Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Learning Lag

Being an older player - whose always had to work very hard to make progress I was wondering if anyone else suffers with “learning lag”

Even at my best - If I learn something new it still takes me a day or two to sort of get it - I have to play it very slowly over and over and I am constantly being tripped up by my old habits

It will take me a few weeks to get on top of it - it will take a months to incorporate it smoothly - it will take a lifetime to make incorporate it effortlessly into my overall playing.

Younger players who grow up with this - some of them - seem to be able to get a new idea and just run with it. They play it a few times and they have it. They can then move on with it and turn it into something new… which will make them the next innovators.

I am content to just play well but with the access to so much new material and ideas here it can be very daunting.

I had to put the guitar down for a few days just to clear my head - I really was not able to get in the zone…

I always come back and keep trying and my playing does get better over time with practice…

Just curious to see if anyone else get a bit overwhelmed with how much stuff to learn there is on this site.


Hello There in the video swap section over the last few days this type of conversation has been taking place and I am sure that none of us would mind in acknowledging that we are of a certain vintage.

I will admit I have a son who has mastered the Piano he was telling me the other day that I am excellent at practicing my mistakes. He also claimed that he had told me before :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Well listened to the others in Video Swap but also will share my sons guidance. He said that instead of trying to learn one piece take on about 3 at a time preferable same key. His thinking was that when tiring of a piece move to the other in the same key. Also see if you can combine them is some way.

Anyway rattled onto much go over to video swap and take a view.


Thanks for sharing your frustrations with learning new material

I have played guitar since I was young - and I’ve always had to work hard at it

I can still learn new things, but I really have to try - It’s often exhausting…

Easier to stick to my old bad “habits” that I know I can of kind of get away with…

I find it very hard and a real challenge to learn new things sometimes - I know that I was much better at learning years ago…

The current times have offered me a lot more free time to practice - So I’ve enjoyed polishing what I already know…

I am glad that I’ve given myself the challenge of seeing if I can still move my playing up a notch and am certain the resources I need are all here on Ben’s site.

It’s just whether I’m up to the challenge in my later years to still be able to get the most from what is on offer…

Thanks for sharing and good luck to you!


A normal learning pattern looks like a staircase…we improve or absorbe new things for a bit, then level out while things sink in.

congrats…you’re normal :sunglasses:


Thanks Fiddle_wood

I am normal… and I’m good at it!

Would love to have the “natural” talent that some other players clearly have - though I know they work hard too…

It has been great having all these new exercises to work on - But it has frustrated me too because I’ve had a lot of realizations about just what I was not adding to the mix.

In many ways, it’s not too hard - and I know I’ll get it one day if I can keep at it - I just have so many if only I’d been doing these kind of things, years ago, to my more conventional playing where I may have have worked out a lot more a long time ago

Coulda, shoulda, woulda…

I’m very grateful to Ben’s great work - It’s just that I sometimes see exactly how much more I have to learn to get there and it can seem a long way off in the distance…

Got to keep on keepin’ on…

Thanks for the encouragement!


I’m a geezer & understand what you are talking about, but I heard an interesting perspective on this just the other day from Jens Kruger. He said the internet is a double-edge sword. On one hand it brings you great banjo lessons, but when Jens was learning, he was the best banjo player around since he was the only banjo player around.
Now we have so many different yardsticks by which to judge ourselves. And now I see there are hundreds of 13-year old girls who are far better banjo players than me. All my work seems to be for naught.
then I kick myself into remembering why I started to play: I like the sound of the banjo. I didn’t start because I wanted to beat a 13-year old girl at an Appalachian Folk Festival.
So if I’m happy with the sound, then I’m the best banjo player around!
And you can be, too! :+1:


Thanks Banjoe

I agree with you and the Jens Kruger comment- you can get easily distracted by the internet - there’s so much content out there that it can make your head spin and make you lose perspective on why you even play in the first place.

I’ve actually spent a lot of time recently going back to basics. Just playing the rhythm with little embellishments. It’s easy to forget get that you are playing a song you should love.

I found that it improved my melody playing without me even realizing because I sort of knew the song better in my head. Felt a better sense of what was going on in the big picture, rather than getting lost in the small details.

I’m always pleased to see and hear other players who are so much better than me. It always inspires me when I realize that you get achieve more from your instrument than you imagined. Or hear creative new twists to a old standards that you could never of imagined yourself.

