Forum - Banjo Ben Clark


I always heard that “noodling” is a great teacher (except in a workshop where the instructor is trying to demonstrate a technique - - - right Ben?) Unfortunately I did not take up the practice early in my banjo-pickin’ days. Imagining a sequence of notes to insert into a tune (even if only 4 notes to “fill” a space) and then taking a few minutes to reproduce those notes (50 times over). No tab - - “Just you and the banjo”, T. Trischka told me. Anyone else have a comment on their experience with noodling? Well, over the years now, this has served me well. I’ve stumbled on a lot of good stuff this way…


There’s a lot to be said for “making friends with your banjo.” I get great satisfaction out of just noodling around and listening to those wonderful sounds. It’s a pleasant way to while away the time while building calluses and working on finger flexibility.
The downside is I really don’t get any better at playing a song. I get better at a few hot licks, but never really advance in playing a proper song where all these amazing hot licks somehow fit together in the right order. Then it’s time for some discipline (and I mean that in the good way.)
Right now I’m working on “Ben’s Breakdown.” It’s weird, but if I don’t think about it, I can play all those individual licks lickty-split, but when I try to put them all together the road gets pretty bumpy.
And once again, noodling has provided me with the tools to play a song, but I still have to figure out how to unlock the toolbox! Apparently the combination is


Great topic, Bruce! Noodling is something I need to do a lot more.

I have the same problem. What I think I need to do, as funny as it sounds, is get regimented with my noodling. I need to find a good backing track (maybe Boil Them Cabbage Down?) and grab a set of licks or backups, and just get to it.

Before I started working on Shenandoah Breakdown last week, I was working on a backup lick tab file I created. I want those roles and licks to become automatic. Even though I practiced those tabs for days, I don’t think my mind is ready to hear where to put them in a song. I started trying with Nine Pound Hammer and the only thing I could imagine were the same old runs I’ve been doing my whole life.

My 47 year old brain isn’t the sponge it was when I was 13.


Don’t worry. My 66 year old brain can attest to the fact that your sponge will develop more holes as you keep trying to cram more into it!


66 wow. I am new to the whole mandolin experience at 81 Had to find something to fill my days with this quarantine going on. Only wish I had started prior to arthritis in my hands and advancing poor vision. New Gold Pick member. Great experience. The best instruction I have been able to find on the internet. Hope to master She’ll be comin Round the Mountain by Christmas. I learned more from Mr. G’s Theory Korner than I learned in 69 years participating in choral groups.


Hey Dan! Welcome to the forum!

Just getting started at 81? Wow! That is such an inspiration to me. I love hearing that no age is too old to start something new. So glad to have you here!


Finally, someone I can call my big brother!
Mr G’s Theory Korner was a blessing to me. Now I have a small idea what some of these people are talking about!
I have no doubt “she’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes.” Probably driving eight white reindeer** when she comes!

**Q: What’s the difference between reindeer and caribou?
A: Reindeer can fly.

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Well I started playing strings (mandolin) when I was close to 48. My wife started playing guitar at 46. We just wanted to learn and enjoy. We didn’t know anyone else that started music at such a “late” age, too many folks we know were content be stagnate in developing themselves once they get to a certain age (maybe I should next learn some grammar along with music).

@d_dorf, It is great to see others are always ready to learn and develop themselves where age doesn’t matter. If you want to learn you just go learn.

This is one of the things I love about this forum. So much encouragement, inspriation, advice, and kindness. ( I could go on with more decriptions but that should cover me feeltings).


Well d_dorf, welcome to the club. I’m 81 but I got the jump on you as to the age I started. You will do fine if: You set a “learn” program a la Banjo Ben, get an in-person banjo teacher (not a guitar teacher the local music store uses to teach banjo wannabes walking in the door), don’t buy a “you can teach yourself” book (sorry Janet), buy a metronome and USE it on EVERYTHING (good timing is crucial), develop a practice schedule starting with two 20 minute sessions a day for two weeks then bump it to 1 hour (or more) per day after that. I’m 81 too and my difficulty is that using two hands to play the banjo I keep dropping my cane!! Finally, do not set a goal to be B B or Bela Fleck! Learn at your level and play what you play CLEANLY. By 86 you’ll be rippin’ it!! (Sorry for the lecture, but we don’t have much time to slay this dragon.)


Banjoe: I know this might sound inconsistent BUT… Yes, you can sort of structure your noodling. I choose a chord. Say, a 7,8,9 fret G chord - - the I chord in the key of G. (That puts me in the key of G and my ear will start hearing G key.) Then I play the IV chord (the C chord just above it). Now I go back to the G, I start doing everything I can think of to that G chord. … even make it a Gm, a G6 or G7, etc… Or use the pentatonic example Ben used to “walk” some notes down using the ring finger in his recent lesson. Then I play the C chord. Does it sound good? Then I use different rolls. Does it still sound good? I do this with every change I make to the G chord - - - to hear what it sounds like with the IV chord C following. That’s it! Then I do the C chord and pair it with the V chord (D). Well I liked how G to C sounded so I’ll go ahead and attach the C to D thing to the end of that. I then have a sequence of G to C to D that in MY MIND nobody else in the world has ever discovered! I do that until I have a version of the tune worked up that follows the chord progression. THEN I check for places where a “lickity split” lick might fit. Does this take time? Sure! But you are only 66! You have all the time in the world!


Great reply! Even within your structure there is room for “exploring strange new worlds.”

It must be true: “With age comes wisdom.” Although there is something to be said for “youthful indiscretions.” (Usually what’s said is, “I’m sorry.”)


Or "Oops!


Does the dog pick?


No, his nails are too long & he hates to get them trimmed. It’s a vanity thing.
But he does occasionally bark back-up!