Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Question About Any Lesson

@BanjoBen Really didn’t know where to ask this question and worse than that I don’t even know how to ask it without sounding stupid…so I’ll just settle for ignorant.

I’ve been working on East Tennessee Blues for mandolin and you play some really cool licks as you do on everything. My question is (if this even makes sense) let’s say you have the basic melody/structure down pretty good in any tune, what are your thoughts about instead of say playing the exact movements/licks precisely as tabbed out but rather improvising as to what you hear in addition to using a choice of certain riffs you are playing? Does that make any sense? Example of sorts you play a cool ending on the tune that I mentioned but as you know you can take that lick or any lick and turn it a lot of different ways. Plus I’ve just never wanted to use tabs to try and play something exactly one way, that’s just me. On any genre I’ve just always wanted to play what I feel and hear.

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If I’m getting the gist of your question, I say sure…Especially if it’s sounding good to you and your enjoying playing it. I’ve enjoyed watching your videos, and I’m willing to bet that many would enjoy listening to you improvise.

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Hi Charlie,

Ben’s lessons are meant to be a suggestion on possible ways to play a number…they are not written in stone.

This is one reason for his “bag o licks” lessons…to help you understand that it’s not just OK, but encouraged that you experiment with different substitutions and inventions so you can eventually obtain your own sound and way of playing things.



There are no rules in music. If it sounds good to you, by all means, do it. Improv is something Ben strives to teach. It’s great that it’s coming to you so naturally. It’s ain’t easy for some of us.

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Hi Charlie It’s the goal of every banjo player to be able to pick up a banjo and just play, not from tab or memory but what comes from within, it would seem you already have that skill. i.e. the ability to hear the melody and play it your way. Where I come from it’s classed as being gifted.

Tab is simply an educational tool, an audio visual method by which one person can pass on knowledge and skills to another and is especially helpful to students learning to play an instrument who are not musically gifted.

As others have said, these lessons are not written in stone, they are simply a guide to demonstrate to students what is possible, There is nothing wrong in using your own familiar licks/ riffs in a tune but if you want to gain the most from your Gold Pick Membership and expand your knowledge and skills I would encourage you to try using all the resources available to you here,

For many, learning to improvise is a huge challenge that some of us will never fully achieve. TAB has provided me with a gateway and a path to follow which has enabled me to study music in a way that I can personally understand.

For me personally learning to play banjo using audio visual instructions is like studying to speak a foreign language. I know enough to get by but I don’t know enough to speak fluently.

In closing I’d just like to say Charlie that we are grateful and thankful to have you here. You bring a lot of knowledge and skill to this forum through your videos which I personally draw inspiration. Nothing you said sounded stupid or ignorant. Like all of us here you are a student seeking help so never feel bad about asking questions. When questions are asked we ALL learn from the answers


Tks folks and it was somewhat of a baited question as a new member I haven’t skimmed the surface of lessons or what has been discussed in the past, hoping the question and responses could help those new coming along in their learning to remember nothing is chiseled in stone and to eventually play what’s inside them.

Thanks for asking! The best way to chat about a particular lesson and ideas for the arrangement is on the lesson’s thread itself. You can find that by scrolling to the bottom of the lesson page beneath the videos and clicking “Continue Discussion”.

As far as messing with my arrangement, please do! The solos I create are meant to express the tune, give you something to work on and aspire toward, allow you to have a whole solo full of licks and phrases to “steal,” and give you a springboard for making the song your own.