Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Learning Lag

I believe our ancestors would have put it this way: “Practice makes perfect.”
They just couldn’t tell you why.
They had such a limited vocabulary in those days! :grin:


Thanks to everyone who shared their own thoughts about learning new ideas with music

I enjoyed reading every ones comments

It really helped me feel much more confident with the new challenges I’ve set myself

All your input has been greatly appreciated!

It’s great to have a forum here - friendly and helpful advice

All the best


Very welcome happy playing ! It has been enjoyed myself!


Hey Man, i really cant identify with that. i’m a player that is familiar with music and plays by ear so i can learn fairly fast (after 6 month of playing i had lonesome rd blues up to speed within 2-3days). to top it all off i’m only 16 so my mind is still fairly quick to pick things up.


HI Shaky,

Make the most of your talent. I am know expert - but I did used to teach in high school
This is not a fact but a theory - The young brain can absorb new information like a sponge
It wants to learn - It stays at its optimum ability to soak up new stuff till you are around 21 or 22.
After that you can still learn - but you need to work at it…
As you get older 40s and 50s the stuff you used to know starts to leak out your head…
Learning new things is a greater effort in you’re older…You are set in your ways
The brain is an incredible thing - so it is never too late to learn anything if you set your mind .
So there is hope for everyone…

I’m just a bit overwhelmed because I know I’ll have to put in hundreds of hours to take what may just be a few easy steps for someone of your age and talent…

People your age can also “invent” new things with what they’ve learnt - I’ll just be happy with the basics…

Thanks for sharing - work hard!

All the best!


Hi Shaky,

It is fantastic that you have the skills and abilities you describe and I would love to hear you play .I have mentioned one of my sons who has skills that look and sound a lot like yours and I marvel at that as well.

The route for some of us is not as easy and we have to find practice styles that maximise what we have. Tonight am using the routine my son taught me and am working on 3 pieces in the same key . A fingerpicking number , a flat picked Rhythm piece and flat picked run all A minor stuff. When a mistake sets in I move on and for fun am combining the works to produce a musical piece that would entertain me if no one else.

For me this forums are great and I welcome all comments who knows what will work for me! Happy playing!


I attended the July 4th camp. Came home exhausted but spent the next week or so making notes and capturing ideas. I took a short vacation toward the end of July and I worked on the new ideas.

The whole month of August I’ve been busy at work and on the farm. I have not had the banjo out of the case in 5 weeks. Last night I pulled it out and was surprised at how much of the new stuff I had retained. My hands were stiff from work and the licks were not spot on, but I was pleased with the few minutes I had to play and the recall of the new material.

Do you think that sometimes laying the instrument down for a period of time allows the brain to organize?


Hello Jeffrey,

I think it is all of the things that have been mentioned by the good people on here and yourself. I had left some pieces alone myself and found that they have moved into the unconscious ability locker now. From many years ago and showing my interests at that time I learnt “The Wizard” Uriah Heep and Diary of a Working Man by Blackfoot . They are both still very intact and improved by the Bluegrass practice.


Yes, I think that’s true @5-StringPilgrim. I’ve experienced something like that at times too. I think it’s one of the reasons why I see a common piece of advice being to take several breaks when practicing because the breaks allow you to refresh and refocus your attention and it also allows your brain a little break to digest subconsciously what you’ve been practicing. I’ve been trying to do that more but it takes some self discipline because my natural tendency is to grind it out over and over again.


Hi 5-StringPilgrim

Yes I do think it’s very important to put the instrument down and just let the new info settle in your head.

Whether you realize it or not I think your brain is constantly working on the music in the background, without you even knowing about it. Making connections to the big picture of why you play and what you can play next.

I’ve had periods - The longest was about seven years - Where I stopped playing guitar altogether

When I started to pick the guitar up again my playing seemed to have nose dived, but after about a week or two it was back to where it was before. Quite strangely everything was also still there that I’d learnt in the past - which I’d consciously forgotten about - I even rediscovered exercises or songs I’d worked on as a kid . It was a bit like having flashbacks of your life. I’d forgotten that I worked on so many things for so many hours.

After about a month or so of playing again I got comfortable and started learning new things I found my overall musicality had improved and I had no idea why? Some things (in my old playing) that I used to struggle with - where I really had to think about it - seem much less effort. I’d made no direct effort to address these problems but they somehow weren’t big problems anymore. My overall learning seemed to be better and I made a lot of connections with things I learnt in the past and new things I now wanted to learn. My playing was better and my learning was more focused.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to put their instrument away for years. But I just wanted to try and illustrate that I think learning or absorbing of music (the big picture) is going on in the background of you mind - somehow. It’s also not just absorbing it but working it into your overall understanding of what you play and what you could do with it. I didn’t play for years but I was a better player when I came back to play again.

You only put your instrument down for a few weeks so you could get back in the zone quickly - on a good day of course - we all get bad days. I am pleased that you could see the progress you’d made.

A personal example of my background learning is from me absentmindedly noodling (quite recently) and I got carried away and started playing “The Cherokee Shuffle” I just keep playing it without thinking. It was only after I’d been playing it for quite a while that I realized that I was playing in a completely different key to the one I normally use. I think that I tried to transition to the chord progression and the chords were clearly wrong. A lot of the fingerings were similar but different to what I’ve taught myself. I’ve never tried to transcribe this tune - but my brain seem to have worked it out for me I think my memory of this melody is now so strong - that my mind has done something to help me play it no matter what… I don’t know what my brain has done. But I didn’t practice or ask it to. I was genuinely shocked? I should not be able to play this tune in this key… When I stopped to think about the fingerings and open notes I’d got right - without thinking I was amazed. I’ve not tried to play the tune in that key again - It was quite a weird experience - but it did show me that a am learning more and more about music - even when I don’t try.

So your brain is very weird and can teach you things without even realizing.

I also think its so important to listen to and enjoy music. I think you brain is constantly working on music - Its kind of addicted to it. Music is marvelous stuff. I not had to drive for weeks but I got in my car the other day and a Hank Williams song started up that I’d not anticipated - It was amazing and a broad smile when over my face as I to listened to the music. I’d missed hearing that those songs so much - my brain was back in touch with a good friend and very happy.

You experience with banjo sounds like you’ve imprinted what you wanted or needed to learn well and should be able to make really good progress. That it won’t ever be as difficult to do again.

Thank you for sharing your experience of learning.

Keep on going and you’ll somehow never forget what you learn - it will even improve without you trying.

All the best!


@rich, I got the book Brainjo. I’m taking my time with it, only a chapter or 2 per day but it is very interesting. Thanks for recommending!


Would like to thank all during these conversations I am practicing what I would describe as wider and deeper now. Have on my whiteboard 4 pieces of work that am rotating through as mistakes creep in. What am I seeing is progress in each of them in equal measures.

Thanks all


That’s good to hear David,

I’ve learnt a lot from everyone’s comments too.

Ended up feeling less overwhelmed or anxious about my progress.

I am enjoying what I’m trying to learn and sticking too it - which was my greatest concern - that I’d have all these resources and not know or feel confident that I’d benefit or use them well.

I think I’m starting to get more familiar with Ben’s teaching style. Which is very good. I’m slowly making progress to get on top of his approach to ornaments and pick management - which is so similar to what I already know - but at times appears to be alien to my playing style. Hopefully my timings going to get better using Ben’s approach, and my pick and fingers don’t seem to feel as confused or weird as when I first started.

I desperately want to incorporate what I’m learning into my rhythm playing in a natural way. But I know it will take months of practice - but I’m not now feeling too old or stupid to get there. I have no deadline and I’m working to enjoy playing. So it’s been great to be challenged with new material that is attainable - if you can keep at it.

Back at work full time too - which actually helps. I can’t sit down all day and over analyse what I’m learning and now have to find the time to practice or not - gives you a bit of space or downtime between playing. Let it all sink in maybe? Having unlimited time to practice sounds like a good idea, but maybe it’s not? Who knows?

Anyway, as usual I do go on…

All the best

And thanks to everyone for their input about learning and struggling to retain or use what you learn.