Up until I’d subscribed here - I was happy to kind of work it out - or wing it for myself. But it only took me so far and I now realized that I’ve neglected so many things to get the sounds that I’d like to hear in my own playing.

I really do enjoy playing - Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed - to work on some of the new material makes me feel like a beginner again. It’s much easier to ignore the new stuff and stick to what I already know…

I can also sometime feel like I’m getting in the zone with the new material only to come back to it a day later and it feels like I’ve never even tried some of the new exercises I’ve been learning.

I just felt a little lost for a few days and couldn’t even bring myself to play things that I know I can play - I was all fingers and thumbs and I’d lost confidence in my pick hand…Somehow my guitar sounded bad no matter what I did or played

I always seem to get back on the horse eventually - The exercises I’m doing are going a bit more smoothly today - Since I had a break so I’m not feeling too bad about the work I’ve got to do.

You are right - You should play because you love playing and that is the whole point!

So thanks for the insight and advice.


Yes, it’s normal for it to take a while to go from getting something under your fingers to really being proficient at it. On guitar/mandolin this is very much manifest in me. Something about the “linear” (as I call it) nature of these instruments vs the banjo causes many more muted notes, finger stretches, etc. With those instruments, you have to make the fingering exactly lined up with the picking- everything comes down to the split second, and that can be frustrating to me, especially when I watch a pro do it and think, “Well, I should be able to do that. I mean, I have the same number of fingers, right?” On the other hand, I can hear some lick on the banjo that I’ve never heard before, and the next time I pick up my banjo, I’ll be able to do it. Something about that instrument clicks in my cerebellum that I can’t really explain- I guess the Lord made our brains all unique. For other people it’s a different instrument, and I guess you can’t really determine which one comes naturally. :man_shrugging:


I was in a workshop with Butch Robins one time. There were five or six guys in the class and he pointed at each of us and gruffly asked “who’s your favorite banjo player?”. I think we all said Earl. He said “no you idiots…it’s you!” I thought about that and concluded he was right. No matter what I can manage to play, where or with whom, I derive the most joy from playing the banjo as opposed to thinking about how I might compare to others. I’ve been playing for almost 42 years and I enjoy it more and practice more than ever.


Well, I’d definitely rather listen to Earl than myself play any day, but that’s a good point. :joy:


Hello Joe,

I heard that comment at a Uriah Heep (Yes I remember them) allstars concert . By Allstars it was a collection of former members and the Keyboard player Ken Hensley introduced the Bass player Paul Newton by saying “The best bass player that Paul knows” cue laughter in audience and amongst group on stage. But they sold millions of units.

To my shock my playing has improved in the few short days that I have been listening to my son (no insult intended) just he has given me another way of thinking. That said I think that it will hit another plateau and for me personally i will then need to find another step on the Staircase (Fiddle_Wood).

I really enjoy these opportunities presented on here as am also doing so much reading.


Hi Michael_Mark

Thanks for the reassurance - When first started flat picking back in 2004 it was quite a challenge. I think what threw me most - learning today - was once I’d used to be able to pick things up quite quickly - back then - it seemed to hold in my mind better. I seemed to get comfortable with what I knew and I was so pleased to make steady progress back then.

Just about all of the stuff Ben’s tabs want me to do shouldn’t be too hard in someways. I can even cheat just about all the parts by playing the same sort of riffs but adding in some picked notes rather than the whole combination of hammer offs, slides and pull offs. It’ll sound pretty good too. But I’ll know I’m not doing it right…And Ben’s way sounds better. .My fixed habits are constantly trying to stop me learning new stuff. Which is so annoying, And it just seems to be harder to get stuff to stick and flow - which makes me feel very old…but I hope I’ll get there…

Also, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the banjo. One of the other reasons I subscribed was to try and learn to play banjo. I was trying some banjo rolls, with simple chords, but kept getting lost on how to understand what on earth I was doing with my picking fingers. I can Travis pick on a guitar. But banjo rolls are somewhat different. . The constantly rolling notes still confuse me…So I’d hoped I find some time to work on those but I’ve not had a much time to work on my banjo playing since I started to realize how much I’d have to concentrate on my guitar flat picking technique.

