Inventing Breaks


Taking licks we’ve already learned and putting them to use in other songs is something that naturally happens as we try to figure out new songs. I started this thread so anyone interested could share something they have built on their own.

On the old forum I had “Gold rush” and “Red Haired Boy” tabbed out from mostly licks I learned from Ben plus a bit of figurin’ on my own. I’ll see if I can find them and put them up again for anyone interested.

I’m also trying to help another banjo picker figure out “High on the Mountain top” and when I get that done I’ll post it as well to see what you all think of it and to hopefully get some suggestions.


Ok, Here is “The Gold Rush”.

I played around with some of Ben’s melodic licks to build this break. For those who read this in the old forum I’ve made a few minor changes to correct mistakes, as well as added the chords so it is easier to keep track of where you are in the song.

Also it is in .tef form this time.


Here is a re-done version (boy the old one had some big mistakes!) of “Red Haired Boy” This tab also uses a lots of licks (and parts of licks) I learned from Ben on this site.

One tab is for the A part and the second is for the B part.


Here is what I have so far for “High on a Mountain Top”. Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions.


Dave, great idea for a topic, thanks for posting it.
I like the high on a mountain tef. Nice job. Watching the fingering and hearing the high G string pitch hurts my little guitar biased brain. When I tried to learn banjo for a bit I never got used to that. It just “should” be a lower pitch since it’s the first string.

I was working on and intro and break for “Drifting too far from the shore” When I get a bit of time I might whittle it down to what I like and post it with empty areas so people could add/modify phrases as they wish. Kind of a collective break authoring group (I know, it sounds a bit Communist).


Great idea Mike. It would be a cool challenge to keep the song sounding in a matching type of style I would think.

thanks for the compliment on HOTMT. As I mentioned I wrote the break to help a fellow banjo player come up with one (they are doing the song in a band).

I haven’t heard back from her yet so not sure what she thinks of it. I might have to change a few things to make it more user friendly to her style, but as you can see I tried to put a good helping of power into it (lots of double notes/quarter notes). I was trying to to help her get a bit more brash sounding on the 5-string in my own evil little way…hehe.


Good idea for a topic…hopefully I can contribute something eventually.


Thanks ms!

You can certainly feel free to contribute on anything I put here.

We are all here to learn, and being able to do so from/with each other makes it happen all that much quicker (and it’s more fun too!).


I wish I was good enough to contribute…lol…or at least learn from it.


Charles, it is not the level of playing we are concerned with here but the sharing of what we are learning; that makes you good enough to contribute! and everyone is good enough to learn from whatever they might try!

 Playing music, to me, is all about having fun and sharing that fun with others of like mind. Don't worry, with regular practice and given some time, You will gain more confidence as your skill level increases. 

 I got my banjo just last September (although I knew a little about it from having one for a while 25 years or so ago). I do have the advantage of already knowing the music and some of the theory behind it, but I haven't been playing very long and with help form Ben's instruction I can say I'm fairly happy that the work I've put in has produced some result in the right direction. 

 Have patience and take it a step at a time, improvement will come in bits and pieces over time if you put in a sound effort.  

 And remember to have Fun!


Hey Charles,
Whatever you do, just have fun with it. That’s a big part of why we are here. There are players that are brand new, others that know a ton and play at a very high level and most are somewhere in between. My wife and I are currently working on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It may not seem to be the most incredible piece of music, but we are having a blast with it. Ben made a nice arrangement for two guitars and it sounds quite nice. It is serving as my wife’s introduction to picking out notes. I am working on a couple of progressively more advanced parts for her (as well as some variety to my backing parts) and when she gets comfy with the basic version, we’ll kick it up a little at a time. Is it the musical equivalent of brain surgery? No, but I am absolutely loving it.

I find that as I work on new styles or techniques, I focus on what I can’t do to my liking. It’s just in my nature, but it’s kind of annoying. Every once in a while I need to remind myself that some of the best times I have had with music has been enjoying simple music played for or with others.

