Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Laurie Warta from Bishop, California

What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site?
The Build A Break lessons are my favorite but truthfully, I love them all!

How long have you been playing?
3 years

How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
For nearly 3 years.

What’s your favorite hobby?
Photography, which is also my full time job. I have 8 grandchildren, all of whom I’ve introduced to the banjo. I also just became a skydiver so I now refer to myself as a “banjo pickin’ skydivin’ Gammie’!

Which character on do you resonate with most and why?
Banjo Ben…he’s just plain goofy, down to earth, ultra talented, kind, and inspiring.

What’s your instrument of choice?
Uh, duh…BANJO!

What was your inspiration to learn how to play the banjo?
One day while visiting my mom (who had taken some banjo lessons), I picked up her banjo, strummed it and decided to learn how to play it. Once I returned home, I found a local teacher, bought a banjo, and have never looked back! I also hoped to become proficient enough to play with our church’s worship team. I’ve been doing that for over 2 years.

During my time in lessons (and of course with Ben), I’ve learned that I can do anything. When I first learned the chord shapes, I found it nearly impossible to play an “F” in the G shape down the neck and even doubted I could. When I finally realized I could, (and there are many more examples of doubt) I now know I can overcome any obstacle on the banjo!



Congratulations Laurie,



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Nice to meet you!

If you happen to read this, what kind of music does your worship team do (bluegrass, traditional, contemporary praise)? It’s great that you play worship with the banjo.


Pleasure to know you, Miss Laurie and congratulations! Great picture!


Great to meet you Laurie! I also am curious about the question Mike had. I would love to know what kind of music y’all play at church. We play mostly contemporary at our church, and I know a banjo could fit in some of the songs I just really don’t know how to approach some of them.

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I am thinking if they sometimes do bluegrass gospel, awesome. Some of the modern stuff is a good fit for banjo (Crowder, Rend Collective, Mercy Me). If she works it into a traditional setting… impressive!

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I agree. We don’t do any Crowder! In a Baptist Church, everyone would leave😁

Hi Mike,
Thank you for your comment. We play mostly contemporary worship music, Kari Jobe, Jason Ingram, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, and yes, Crowder(!), among many others. Funny enough, I bugged our worship leader to let us play I Am and he finally gave in so it’s one we play occasionally. It’s got a strong banjo part. We also play some traditional gospel songs from time to time, in fact, this weekend we’re playing a medley of old time gospel favorites: I Saw The Light, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, What A Day, along with contemporary songs. Of course, those are awesome for a banjo player. Our congregation loves the addition of the banjo:-)

Hi bcaves,
The banjo fits in wonderfully with nearly all worship music. On rare occasion, there’s a song where the banjo just doesn’t work but I always improvise or pretend. My approach with the banjo is rolling and/or vamping. Ben’s lesson on the Waypoints has been so helpful in playing backup up the neck. I use all of the chord shapes and inversions all over, including up the neck. Most of the songs require that I know at least the I, IV, and V of a key, and often the VIm and IIm. I’ve worked hard to learn all of this and it’s definitely paid off.

Crowder in church? You bet…and no one leaves!

Our service is broadcast live on FB on Sunday mornings at 10:40am PT and if anyone wanted to tune in to get a feel for what we play, you’re welcome to. The audio isn’t that great but you’d get an idea. When I first started playing with the worship team a few years ago I wanted to collaborate with others playing banjo in worship music. So far I haven’t found anyone to collaborate with so I’ve just kinda made it my own, incorporating what I’ve learned for playing bluegrass. I’m certainly open to help from others but if I can help others from my experience, I’m happy to. Our church on FB is Calvary Baptist Church Bishop, CA. (I ask forgiveness ahead of time for any mistakes you might hear!)

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Excellent! Glad to hear it. I used to do some grassish traditionals at church and “I saw the light” was straight up pushing-the-tempo-foot-stomping-bluegrass. Where I have been for the past year, it is a little different vibe and we haven’t broken out the bluegrass… yet. You mentioned Kari… we did a slower version of “No sweeter name” that I would have loved to have a banjo for. It worked well. I think I played mandolin on that one.


Thanks Laurie. I would love to hear you guys worship. I went to the churches facebook page. Is there a way to view previously recorded services?

Here’s the link to the church’s FB page:

There are links to previous church services. The audio is not good at all (it’s in the works) and in some cases you can’t really hear the banjo at all, but it’s there. The first 30-40 min is worship/announcements, etc. then there’s always a closing song. :slight_smile:


That’s awesome! We did that same song “You called my name” last Sunday. I was on rythym guitar though not banjo😁

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Congrats Laurie. Great story

Pleased to meet you Laurie. It is very impressive you getting out in front of people and playing the banjo. I can think of nothing finer than being able to do that. Congratulations!


Hi Laurie, nice to meet you. You have a neat story. My church, also Calvary Baptist, does mostly newer Christian music which is great, but now and now and then I’d love to hear the old traditional songs in bluegrass style, with me on the banjo of course. Maybe one of these days I’ll get up the gumption to talk to the music director about it.

All the best to you.

Congrats Laurie. Great story there.

Darcy Finley

Welcome Laurie W from Bishop, Cali. Congrats on GPMOTW. I am originally from Cali also, lived in So. Cal area(in Texas now). I love the Bishop area, absolutely beautiful area, did a lot of trout fishing up there(a long time ago). Cool story of how you started banjo, people sometimes think just because you play banjo your some kind of “Hillbilly”, but there is no other instrument like it. I see you are a full-time photographer, what is your main interest? And skydiving too? that’s awesome, but I just can’t see myself jumping out a perfectly good airplane.