The banjo exercises look great and ironically - because I’ve not got any bad habits to break I seem to pick things up (slowly) when I get the chance. Or maybe I’m just not as anxious about playing badly, because I don’t know any better and without the tabs I’d sound terrible… I’m quickly pleased to find something that works as I tried to do it myself but it really wasn’t working out .I just want to learn to play back up banjo rhythm first, as looking back I really should have got my rhythm and chord transitions in the pocket on guitar before I even attempted the melodies. But I can get too carried away with all the fancy parts in melodies and forgot the overall song. I’m not at tall interested in learning to play any melodies on banjo yet and will only try it once I know that I can play a whole songs smoothly as a chord progression. It’s been interesting too because I can also hybrid pick (using a flat-pick instead of a thumb pick) telecaster style - so I’ve been having a lot of fun with the banjo trying to do some Brent Mason/Albert Lee style hybrid picking licks. So I am constantly able to amuse myself with some bizarre banjo effects… I know for a fact that I will never be very good on the banjo, but I do like it. It is so loud!

So thanks for sharing your thoughts…

I am a quite stubborn and like to learn things correctly. So pretty sure I won’t give up… even if it is driving bananas…

Thanks again!


Hi mharrison43

I’m a UK bluegrass amateur player. I have never met another bluegrass flat-picker in my town. So I am definitely the best on in my town.

I have met a nice local English couple who actually travel to the states to play bluegrass back up for professional US musicians. She plays the upright bass and his back ground is acoustic swing style, so he’s very good at riffing rhythmically. But they don’t play bluegrass when back in UK and they get together with other swing style musicians…

I play acoustic folk music with some friends at a local pub - but nobody else knows the bluegrass standards. So I don’t flat pick when I’m out. I just add a little bit of lead or rhythm to popular songs they all know and sing. Sometimes it sounds a little bit country or bluegrass…

So I can at least be pleased - that even at my level - I am best in town!




If you are a reader, then there are a couple of books I’ve read recently that may be of interest - “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, and “The Laws of Brainjo, The Art and Science of Molding a Musical Mind” by Josh Turknett. The Talent Code book was so-so for me, but the Brainjo book was excellent. @xmark recommended that book to me. The author is a neurologist who also enjoys playing banjo. He brings the latest insights on learning from a neurological perspective and gives you practical applications to help you learn more efficiently in his book (whether it’s the banjo, guitar, etc. doesn’t matter). In one chapter he addresses the age issue (“The Advantages of an Adult Brain”) and you’ll be happy to know that you can indeed learn perfectly well at any age.

I’m in the process of stewing on and synthesizing what I’ve read in Brainjo and some other things and how to put it to practical use. @davidgear’s advice from his son on not practicing your mistakes is sort of one of the things in Brainjo. That also goes along with one of the mantra’s of my old high school basketball coach (he played in college at Ohio State with Havlicek, Lucas, et al), which was “Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” He introduced us to visualization techniques and what was called ‘psycho-cybernetics’ at the time (late '70s) saying that only in your mind can you practice perfectly every single time.

To try to summarize what I see as the main ideas of the Brainjo book:

When we learn a skill (like a new lick) we build a neural network. Once that neural network is built (increasing our neuroplasticity), the skill becomes automatic, or moves subcortical (you can do it without consciously focusing on it). One way you can test to see if you are reaching that stage with a lick is by playing with a metronome. Being able to focus on the metronome and playing in time with it means your brain can play the lick while paying attention to the metronome. (This alone impresses upon me the value of playing with a metronome.)

As we build our skills (expand our neuroplasticity) we build a large vocabulary of licks, phrases, tunes, etc. That, combined with understanding the rules of music, allows us to become good players. He makes a direct parallel to a child learning to speak (build vocab, learn the rules of language, begin to talk). The best thing here is that you don’t have to go to school to build the vocab and learn the rules - you learn naturally by listening. A lot.

The author also discusses using visualization, optimal practice durations and times, dealing with stage fright, and several other things.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with (I’ve not used tablature very much in the past) is that I learned a few songs by having that tab in front of me the whole time. I could play it great with the tab, but had no clue how to play it without that tab. I think that’s because I built the neural network to play that song by completely incorporating the tab into the neural network that I built. Now, I am trying to use the tablature wisely as a supplemental tool but getting away from it as soon as I can. I’m doing that with these songs I memorized from tab by breaking up those songs into smaller pieces, recording myself playing each portion slowly, then playing along with them by ear with no tab. Once I can do that, I’ll reconstruct the entire song, playing it completely without the tab. I’ll let you know if this works. This brings to mind another of my high school coach’s teaching methods: whole-part-whole. He always showed the whole big picture, then broke it down to teach in fundamental blocks, then reconstructed those pieces back into the whole again. I think Banjo Ben does this very thing perfectly. He gives you the lesson overview, then breaks it down into pieces to learn, then gives you the tracks to put it all back together again. Whole-part-whole.

