Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

How to learn a new song, steps and repetitions

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this addressed; the steps to learning a new song. I am working on Billy in the Low Ground --this is in “C” using open “G” tuning so there are some new (to me) rolls and approaches to picking the notes. I suppose everyone starts a new song the same way which is to walk through Ben’s instruction note for note and just memorize it. For me the first step is learning the song well enough to begin repeating it, playing along with the preview version at 75% speed and after that playing along with the backup at 150 bpm. That’s where I am now and have begun repeating the song over and over. I had hoped to play it at a jam today but am realizing that I am quite a way from being able to nail it and play it faster than 75% of normal. Besides seeking comments on how to learn a new song I am wondering how many repetitions it might take an average person to truly consider the piece as learned.

Early editions of “Earl Scruggs and the 5 String Banjo” showed the number 1,000 after each example of some roll but now I see that instead of 1,000, the phrase “Play many times” is used. Ideas or comments on what constitutes “Many times”?


Welcome to the forum! Several folks here use tef tabs to practice, and don’t watch the videos at all. I watch the videos and memorize it by repetition, but that doesn’t get the rhythm right. I practice it alone without any backing track or aid until I can play it smoothly all the way through, and then I try to play along with the slowest backing track, and usually find it too slow cuz I can already play faster. This usually takes between 1-3 days, depending on difficulty, but may take up to weeks for other people. Playing along with the backing track smooths out anyplace where I wasn’t sure of the rhythm and note length. Many times is used, I assume, because it’s different for everyone, but if you’re counting you’re probably wasting brainpower that should be picking. Also, challenge yourself to play slightly faster than you can, cuz after a couple tries at higher speeds when you slow back down to where you were you’ll be a lot cleaner


Hey William! Welcome to the board!

Many of us have chimed in on this subject, but it has been quite a while. Here are a couple of older posts that may interest you.


Hi William, Welcome to @BanjoBen 's Forum

I have been studying banjo for over a decade and I’m still learning new stuff every day. So a lot of what I know I have repeated more than 10,000 times. My advice for what it’s worth is don’t get hung up on numbers Just enjoy the journey.

When I tackle a new tune I listen to it over and over until I am able to hum along. I study @BanjoBen 's TAB to see if there are any new rolls or picking patterns, licks and phrases that might be a challenge for me to learn and get to work on these area right away. Sometimes it may take me a week or two to nail these phrases. Time spent on these early on means I am less likely to have a train wreck and the learning process seems to flow much better. This I have to say has come about thru years of trial and error and more train wrecks than I care to recall.

I work from the TEF TAB using TablEdit. But I also watch Ben’s videos very closely. I pay particular attention to how he frets the strings and how he picks the strings. Especially his THUMB. More often than not the thumb is used to emphasise melody notes. I pretty much work through the tune as Ben teaches it note for note. But I tend not to learn the tune at one sitting. I usually learn it a phrase at a time (in a loop) or in the case of a Fiddle Tune the A Part then next time the B Part. I always start by learning the most difficult parts of a tune. Breaking up difficult sections into smaller manageable parts even down to half a measure in some cases.

Speed is the last thing I work on. I start off real slow, making sure my picking is accurate. and gradually build speed over a week or two depending on the difficulty of the arrangement. It can take a long time to build speed, never try to push yourself too fast too soon all you will do is end up having a train wreck. If your working from TAB. Listen to the TEF file, Listen to the the Demo Vids and MP3 files. Learn to FEEL the music.

Good Luck and Happy Pickin