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…