Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

On a Roll with Ben's Banjo Backup

Like most of you. I have struggled for years trying to learn to play some meaningful banjo backup.

It’s not much fun trying to connect dot’s on a printed page and turn them into something musical when you don’t know what the heck you are suppose to be doing and you don’t have easy access to someone with the knowledge and expertise to advise you.

The past several years I have been lucky enough to be able to call on a good friend and mentor to advise me, someone pretty special who has taken the time to listen to my appeals for help, who has coached me through my darker moments when I became so frustrated with my playing I was all but ready to give up the banjo.

When I took up the banjo 10 years ago there wasn’t a lot of video instructional material on banjo backup, and most of what was available barely scratched the surface. If you asked a teacher to explain what was going on they would avoid your question and quickly change the subject. The topic seemed to be engulfed in a cloak of mystique and mystery a bit like the Magic Circle, The Freemason’s and the Secret Service rolled into one. A kind of can’t tell wont tell.

Writing to and sharing my thought’s and frustration at the lack of good quality video instructional material on backup with several prominent banjo teachers and other banjo players has seen a marked increase in lessons on backup being taught in recent times. Alas more lessons doesn’t necessarily mean the level of instruction has lifted the cloak of awe and allure entirely.

Thankfully my hero Banjo Ben likes a good challenge and seized the opportunity to plug the gap, over the course of the past six years Ben has created some fantastic tutorials on backup Most recently his lessons on Playing Backup behind the Fiddle and Playing Backup out of the C position where he has added Mandolin and Guitar Solos to cover the melody whilst you get the chance to practice playing backup with the TAB .tef file as well as Mp3 tracks. You will find both these lessons located in the Intermediate section.

The bonus of having the Mandolin and Guitar solos embedded within the TAB .tef files has transformed the way I approach learning backup. No longer do I look upon it as a taboo and troublesome task.

I am still working my way through these lessons but already I am looking ahead to what else Ben might have in-store for us.

Perhaps @BanjoBen once you find time you might care to checkout this recording. It has some great Scruggs Style Backup that you can actually hear quite clearly unlike the old Flatt & Scruggs recordings where the banjo would often fade into the background. No Idea who the banjo player is.

It would be awesome to see these lick combinations TAB’d out in it’s entirety as it would provide such a valuable resource for study in a future Advanced Lesson on Classic Scruggs Licks Backup.

What do you say are you up for the challenge ?


I believe It’s Joe Mullins on the Five. Fine picker for sure…puts on a good live show too.

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Hi Dave, A while back I stumbled on a couple of videos of Joe on YouTube where he was teaching at a seminar. I had never come across him before and he blew me away with the stuff he was teaching. I must remember to revisit those vids.

Been listening again to Longview and I am inclined to think it might by JD Crowe. Whoever it is it’s amazing what he/she packs in there.

it’s NOT Crowe.

Mullins did play in the band…just not positive he is the only banjo player they’ve had.

Looks like JD and Ron Stewart snuck on stage with them at Portland back in 2007

Credits to the album…

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You got me on that one Dave

What a coincidence…!!!

I came across this very song not long ago and the fantastic backup was what I noticed first. I started up a thread on banjohangout asking for the tab of one backup lick in particular, the one at 1:30:

I also tabbed the solo out:

The backup for the first and second verse, as well as the fiddle solo, are great backup combos to learn, chock full of great licks (like at 0:30), and easy to make out compared to the choruses… I may tab those out if I have the time. What Joe Mullins does in this song and the whole album is really scruggs backup at its best.

“Advanced backup” up the neck really deserves as much airtime than it can get in the online banjo instruction world… Knowing just a few things to do other than basic vamping can add a whole lot to the song.


Cool! Make sure and check out my Bag O’ Licks up the neck, Facebook Bag O’ Licks, and my 1st and 2nd edition Boogie Woogie Backup lessons.

Hi David

Coincidence indeed !!!

I was trawling YouTube for something interesting to watch and this video autoloaded. I couldn’t believe my ears at first. The backup bursting out the way it does. I am so used to having to strain to hear a banjo play backup on most recordings but here it is full on Scruggs Style backup.

Thanks for sharing the link to the solo.

Hi Archie, I was inspired to start tabbing the backup after I found out it wasn’t just me who was interested in the backup in this as well. I agree that you can hear it loud and clear, and it made listening for it a whole lot easier. If you check that link to the tab again you’ll see I’ve added the first verse backup. I hope to tab it out for the whole song eventually, its that good.

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Thanks David It would be brilliant to see it TAB’d out fully.

All done! Having the tab is one thing, but to have it explained on video is another, as he uses many moveable left hand positions which aren’t obvious in the tab. That advanced scruggs backup lesson you suggested is a great idea, if you can get Banjo Ben to take it up. There are lots of people who want to move their backup to the next level, but simply don’t have the resources.


Thanks David, I very much appreciate the head’s up on the TAB update. I agree that TAB whilst a valuable aid to learning is no substitute for a video lesson with detailed explanation of how to perform complex licks.

My suggestion for an Advanced Lesson on Joe Mullins Classic Scruggs Licks Backup would build on and greatly enhance what Ben has already taught in his backup series of lessons. If you haven’t already done so I would encourage you to check out his Boogie Woogie Lessons 1 & 2 in the advance section. Lot’s of great stuff in there and in other lessons in the beginner and intermediate parts of the website.

@BanjoBen has always come through for me in the past when I have made requests and suggestions for future lessons and I am fairly confident he will look at this request favourably too as it not only helps me but will enhance the skill level of every other Gold Pick Member who views it… However I respect the fact that Ben has lots of other commitments to fulfil and my suggestion will be added to his list of things to do.

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Hi Dave

Did you get my PM ?