Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Lesson Idea: Ear Training and Another

Pitch recognition seems to be one of the most important skills to hone as a musician. It comes in particularly handy in Bluegrass when you are trying to stumble your way through a break and hoping to occasionally land on the melody. It also seems like one of the more challenging skills to learn and perhaps one of the more difficult to teach. Sometimes I think I am getting a handle on it from years of guitar playing. But then I find an online quiz tool and end up blowing the difference between a major 3rd and a major 5th. It is not a confidence booster.

I’ll throw out the idea for a @BanjoBen lesson on ear training; maybe starting with identifying intervals. Like I said, I don’t think it is an easy thing to teach. It’s probably a matter of hard work and hopefully some innate ability. But any practice strategies, exercises, tips, etc would be appreciated. Except for those gifted with perfect pitch, it is a skill probably everyone could improve.

As long as I am throwing out ideas, a second request would be for material on clawhammer banjo. Reading @Dragonslayer 's interview with Jake (great job Gunnar) I was reminded of Jake’s clawhammer mojo. A while back, @Jake gave a short primer video on the fundamentals. That video is in the linked thread below. I’d love to see a formal lesson with Jake continuing the conversation about clawhammer. Maybe Ben is already a fantastic clawhammer player (wouldn’t surprise me), but if not, it would be interesting to watch Jake teach Ben clawhammer style. It might be comforting to see Ben not be impossibly good at something, -HA

I love Scrugg’s style and it is what I am mostly working on. But sometimes you want to sit on the couch and quietly bum-ditty through some old time melodies.

Either of these ideas appeal to anyone else?


I think a lesson on ear training it a great idea. @BanjoBen, I can see that as one of those lessons one could listen to in the car. Maybe even going as far as note training. Something like audio flash cards where a note, or even an interval is played and then we have to guess what it is.

@Woodshed, did you happen to catch the clawhammer lesson Jake sent me a while back? You can see it here.


Thanks Mark. I remembered Jake’s video and linked to it in the original post. It was one of the first things that got me interested in clawhammer as a banjo style.

As far as ear training, I really wish I was better at picking out intervals. I think it would make finding the melody easier.


DOH! I didn’t scroll down far enough to see my reply. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m right there with you on the interval recognition. I think it’d make a great lesson for all musicians no matter what we play.


Some of the ear training workshops I’ve been to recommend taking songs you know like Somewhere over the Rainbow…that’s an octave interval. some-WHERE over the…etc. Twinkle, twinkle is a 5th. Happy Brithday can be thought of as 1 1 2 1 4 3.

Then…play the songs in other keys…slowly…and listen to the intervals. One can also practice scales using intervals…it takes time but spend a few minutes each session, it comes pretty quick.


Playing by ear is something I started working on last year. As I started playing in jams, I realized you either have to memorize a BUNCH of songs OR learn to play by ear if you want to be able to take leads that follow the melody. I bought Dan Miller’s book “Learning Music by Ear for all stringed instruments”. He breaks down the process and made it something I could practice. It does take lots of practice. I also subscribe to Bennett Sullivan’s website where he promotes playing by ear as well. Learning to play by ear can be like getting writers block at times. You have to take a break and start up again. After practicing it for a while now, I can figure out a basic melody to a song with a lot less effort. Playing scales helps with this a lot. You get used to hearing where those notes are located. The hard part for me now is being able to take that basic melody and turn it into a “Scruggs” arrangement. I have done it a couple of times, but it takes me several hours to come up with something I like. Eventually, I want to be able to do all that on the fly so I can do it at the jams for songs I am not familiar. It seems like it will take me years to get there, but at least I have started the journey.


Great idea!

BigSkyGirl talks about the way intervals are easily memorized by college music students. You learn intervals by memorizing songs that start with specific intervals (ascending and descending). Also, practicing sight singing by using a Melodia is a good thing.

However, my favorite way to teach better listening skills is to have my students sing every note they play on the guitar. For example, when they practice scales, or a melody, they sing each note simultaneously (using a simple vocalizing syllable like “la”). If you want to learn much more, you can substitute “la” with the name of the note. By singing and playing the notes at the same time, your are teaching your brain where the pitches you hear are on the guitar and how to get your hands to play what you hear in your head. If you use the actual pitch names, you also learn the notes on the fingerboard and how to find them if you are reading written music.

It takes some practice, but you will be surprised how fast you will feel more comfortable working out melodies and “licks” on the guitar.