Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Practice Programs and Schedules

Greetings All,

Relatively new to the site here, but many thanks to Ben for putting together such a stellar archive of great tutorials, lessons, tabs, videos…etc. And a special thanks to everyone for the consistently entertaining forum posts and replies.

As a self-taught guitarist, I have never had the privilege of working one-on-one with a qualified teacher. Though its been a great journey, over the past few years, working through the basics on my own, I’d like to hear from some folks that have developed their own practice routine or have had one constructed for them based on their goals.

Perhaps there is a “common path to mastering the guitar” that you musically educated folks are privy to. In that I mean a set of skills that should be developed in some sort of order and will help build the foundation for improving from beginner to intermediate and beyond.

Whatever the case may be, I’m hoping we can discuss practice initiatives here as well as posting any type of “EUREKA” moments that helped you break out and get up to a new level.

Here is an example from years ago when I just picked up my first guitar. This is pretty much square one, but I thought it may be a good jump off point:

I never thought I would learn all the notes on the fretboard. It seemed like the 6 strings with 12 frets was too much. Too many options. Then someone told me that if you stretched out a single string and the frets 1000 miles long, the notes along the string would repeat in exactly the same order over and over. Then I carried that idea over to learning scales on a single string…and then its relation to the adjacent string, and so on, and it opened up the whole world of the fretboard for me!

I don’t know, perhaps that little yarn will help just one of you guys out there…

So that’s where I’m at tonight. Hope all is well with everyone and Happy Thanksgiving.

The Only Stranger to Make it Back Down from Rocky Top,

Hi Christopher,
As far as a practice regime, it sounds like you have already gotten my first suggestion to people playing guitar… find a song or style that you want to play and work on it. If someone is well motivated and doing something they want, then I think that’s the biggest factor in them becoming a better musician.

On the bluegrass specifics, my most recent background was primarily playing fingerstyle. I could use a pick, but there wasn’t a great deal of accuracy or speed. A while ago, someone (I think it might have been Julian) posted a “right hand exercise” drill. It’s pretty straight forward and isolates playing alternate picking and crossing strings. I started doing that regularly with a metronome and slowly building up the speed. I also practice rhythm strumming. I have a list of songs that I am working on and I go through those with a metronome, slowly bumping up the speed. So I generally play something I want to warm up, then do the strumming and right hand drills, then work through the various songs. I keep track of the BPM of the various things and when something gets pretty consistently clean, I bump it up. I have had better success by knowing how things are tracking over time. I would go through that process probably 5 or 6 times a week and saw slow, steady progress. Sometimes life gets in the way. Recently, I have been playing at our church quite a bit and I am working on Christmas music, so the BG goes to the back burner. When I get back on the BG, at least I will have an idea of when I am back to where I was.

Here are my suggestions. Caveat: I am not a teacher and I don’t have experience teaching other people. But I do play 5 instruments at various levels of skill…

To start with do this:
]Using Ben’s tabs and tutorials, learn standard rhythm guitar technique in the key(s) you intend to use. Start with G key, then move on to C, then D. This is the foundation upon which all guitar playing is based./:m]
]Let your fingertips toughen up over time. It is difficult on the fingers – not just the sore fingertips, but on the finger joints too. With time, you’ll toughen up and you also won’t need to fret notes as strongly to get good tone. Keep the fingernails on your left hand closely trimmed and groomed so you don’t develop weird calluses./:m]
]After your rhythm technique is squared away, you will be able to pick out individual strings without looking at your picking hand./:m][/ul]

At this point, you have a choice. Either learn scales and exercises (such as Ben’s bag’o’licks), or learn tabbed-out songs.

For scales:
]Continue on by learning scales for each chord you play. 1st position scales are most important. Be absolutely certain you are using ‘correct’ alternating picking technique./:m]
]Move on to broken scales and various arppegio patterns; the sky is the limit./:m]
]Then, learn “closed position” scales up the neck./:m]
]Be absolutely certain that you understand the ‘theory’ behind alternate picking, understand why you use either an up-pick or a down-pick in certain situations. There is no grey area until you are highly skilled./:m]
]It’s all about memorizing the scale patterns and developing muscle-memory for your picking hand. This probably takes at least 2 years of daily practice to get good (I know the fretboard because I’ve been playing guitar for many years, but since I’ve only been flatpicking for a short while my picking hand isn’t there there yet after 1.5 years of flatpicking practice)./:m][/ul]

For songs:
*]Once your rhythm guitar is strong, learn some songs from Ben’s tab, paying close attention to pick stroke direction. If your pick stroke direction is ‘wrong’, you will set yourself up for failure.
*]Start with the simpler melodies, then move on to crosspicking stuff.
*]If you don’t learn scales, you’ll be stuck playing memorized songs and licks. It’ll still work out OK, but you won’t be able to play melodies you hear in your head as easily as you would if you had true familiarity with the instrument built by learning scales.

In general:
]Play slower rather than faster. You don’t build speed by playing faster, you build speed by perfecting your picking technique./:m]
]Listen closely to the tone you produce. Tone is the number one indicator of whether your technique is strong or weak./:m]
]Don’t play so fast that your technique suffers. If you do this, you will reinforce bad technique and waste your practice time. This is my major problem./:m]
]Use good posture so you can play/practice without aches and pains. This is also a big problem for me./:m]
]Play LOUD. Get the pick digging into the strings rather than just brushing it past the strings./:m]
]Alway keep your picking wrist loose. When it tightens up, slow down a notch./:m]
]Don’t worry about the metronome. If you pay attention and LISTEN (instead of zoning out and entering an altered state of consciousness) you will be able to keep time. Metronome is good for monitoring your rate of progress over time, but during practice it is a crutch that allows you to get away with sloppiness./:m][/ul]

Nice Julian!
I won’t have time to really go through it until later. At first glance, it looks fantastic.

Thank you Mike and Julian. I got a lot of good stuff from your posts. I really appreciate.

I’m going to try to put together a solid practice routine that focuses on some of these specific items and work on them…slowly…until its time to move on to something else.

Luckily I’ve got the calluses that come with many hours of playing scales and noodling around on the fretboard, but its time to really work on one singular item at a time and make a record of it like Mike suggest so I’ll have a visual representation of progress day-to-day.

Thanks Again guys and of course any and all additional suggestions and learning breakthroughs are welcome.