Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Michael Compton from San Jose, California

What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
Back in high school, a friend brought his banjo to class and demonstrated 3-finger Scruggs-style picking. I was amazed because it sounded like more than one instrument being played. I bought an inexpensive 5-string (which I still have) and took lessons. When the seminal album Will The Circle Be Unbroken came out the following year, I was hooked. Soldier’s Joy changed my life!

How long have you been playing and what's your motivation to play?
I started with the 5-string in high school and played through college, but rarely with any other people. A few years later I got interested in flat-picking and bought an inexpensive acoustic guitar (which I also still have). I'm extremely lucky to have been able to take banjo and guitar lessons off-and-on for the past few decades from the awesome Jack Tuttle (Molly's Dad) at Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto. To watch his kids (daughter Molly and sons Sullivan and Michael) simply shred so many bluegrass classics, as teens and even pre-teens, is serious motivation. Search for "Tuttle kids" on YouTube and you'll see what I mean.

At the risk of pandering, I am also very motivated by Ben's teaching style, ability, and choice of lessons. The way Ben breaks down the songs into manageable pieces is very helpful to maintaining progress, and that's a huge motivator, too, especially when I get discouraged.

What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
Gosh, there are so many. The lessons I end up revisiting most often are Cattle in the Cane, Sailor's Hornpipe, and the hidden gem June Apple (lots of re-usable licks in that one). I also love Irish Washerwoman, Salt Creek, and John Hardy. And of course his Bag o' Licks and cross-picking exercise lessons are must-haves.

What's your goal when playing?
Like everyone else, I strive for accuracy, smoothness, and speed, roughly in that order. I try to play the tablature exactly as it's written, but sometimes get bogged down in that. When I find myself struggling with the tab, I take a deep breath, step back, and re-focus on the melody. That can open the door to some improvisation (which Ben of course encourages).

Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
I love Rock 'n' Roll (and even have a cheap strat). But I'm not a rocker.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
Learn claw-hammer banjo.

How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
Almost 4 years; I joined in August of 2015.

Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
Hmm. Practice-wise, I try to practice every day for at least an hour, sometimes longer. I start with rhythm and simple cross-picking exercises, and then move on to the songs I'm working on at the time. Sometimes "I'm garbage" (as a forum contributor so aptly said recently), e.g. stiffness, excessive mistakes, etc. When that happens I put down my instrument and pick it up again a bit later when I'm feeling better. That usually helps. Sometimes I try to play through the garbage phase, and that works once in a while.

Playing-wise, I try to not look at my left (fingerboard) hand when I'm playing so that I can build up muscle memory more quickly. That probably slows down the learning, but it feels good to be able to play accurately while not looking at my fretting hand. Eventually.

What artist(s) most inspire you?
For banjo, I'm most inspired by Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, John McEuen, and of course the incomparable Doug Dillard. Guitar-wise, my inspirations are pretty much the same as many other flat-pickers; Tony Rice, Clarence White, and Norman Blake.

Oh, and Molly Tuttle of course. I've been lucky enough to take a few lessons from her, and her teaching skills match her playing skills, which are of course exceptional.

More pandering. I am also happy to admit that I find tremendous inspiration in listening to and learning from Ben, as well as his amazing sisters Katy and Penny. I am proud and blessed to call them friends.

What do you do for a living?
I'm a semi-retired software engineer. I'm also very interested in drones and am working on my commercial "Part 107" certification. Maybe I'll find a sweet spot between flying and coding; there's lots of opportunity there these days.

What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Yet more pandering. I was lucky enough to attend Ben's recent Inaugural Cabin Camp. I have to say, spending a week in Nashville with my family (three days at Ben's house, and another 4 days just taking in the Ryman, Opry, and other Nashville sights) was tough to beat. Meeting Ben, Jake, Penny, Katy, and everyone else made it truly magical.

In terms of things I haven't done, I'd say riding the Orient Express from Budapest to Istanbul would be pretty awesome.

How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
I found him online. So glad I did! Instant lifetime member.

Who are your favorite pickin’ heroes (bluegrass and country artists)?
In no particular order: Tony Rice, Clarence White, Norman Blake, Jack Tuttle, Molly Tuttle, John McEuen, Doug Dillard, Ben Clark, Penny Clark, Katy Clark, Jake Stogdill, Steve Martin.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I'm very glad that Ben offer's gift memberships. I have half a dozen friends who are learning to play guitar and I'm this Close to buying a gift membership for each of them.


Welcome, Mike Compton! You know you’re rather famous? And you’ve had lessons from Molly?!? Wow! Lucky… congratulations on the gpotw!


Thanks! Ha, not sure about the fame part; the “famous” Mike Compton in Bluegrass is the awesome mandolin player from Mississippi.

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Awesome! It was fun getting to know you and the rest of the pickers at camp. Nice to learn a little of your back story. Congrats on being GPotW!

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Right back atcha, Mark!

Congrats on being the gpotw, and thanks for sharing your story. Glad to see a fellow Cabin Camper here!

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Yeah, but as long as he’s not in the area to correct you, just claim the fame :wink::joy::joy:


Great picture @Michael! Sounds like you had a great time in TN.

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I sure did! Going back next year for sure. Maybe with my banjo this time. Thanks!

@Michael is a great guy! Honored to have him as a friend!

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Right back atcha’, Buddy.