Finally, remember why you play. Enjoy the experience. Play for you, and express yourself through your music. I’ll never play like Banjo Ben, or Jake, or half the players on this forum, but that’s ok! On the other hand, no one on earth will ever play like me either! For better or worse, LOL!!! Back when I played regularly on a worship team at a large church (2,000+) I rarely got comments from people about HOW I played. But I very often got comments along the lines of, “I like when you’re playing up there, you really look like you’re having fun.” The more important thing was connecting with people from the stage and sharing the joy of worship and of music. Enjoy the ride!


That was a bit of a data dump, sorry… actuaries can tend to do that. Shorter response: yes, the amount of things to potentially learn is overwhelming. For me some stuff sticks easier and some doesn’t, I don’t know why. @Fiddle_wood is right, progress is a stair step with uneven steps, some big jumps and some long flat steps. Sometimes things go well for me and sometimes it’s a slog. I try not to get trapped into the mindset of “if I could just get good enough to play this… then I’ll be happy” because then I’ll never be satisfied. If I can make progress on one thing in a practice day, then I’m happy.


This is why I memorise a measure or phrase at a time and escape from reading the tab asap. This method also forces me to work on a specific section rather than running through more that I can repeat by memory.


HI Rich,

Thanks so much for your analysis - You’ve clearly studied about how we learn and it gives me hope.

I also agree with the memorizing and listening part of your comments. Over the last few years I’ve played more by ear. I hadn’t even realized it but my playing and awareness of the melodies I know sort of just sunk in - there are times when I will simply be able to find all the right notes up and down the neck without thinking about it - that its just under your fingers. Where playing becomes more like speaking - you just seem to find the words (notes in this case). Don’t get me wrong - all I end up playing is what you’d expect to hear (no glaring errors) and I have be in zone - which is rare or after playing for many many hours. It can also feel weird sometimes because its like watching or listening to someone else play - For example I may have just be noodling and I’m suddenly playing the “Red Haired Boy” and just keep carrying on, much to my own surprise. When I stop and think about what I’m actually doing then I’ll often lose it…

Also, people like Ben and Jake are extraordinary players. Even if I can learn to speak with my guitar I know I won’t ever have much to say… I just enjoy playing and I enjoy learning. I am so grateful that these great players can give me some insight into what they are doing. I’d never hope to be able to do what they do. That’s also never been the point - You can only say what you can say with any language - music included. I don’t have the creative talent to string together limitless phrases of notes - To literally just play with the music.

Probably some of my frustration comes from going back to tabs after a greater emphasis on listening - I’ve had so much free time recently to play and I know I won’t get it again. Even though I’ve not played some tabbed tunes for years I can see improvements, I don’t feel the same strain when reading old tabs - I stopped playing from tabs because I sounded just like a robot going round and round in circles - I knew that I was not listening to anything I was playing and it kind of ruined the songs I enjoyed…

I’m really pleased with the resources I’ve found here. I can see so much potential in the exercises which will improve my playing if I can commit to learning them. It’s just so challenging - I’ve got so far - it’s like saying to yourself “do you really want to go through all this again?”, Maybe like having a newborn to look after - you could cope with it in the past, but do you really want to go through all the aggravation and frustrations.

I’ll be going back to work full time - later this week - so I know the window for my opportunity to learn without limits on time is closing. I can never play well when tired and so much other stuff in life gets in the way of your hobbies normally. I recognize the steep path of mountain but am not certain I have the energy, time or ability to keep climbing. I know I’ll carry on because I’m stubborn and enjoy playing and listening to music. I like to understand, even if I can’t play it - oh they’re just doing that! Doing and knowing are different, but it really interests me.

So thanks for you wise insight - I’ll see what happens with my learning - I’ll definitely keep on playing no matter what, my guitar has always been there and has really helped me out in these weird times we’ve all been living through recently…

All the best!


that is really advice @rich
I just downloaded Brainjo , sounds interesting


@Rich no apologies for the brain dump. I’m going to checkout the Brainjo book. Plus, I don’t get to see John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas mentioned very often. Harlingen was my first favorite ball player (probably because he was my Dad’s favorite). I bet Jerry Lucas could get us a memory technique to memorize our instruments fretboard :grinning: