Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Learning to Let Go & Relax While Playing

I learned something while recording my entry for the Cabin Fever Contest. I had never seen myself while playing. Watching the recordings I was shocked to see the level of concentration and stress so clearly evident in my face. I had to record many takes before I found one that was passable (believe me, the facial contortions in most of them were even worse than the final version). I’m not sure the sound was any better in the later versions but at least the consternation on my face was not as glaring.

I asked my family about it and they told me I always look like that when I play. My wife told me I don’t ever look as if I enjoy playing because I’m concentrating so intently.

There’s no question I would play better, faster, and with more enjoyment if I could learn to let go. Of course, the same philosophy could be applied to my life, in general. Yesterday, however was my 56th birthday. If I haven’t learned how to relax yet, is it likely I ever will?

Any suggestions? (I don’t drink or smoke, so don’t bother recommending either).



Shh… We never discuss those things here.:shushing_face::shushing_face::shushing_face::anguished::anguished::anguished:


Yep, I’m guilty of the stone concentration face or the weird expressions too. Especially with new material, or if I’m worried about messing up with others playing. I’ve noticed both my sons doing the same thing when they 1st started playing, for about 2 years! I am getting a little better I think by picking more & pickin with others more & therefore getting more confident of my playing. It’s a work in progress! Happy belated 56th! You’ll eventually get to happy face land :grin:!


Welcome to being normal!

it takes time…


Here’s an interview with Ron Block and his philosophy on practicing music:


Thank you for the article.


Now you know why my face isn’t in the shot…:upside_down_face:


Perhaps I should clarify. My concern isn’t really the embarrassing facial expressions. I am concerned about the tension throughout my body. The look on my face merely alerted me to how tight I am. No wonder I can’t strum or tremolo worth a hoot.


Like any technique, relaxation can be learned…and it will help both your speed and “durability”.

It’s just something you have to stay conscious of and work on, like anything else. As soon as you start feeling tension stop, shake it out, and go back to playing. If you can’t settle down, take a break and come back to it.

Don’t insist on playing a piece faster than you can while staying relaxed through the whole thing. When you can do that, then increase speed by small increments, always keeping relaxation & fun in mind.

Some days will be better than others…as I’m sure you’ve probably learned already.

Keep in mind that playing music in not a race…it is an adventure!



Thank you for the encouragement.


Hi @petebatryan

No one was more apprehensive than me. I used to shake and shudder I had no control over my hands and my breathing. One day I just told myself suck it in Archie you gotta do this @BanjoBen is about to launch a new website so here is your chance to learn to overcome your anxiety. That was 5 years ago and here is the first video I made. My body was tense, fingers were stiff and my thought process wavering I soldiered on. I think it took close on 500 attempts. The key to relaxation is your breathing.



Thank you.

I think the problem may be I’ve been telling myself “I gotta do this,” all along. I suspect I am too concerned with “getting it right,” and forgetting to relax and enjoy the process.

I could certainly be wrong. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time and practice. Still, I’m not going to tell you how long I’ve been playing because I’m embarrassed that I’m not further along.


Hi Pete…

Yes it is exactly that. I used to be obsessed with trying to play every note perfect and it used to shatter my confidence no end. Then I saw Earl Scruggs mess up during one of his TV shows. and after that I saw other great players messing up. It was then I realised no one is perfect we all mess up sometime.

So I have been trying to play banjo for close on 12 years. Hey I am still learning and I still screw up. There is no need to feel embarrassed here, your among friends and I can assure you we have all gone/going through the same process you are at now… It takes as long as it takes you just have to persevere.

Let me reassure you, you are in the best place to learn Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar. Work your way through the beginners track and within six months you will see a marked improvement in your playing and your confidence.


I’ll second this and I’ve been working on playing instruments for 51 years


Mike. That’s some good stuff there. Really good.

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I’m one of those heavy intense face guy’s too!:flushed::pleading_face::flushed::triumph::rage::grinning::rofl: It’s all part of the show . Now I just have to remember to BREATHE !


Ton’s of good advise above and all good. A few things I work on to help while Performing are:

  1. Try to relax & have fun while you’re playing.
    Remind yourself why you’re doing it; because it really IS is fun!
  2. Lose yourself in the music:
    I remember the first time I played a trumpet solo in front our college jazz-band, I was terrified and my knees were knocking. There were three mics, and two hot spotlights in my face and 450 people watching intently, but once I started into my long solo after a bar or so, essentially was lost in the musics and I momentarily at least lost awareness of a crowd. Relaxation came and it went well.
  3. PRACTICE must also involve PERFORMING. Never turn down a chance to perform. Opportunities to perform are more rare than opportunities to practice in your favorite chair. Yes, a crowd is distracting, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become. I don’t doubt @BanjoBen realized this point when he incorporated VIDEO SWAP into his training curriculum. It’s a chance to perform, if only in a controlled environment and then review your own sound, stage presence etc… Take advantage of it!
  4. Polish your piece, but don’t worry about mistakes!
    I find that having a song thoughly learned increases my confidence and lessens anxiety. If need be, plan on using the “easy” version rather than a complicated version in live-performance if it improves your confidence. Most of the audience will never know the difference! Another shocking secret: Most of the audience won’t even know you made that mistake that we stress about!

All this said, people are individuals and no two are alike with different levels of anxiety and natural tendencies, probably only you can create the best approach for you.

Anyway, just a few thoughts of what works for me. Everyone is different, so read-on and …Happy Picking!


I’ve got a more complete answer for you that I’ll try to submit before too long.


I’m all ears, anything to give me more Banjo lernin and word’s of wisdom is always welcome! I’m on the Northern California lock down so looking forward to the info.


You must be getting a lot of practicing in then? :wink: