I really appreciate the lessons and the website Ben!


I just wanted to say “thanks” Ben for the great instructional lessons on your website. I am sure it is a lot of work. You really got me back into playing guitar now at 55yo (after many years of not playing) and I recently bought a Martin D28 which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for your great website and great instructional videos with right-on tabs and tef files. One question, any pointers on developing speed? I’ve been pushing myself with the metronome but the speed just isn’t happening as fast as I would like.
Also, any chance of doing Arkansas Traveler on guitar as only you can do? Love that song.
Thanks again Ben, love your site, great songs. I am on it near everyday.


Hey Wally,
Ben’s been pretty busy recently, so I thought I might try to help with the question about speed. There is a video he did which covers pick selection, grip and so forth. It can be found here:
banjobenclark.com/videos/82/ … -lesson-1/
There are a few other forum topics on it. To recap some of the common tips:
[ul]Use a stiff pick
Use medium gauge strings
Stay loose (all the way through to the shoulders)
Play at a speed where you can control what you are doing and play cleanly
Creep up your max speed incrementally over time[/ul]
But in a nutshell, it takes good fundamentals and lots of repetition. I have been coming here for about a year and the progress I had at first was rapid, but since then, it’s been slow but steady progress. I think that is fairly typical. Figure out what the weak point is (right hand, left hand, coordination between the two, etc.). Then just work on it, and it will come with time. I think the toughest part of this is the patience.
Best of luck, and I’m sure there will be some others comment soon.


Thanks mreisz,
Yes it is exactly as you say it is. I built up to a speed relatively quickly (186-192 metronome) but now to go any faster well it’s like I hit a brick wall. I suppose thorough memorization along with finger memory is the key. I find when I start thinking too much about the song I’m playing, I screw up. I bought a whole bunch of cd’s, Bryan Sutton, Tony Rice, Clarence White and I am amazed at the speed at which these guys play and Ben is right up there with them. I am still reinventing myself. I took lessons when I was 20yo from a very strict jazz guitarist and he frowned upon me putting any fingers on the pick guard and my thumb was to be right behind the neck not coming over the top. He would smack my hand at times. Anyway I am working on breaking those habits now. Thanks for the advice and I am doing exactly what you had mentioned. I am hoping 3-4 years from now when I can retire I’ll be ready to start a little bluegrass group.
Thanks for the help.


Glad to help. Uh-oh… you encouraged me, so now I probably won’t shut my trap :slight_smile:

A couple other things that helped me out over the past year…

If you really want to go fast soon, pick a simple tune without much embellishment (like Billy in the low ground or Red haired boy basic version). With a simple tune, you can add some decent speed in a short amount of time and it’s pretty encouraging.

Once you do the above and realize that you can play some things at a usable BG speed, then slow down. What I mean by that is when I first started doing this, I did exactly like you… I pushed to some speed and then hit a plateau. Let’s say 190 for a given song. What I did at that point was keep playing it at 190, often making the same mistakes or playing uncleanly through the same section. What I do different now is I drop the speed to where I reasonably expect to be able to play all sections of the song without error. Do I always play it perfect? Of course not, but in the previous example where I was playing at the speed I had plateaued, I might play it cleanly once in a long while, and even then it probably would not be smooth (legato from your jazz days). A recent real world example for me is “Leaning on the everlasting arms.” I learned the notes, and worked out a few harder sections with increased attention, and then started playing it and increasing the speed. I spent a lot of time around 140 bpm while I was getting it committed to muscle memory. At that speed, I can see what I am doing and make sure I am not learning it with something goofy involved. At this point, have the pick strokes down, but there are still a few sections that are not as smooth or I get tripped up on. At this point, I have probably played it reasonably well around 180 to 190, but my current practice speed is 165. A few months ago, I probably would have been at 190 by now and playing 80% ok and the 20% not real well. Anyway, when I get really consistent at 165, I’ll bump it up to say 170. I think the song sounds good around 200, so that is my ultimate target, but here’s another key… I don’t expect my normal practice speed to ever get there (unless my performance target changes to something higher). Other tunes that I play around 200, I generally practice in the 180 to 190 range. Of course from time to time I will play it faster, but that’s generally when I am just “playing” and not practicing. My focus in practice shifted from playing faster to playing cleaner. Oddly enough, I think that has been key to break through the speed plateaus I had hit.


Welcome aboard Wally. I’ve got nothing to add but I say listen to Mike. He’s a genius, besides which he’s a pilot therefore cannot be wrong :laughing:


Jack, you are too kind (or possibly delusional) :laughing: The last time even had a chance to becoming a smart guy was sometime around when I was 13 and it’s been downhill every year since. I keep finding out more that I don’t know… if I live long enough, I figure I’ll wake up one day and realize I know nothing. But as you said, I am a pilot, so in theory, even if I am dead flat wrong, that shouldn’t stop me from thinking I am always right… there is something to that. I live in a neighborhood with a bunch of pilots and our HOA meetings can be pretty funny. BTW Jack, How are the stitching projects coming along?


It’s been quite a busy last few months now. It’ seems that all the twins are coming out to play. Last one was a Baron and now it’s an Aztec. Full leather interiors and of course, they want them yesterday. Trying to get everything done so that we can finish paying off the house as my wife got offered a “golden handshake” from her job and we need to be totally debt free when she retires. Looks like it will happen come Oct and then Maybe I can slow down a bit and get back to playin’.
Sorry to highjack the tread. :blush:


The highjack (or “Hi Jack!”) :laughing: was my fault. Sorry about it as well. I tend to meander a bit.