Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Needing some mandoin advice

Hello, My name Scott and I’ve been a gold member for about a month now and have been playing a MK Mandolin for around 6 months. I live in Columbus, Montana and unfortunately I cant seem to find any other mandolin players in my area to get advice from or jam with.
My problem is, I am playing FFcP scales from Jazz Mando and am having a terrible time getting any speed and also having a tough time with finger placement. I practice at least 1 1/2 hours a day and still have trouble memorizing the tunes, etc. I go over and over the same lick and still no noticeable improvement.
Sometimes I feel as if I am regressing instead of improving and with nobody that can watch me ant tell me what I am or am not doing correctly it get frustrating.
Any advice would be welcome. Thanks


Hi Scott Welcome to @BanjoBen 's Forum. Let me just say right from the outset you are in the right place to learn mandolin.

Be patient with yourself, work through the beginners learning path that Ben has carefully created and soon you will see a marked improvement in your playing.

I am not a mandolin player myself, but I hear what you are saying about not seeing any noticeable improvement. I play banjo and I can relate to those same frustrations your going through, but let me reassure you,you will make progress if you stick with it.

I know for sure that others like @Mark_Rocka and @Fiddle_wood will offer up similar advice.


Welcome Scott! I am a guitar player and recently - since the quarantine - started up with mandolin. I’m working through the beginner’s checklist here. “Am I doing this right” is a big part of my practice routine! There is a video swap channel on this forum - I think - and I’ll bet if you posted a video with something you’re working on with a question you’d get good feedback. I could envision something like “here’s my video of she’ll be coming around the mountain and I need help with pick accuracy” or something like that.

A couple of very tactical tips that help me:

  1. Memorize the song. Once I’ve got something committed to memory my performance improves so much faster. I usually concentrate on one phrase at a time.
  2. Play with backing tracks. I use the Banjo Ben tracks,, and strum mmachine.
  3. But don’t play only with backing tracks. I find it easier to smooth out rough spots, then try with a metronome, then jump to a backing track.
  4. Use a metronome! I set mine to click only on beats 1 and 3 and it is improving my ability to keep time myself.

Looking forward to hearing about your progress!


HI Scott, and welcome to the forum.

If you could share a video of your playing it would help to see if there are any glaring technique problems you’re having.

Have you checked out the beginner mandolin course material? Lots of advice for the left and right hands there.


Yep, please share a short vid and we can better see what you’re dealing with :wink:


When I get frustrated with a tune, I will practice in 10-15 minute periods throughout the day. Maybe the whole song, maybe just a phrase, maybe the scale of the tune. In between, I think about the tune and loop it in my head, thinking about where I’m placing my fingers. Longer sessions bog me down and don’t allow me to have fun with the process.

I recently spent many hours (in these short sessions) over the course of the week to learn two licks in Salt Creek. Guess what? I can nail them now! Not super fast yet, but with some speed and clean.

I agree with Stephen that Ben’s backtracks, fbbts, and Strum Machine is the way to go. With Strum Machine you can isolate a phrase at your speed.

Just don’t get frustrated.


Hello @swaltner I ask this question about getting frustrated to the forum back in March… you’ll find some great comments. Here’s the link…


Thanks for the link Chuck.


Thanks for the response. I perhaps am expecting to much for the length of time I have been playing.
I should have started when I was 22 instead of 62. LOL


Archie, Do you play one song until you learn it or do you play numerous songs/licks?
I am trying to learn about 3 songs at a time, Jesus Paid it ll, Wayfaring Stranger and The Girl I left Behind.
That’s probably a lot of my problem also, to many irons in the fire. I am hooked on the Mandolin and cant seem to put it down.


Banjo Ben, I will get a video out to you. Thanks


Hi Scott, As a beginner I worked on one tune at a time it took me ages to learn Then I got more ambitious and started working on advanced tunes that took me about two years to get close to being close but never so close as being perfect.

Now I work on about six to ten tunes at any one time depends on my mood. Some tunes come easy others take longer.

A lot depends on your logic of learning. Are you learning to play tunes or are you learning to play your instrument of choice. In my case it’s the banjo. So I don’t think of these lessons as tunes I see them as learning challenges. With each one I am learning new skills or I am reaffirming skills I have already learned.

The way I approach this works for me but that doesn’t mean it would work for others. And it’s not advice I would encourage others to follow. I think once you get through learning the basics you find a learning strategy that works best for you. I see young folks like Gunnar & Kaleb pick up the banjo and just play whatever comes into their heads. I am an old timer, I didn’t pick up the banjo till I was 61 so it’s a steep learning curve for me.

If you can cope with learning three tunes then yes I believe it’s doable. So long as you keep it fun and you enjoy the challenge that’s good, If on the other hand it’s a struggle you might want to ease back.

An old pal of mine once told me. When you have learned a lesson on the banjo don’t sit back and revel in the glory your work is not yet done, find your next challenge and start climbing the mountain.

I have climbed a lot of mountains in the past twelve years. I hope I never run out of mountains to climb this journey is so much fun and I never want it to end…


Thanks Archie, I appreciate the advice.


Scott, just so you know, I’ve had tunes that have taken me a year to learn to play through.

Learning to love the journey is as important as anything in music. If only the final goal is only fun you have you’ll be missing out on a lot of enjoyment along the way.

I’ve been playing for around 45 years and just had several things I’ve already known all just pop together into a concept of how to attack playing & improvising that has been staring me in the face for at least 30 of those years…go figure…it was a real “aha” moment. I’d even used it many times before, on several instruments, but didn’t perceive the big picture of its use until my private instructor went through it last night in a lesson. And it is such a simple thing!

My point is, most people spend far more time learning music than actually playing it…learn to love the learning process…the rest will come with time, patience and effort.



I am happy you are here and let me also assure you… you are in the right place!

Just look at the support you received and the advice that was offered… including invitations to make a video that would be evaluated!

I am a new Mandolinist and feel that - some days - there are parallels to what people say can be frustrating about golf: Each day can make you feel the exhilaration of progress or the struggles of fumbling through a song you have played for weeks.

But… in the end, we play because we love to play.

Be patient with yourself. Stay disciplined and focused… but have fun.

Realize that as much as it is joyful to take the journey and to progress, we are investing our efforts for a future time too… when we will look back and remember we came from where we are today.

Good luck and stay at it… and use this Forum to fuel your efforts. We are here to help each other!


Thanks WillCoop and all responses to my question for the encouragement. I am to stubborn to give up playing the mandolin and I do have fun. I am expecting a lot from myself
for the short time I have been playing, I just need to slow down and remind myself I am a beginner and I will get better.