Dave (fiddlewood) and some of the others are making music together on a collaborative site.
Topic here:
Link to their song here: … ctId=33300
It’s awesome what they are doing. They have been obsessing over getting their tracks down, working out harmonies, composition, and have been burning up the communication on their forum topic. It’s been fun to watch and listen to it develop. Now, those are some very talented musicians, but in my opinion, the thing that makes what they are doing great is not the level of talent, but how they are enjoying making music.
Best of luck, and if you have any questions, just ask. There are a bunch of helpful people here on the forums. If a question lingers too long without a good response, Ben usually jumps in and drops some great advice.


Thanks for the compliments. I’m not sure how great we are as musicians go, I’ve got well over 100 takes on the recorder (as well as many hours of practicing) trying to get a banjo track down that I could live with others hearing, and I’ still wish it were much better. Obsessing is probably the correct word…haha!

It has been a great learning experience though and I’m super glad we took on the project. I’ve learned tons of stuff from this and improved my picking a bit to boot!


I think 100 takes for a part is is pretty normal. I played with a one take kind of guy years ago, but he was the exception. I have found that the “record” button is directly tied to my “clumsy” switch. My favorite thing is when I finally nail a part and then I look and find it wasn’t armed to record. :stuck_out_tongue:


haha,I’m not admitting how many times that happened…or what I may have said about it…


WOW!!!..nice job fellas! That sounds REALLY good, I like it a lot! I have never heard of, what’s the deal there? Is it free to sign up and start a project?

As far as turning to jello when the record button is pressed, I got in this acoustic contest a couple years ago at and recorded 2 short 45 sec clips…I won’t even tell you how long it took to get those 45 secs on video. lol Little riffs that I can blow through blindfolded suddenly become impossible once you know you’re being recorded!


Larry and I pay $5/montheach to post things like Larry and I are doing on our own profile. I believe you have to pay to post. For this price you can put things up but they are all public to everyone at on the site.

I think for more money you can keep things private.

You can listen for free. Not sure if you can add a track to someone’s project though. Larry might know.

Heres a link to my page. It has some other things we’ve done together and with others: … ile.member


Haha…I cant count high enough to know the number of times I played cripple creek lol…must have been in the millions by now…and I still find myself terrible at it although others say that I sound ok. Obsessive is probably the correct term considering we are on this forum talking about the fact that we are obsessed lol. Question…what goes into inventing a break? Does one pick out a song…the find the right ‘key’…then somewhere in the middle of it decide to start an interchanging selection of one-off rolls that are fretted to produce the same ‘key’?


here’s what I went through.
Oldhat picked the song
He also picked the key of G
I watched several videos to understand the different ways that different people did the song
I figured out the basic melody
I experimented (a lot) with different ways to play the basic melody and keep up a roll on the banjo
I experimented more searching for ways I could make my solo sound like “me”. In other words, I left the melody in places to throw in what I thought were cool licks (some I had to invent myself and some that I already knew) that would fit into the solo and spice it up a bit.

And there I had a break figured all out that I could change many times before I really liked it! i am still working on it and probably will change it many more times in the future as I learn more ways to play my instrument.

Many of the rules I’ve learned for what works and what doesn’t in music come from listening to recordings of other musicians who play the instrument really well. I listen to other banjo players every chance I get, and I get ideas from every one I hear.


— Begin quote from "fiddlewood"

Many of the rules I’ve learned for what works and what doesn’t in music come from listening to recordings of other musicians who play the instrument really well.

— End quote

Absolutely true. And sometimes the best stuff comes from pure dumb luck. Years ago, I was the bass player in a rock band. The guitarist wrote a song, I thought he said it was in E, so I was listening to him play through… developed a line in my head, then started to play it. It was an up tempo walking Em kind of thing. It sounded awesome and unique with the guitar part. When I actually looked at what he was playing, he was in A. Go figure.


Well, you can probably do stuff like that in them thar rock rolling bands…