Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Improv and motivation

I gave 2 questions, I put in guitar forum but applicable across the board.

First, I’m on month 2 and I love this site, I’m enthusiastically going thru the intermediate level stuff and feeling like I’m making leaps and bounds, good structure to follow and an interesting enthusiastic teacher. Fortunately here in NC we have a fair number of opportunities to play with others and I look forward to joining some bluegrass jams once this corona thing passes. I don’t have much desire leave our land now.

Do you advanced players reach a point where at least for picking you pretty much improvise melodies around chord structures? I’ve been playing over 50 years, childhood was general messing around, started training classical in college and then jazz after about 25 years of that which was very much oriented toward teaching my ear to improvise around various chord types and tonal centers. it seems like many of the really good bluegrass pickers are largely improvising?

2nd question, maybe a bit esoteric… what motivates you to play this style of music? I’ve enjoyed my classical music, I always come back to it but I’m also a Texas boy and grew up with country, college days in the 70s around Austin definitely an influence but as a child around a west Texas ranching environment the influence of old school like Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers, Johnny Horton etc so as I get older I realize my true interest are in the area of roots country music. Even starting to do vocals, drawn to the lyrical content of the music as well from the traditional country/folk songwriters as well as many of the Americana indie style songwriters, so… traditional bluegrass from a pure perspective isn’t my goal but the influence I can take from learning it definitely is a big part because it is at the root of country.

Sorry for the long winded intro… just curious about the journey some of you may be traveling…


And I would add, or any style of music.

I think for most of us it’s just simply we hear something we like, or sounds really good to us. It hits you like a brick and you think… “I’ve got to learn that, or at least try it”! It can be more than just a certain song. It can be a lick (the G-lick being the most poular by leaps and bounds) or it can even just be the tone. For me personally (and many, many other guitarists), it’s Tony Rice. (For licks, tone and innovation). But there are others… Steve Kaufman, Doc Watson, Bryan Sutton, Ben, Norman Blake and Chris Jones (who doesn’t get much recognition as a guitarist). Good solid rythmn player with tasteful breaks. That’s just to name a few.

As far as your first question which I purposely skipped… I really can’t answer it. I know very little about music theory, I just play what sounds good or right to me. I do make things up and change things here and there but I don’t know if I’m changing the lead around chord structures or through scales or patterns.

I say… just have fun with it and play to enjoy… No rules!

One more thing, the older I get, less becomes more. Less notes, less speed equals better tone and more taste. Unless you’re Tony or nowadays Billy Strings (who I liked much better when he was starting out a few years ago… incredible talent though). Just my opinion…

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Yes Jeff. I hear you about keeping it simple. I really feel much of the same, I’ve always avoided too many modes and scale drills although I guess they do serve a purpose to some degree. Somehow one has to develop a feel so the fingers instinctively know where to go and one can be creative not simply regurgitate something that we’ve drilled into our head by pure repetition. That’s a struggle for me because coming from a classical background much of that is learned pretty much off the notation as it’s presented and there’s not a lot of thinking outside the box.

I’m trying to be more of a creative player thus my question about motivation… I’m trying to focus more in playing from the heart rather than strictly from what those before me have done and you’re right it is about fun… or whatever it is that makes us feel good

Thanks for the reply!