Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Practicing More Effectively

This was spurred by a message thread with some advice from another member and I thought I’d throw it out for general consideration/input: I’ve heard people say to take lots of breaks when practicing. I think I need to discipline myself to do this. I tend to drive myself into the ground on something over and over. If I took more breaks, I think my progress would quicken significantly. The subconscious mind will do a lot of heavy lifting for you if you let it. Sometimes I have to stop thinking too much and ‘let it happen’ so to speak, which I believe is reaching a level of “unconscious competence.” We all reach that level on certain tasks, becoming able to perform complex tasks without consciously thinking about them (walking & chewing gum, driving down the road while thinking about other things and next thing you know you’ve missed your exit, etc.) There’s a progression from unconscious incompetence -> conscious incompetence -> conscious competence -> unconscious competence. I think I need to walk away from something at some point and let my subconscious mind mull it over on its own. Then when I return to it later, I always play it better. Any thoughts on this…?


Sounds about like my approach to learning…


This is a topic of interest to me as well. I’m part way through an interesting book called, “The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Molding a Musical Mind” by Josh Turkett. The author is indeed a banjo enthusiast, but the concepts apply to any musical instrument. There are many nuggets of interest throughout and it’s really about how to apply certain learning principles to your practice sessions. It’s not a long book and actually a compilation of short articles he wrote based in part on brain and learning research. You might want to check it out since it kind of lines up with what you are describing. Here’s one excerpt:
“Brainjo Law #7: When practicing something new, practice until your attention starts to fade. For most, this will be 20 to 25 minutes.”
He goes on to explain resting and practicing in you mind and many other topics I never would have otherwise considered (and still have not put into proper use), but the bottom line is, I think you you’re on to something there.


Hi all,

Think I sort of started this and must express that enjoyed Rich’s playing and singing voice could sit and listen to him. I also just spoke with my eldest lad who is actually very good (should praise him) on the Piano about all this firstly he said he has told me this before (Can’t believe that I haven’t been listening to him :roll_eyes:).

He said to me that I am great at practicing mistakes! And I should walk away and practice something unrelated like a folk rock song or something. He reasons for that comment were that by the time I have mastered the Bluegrass piece I will have another song in my back pocket. Guess this is why he can play so many genres himself.

Must have a chat with my other children LOL.


Thanks @xmark, that looks interesting. I just ordered the Brainjo book and subscribed to his podcast.


@xmark This book is fantastic and I think it is spot on. I highly recommend, thanks for the suggestion! It pulled together many things I’ve gleaned over the years (plus much more) into one coherent package with practical advice for application.


Well all must thank rich for getting me thinking. As with all of us guess there is a solution that fits our personality experiences etc. Or may be it was just sharing. That 16 bar piece I struggled with has now been completed albeit 3 out 5 are without mistake now with only slight hesitation. Also did listen to my son as well and started fingerpicking an Old Blackfoot number called “Diary of a Working Man”.

Happy playing all!


You are spot on. I was practicing for an hour or more. After about 45 min, I find that I’m actually playing it worse not better. After I stop and come back to it, whether it be an hour later or the next day, I find that I play it much better and start progressing. I was told that after 45min, your brain kinda shuts down. I’m finding that to be so true. So I’ve limited myself to several times a day for about 45min. I think I’m learning more and not using as much time.