beginning level of beginning to play blue grass guitar. anything much over 200 bpm still gives me problems and there are a few tunes I still struggle with but find most coming along more quickly now. I feel in another 3 yrs I will be at the intermediate level. Then I go see Bryan Sutton or Russ Barenburg or Chris Thile etc. and feel like I don’t even know how to hold the thing let alone play it!! Ben is probably the greatest inspiration to me as he breaks it down to where you can follow and if you stick with him will take you a long ways towards your goal. One great musician and teacher…Jerry

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Mort Check out a guy named Clint Strong. You can catch him on Youtube. Only a handful (small handful) of guitarists ever reach his level of expertise but not only can he play he is a humble guy who, in my opinion, can teach and talk guitars with anyone.

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Wow, had no idea Clint was on the net! Caught him playing on a TV special for Merle Haggard years ago and been a big fan of his ever since.

Mort, “is there a way to pratice just that?”

Yes…you answered your own question.

There is no way to tell form your explanation exactly what yur problem might be without seeing or hearing you play. If your just gitting the wrong strings you might try slowing down until you can hit the correct ones.

I sent you a pm…


I have no idea how much time I spend “practicing”…right now I have three instruments sitting out and have played them all today for at least a bit. Much of what I do is just playing around, experimenting, playing with records or metronome etc. I don’t consider it practice…just fun. If my hand, arm or voice gets tired, I stop for a while.

— Begin quote from "Jerry M"

The only thing you need to watch is your hands, do stretching every day, and sit straight etc. because poor health will ruin it all, and acoustic guitar is a physical activity for sure.

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Yeah, Jerry M is right! I would practice a lot more if I could, but I have bad playing posture and it wrecks my neck and upper back if I play for too long a period of time. Nevertheless, I pick up the guitar multiple times per day. I find that I make progress when I’m able to play/practice for like 3 hours at a stretch, but I’m usually not capable of it. Anyhow, I’m steadily getting better so I guess every little bit helps.

Here’s my number one tip: pay close attention to the tightness/tension in your picking hand. And when you detect tension, figure out what it was that you did to cause the hand to tighten up. Then work on that until you can do it freely and easily with no hand tension.

Simply playing through songs doesn’t give me the challenge I need to get better; I have to practice the difficult stuff over and over while forcing my pick hand to be loose.