Forum - Banjo Ben Clark


When you people are learning the banjo, do you stick to one song until you have it down? Practice on a number of songs at same time? Do Scales?

I have learned the banjo exclusively with Ben’s lessons.

Once I got beyond the Banjo 103 lesson, I would first memorize the tab. That way, I wouldn’t need a piece of paper or a computer screen when I practiced the tune. I could sit in front of the TV and watch a football game (for instance) and still practice.

Once I memorized the tab, I would play it over and over again so that my fingers would remember the tune. I practiced every day. The first song I learned was Ben’s Cripple Creek. Cripple Creek is pretty easy so that after a week or so, when I could more or less play it at a reasonable speed, I went on to Rocky Top. I couldn’t play the song ‘perfectly’ or really, really fast but my fingers where fairly certain of where they were going.

Now, to memorize Rocky Top, I had to concentrate more intensely on that song for a few days. I did not stop playing Cripple Creek though. You have to keep on playing the older songs, especially when you’re starting out, or you’ll forget what you learned.

Once I could more or less play Rocky Top, I went on to Black Mountain Rag. Then I went on the FMB which was not a great idea but you get the drift of my learning process.

I don’t wait until I can play the song perfectly before I go on to another but I need to be able to play the song without really having to think about it before I move on. This gets easier and easier as you progress, especially if you learn the songs Ben presents.

I find that Ben chooses his songs to teach you different parts of the banjo vocabulary. So by playing these songs over and over again, these phrases and licks get burned into your finger’s memories. The more of these you learn, the easier the songs become because then you’re just playing all these licks and phrases that you already know and then are adding a couple of other notes.

I do not practice scales. I do not practice chords. I don’t practice rolls. This may or may not be a good thing, I don’t know yet. I’ve been playing almost three years now, playing 50 or so songs a day. I am not very good but I am getting better and my understanding of banjo playing is growing all the time.

I feel that you need to walk before you can run. For me, walking was learning where to place my fingers and how to move them which is what the songs teach. It takes a long time. Running is learning to improvise and make my own music. I am just starting to trot now…


Yes I learnt Cripple Creek first as well. It’s my “go to” song when I need to feel I’m not fighting a losing battle. I only really play 3 songs right now and play all of them daily. I guess I’m impatient. Learning a new song in a few days doesn’t happen for me. I have TEF and use it for all my playing (except the 3 I know) It takes me a long time. I was just wondering if a person tried something different, it may come easier. I find Ben’s videos great but I’m rewinding and rewinding all the time. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

Thanks again for you input. As always, you help out.

Banjo is difficult to learn. I played a lot of guitar before so I had a head start with my left hand but if it’s your first stringed instrument, then you have to be patient.

Like I said, Ben’s songs will teach you the basic banjo vocabulary but at the point you are at, everything in each song is pretty new so it will be difficult. At one point you’ll say ‘hey, I played that before in this other song…’ and then things will get a bit easier a quicker.

Learning new songs is also fun and keeps things interesting so when you think you have a handle on the songs you already know, don’t be afraid to try something new.

But most of all, be patient and keep practicing.

I learn one song at time. I focus solely on that song until I have it down (by that I mean play it without stopping or retraining, but I don’t hold myself to playing it up to BanjoBen speeds). I try my hardest to keep away from tab, though I do use it from time to time. My main goal is to try and train my ear.

After I get that one song down, I throw it in with the mix and spend about the next week just playing every song I know.

Then I choose a new song and repeat the cycle.

I’ve dabbled a little bit into learning bags of licks, but I’m just not at the point yet where I can substitute a lick in the middle of a song. There is a great series of articles on that skill in Banjo Newsletter, though, if you’re at that level.

Being a classical guitar guy I was used to listening, reading and practicing. It has taken quite an effort to get away from that. That being said, I agree with learning several songs at a time having different levels of learning going on. For me, I get bored with just one song. As I progress I will get more serious about completely memorize a given song. Rolls is what it’s all about so I warm up with 5 different rolls. But the key to learning anything is consistent practice. 20 minutes a day trumps 2 hours on Saturday.

being new to banjo myself,starting out i wanted to learn it all in a day,but then i realized i was nuts for trying to many things at one time…i have come to realize that its good to try different songs even to go as far as dipping into the hard ones.With ever song i have learned to play, i play them everyday,by doing this you gain speed and clean tones. I would suggest that you not only learn a song, but practice doing just rolls,licks and watch Bens videos, and soak in what Ben is teaching, because he is teaching you to become a good banjo player… most of all have fun.

great advice in here - THANKS!

I grew up in a musical family with acoustics everywhere so I aspired to learn the banjo first. My Dad & Mom bought my banjo used from a friend… it’s an aluminum iida. They paid for me to take lessons from an instructor who was an outstanding acoustic player in my home town of Rapid City, SD. His name was Jack Decory and he was a gem. His economy apartment, which doubled for his studio, was lined with more stringed instruments than I had ever imagined anyone could own and he was skilled with every one. Jack was friends with David ‘Stringbean’ Akeman and even had opportunity to play with Stringbean at the Opry a few times.

Since I have picked up the banjo again, after about 20 years of not playing, I decided to become a lifer here on Ben’s site and follow his instruction from step 1 so as not to pick up old, bad habits. Having said that, I still follow Jack’s style of learning a song well enough to have it committed to memory, then add another song. In my experience, such as it is, I echo what other members have said in that I get a little bored if I play to master a song before moving on to learning a new one. Also, as an artist I have learned there is value in stepping back from the canvas (so to speak) and allowing your mind to pursue a similar but different work in order to give a little break. For me, when I do this over a course of time, I find my playing improves overall.

Main thing for me… practice a little each day.
Enjoy the process!


Ron Block actually wrote a nice article on FB about this last month (go check his Facebook page and search for Workshop Wednesday dated 28th Oct, it’s an interesting read!). He advices to practice these things:

  1. Playing with recordings.
  2. Playing with a metronome or drum machine.
  3. Playing with other people.
  4. Playing solo.
  5. Transcribing solos from recordings.
  6. Experimenting.
  7. Looking through music books or tab books.
    Without any order or a specific system to it.

Also read a lot of interesting articles about practicing on a blog called The violin player who writes this blog relates it often to athletic practice for which quite a lot of scientific studies have been done. These can be translated pretty well to practicing music.
General rule for me: practice deliberately and just practice what you feel like. Sometimes I spend weeks or months on a song, sometimes I try a new song every day. Anyway you’ll learn. And I wouldn’t worry too much about picking up too much to study, don’t think it is really possible (just stop when brain becomes fuzzy :smiley:!).

Don’t see Ben on forum much, not sure if he reads them or not.

Anyone know if he does any Skype lessons? Might be an idea to take a lesson live every couple of weeks and have someone point out things I’m doing wrong.

Thanks for all the suggestions folks. Nice to have a place to come for this sort of thing.


If you send a message to Ben using the contact page, he will get back in touch with you.
He reads those and is quick to reply.

TY bluenote.

You were right, Ben got back to me in no time.

I contacted him once before about tabbing a song for me and he did a great job with a video for me besides. He is not only a great musician but a great person.