Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Quick Tip For Newbies - Learn the Licks

Earl Scruggs used a lot of signature licks in his style of playing. If you’ve listened to a lot of Earl you’ll know what I am talking about, these licks stand out from the melody.

@BanjoBen has over the years created many Bag o’ Lick lessons make sure you take the time to study these. These lessons not only contain Scruggs Licks but also many Single String and Melodic Licks, Kick Off & Endings.

Learning licks in isolation is the key to helping you build knowledge and skills which when you come to work on a tune makes the task so much easier.

When I began learning to play the banjo I used to have a ton of train wrecks. I could rarely get to the end of a tune without messing up and I’d have to start over and over and over, it was so frustrating. Then one day the penny dropped I realised I was crashing at the same lick time and time again. So I learned to isolate the lick and work on it over and over till I had it nailed. Only then did I start to see my progress change and finally got to the end of the tune.

So if your really want to see progress in your playing don’t skip the Bag o’ Lick Lessons.


I totally agree! As I struggle to learn a tune by heart, I’m breaking it down to manageable sections, aka licks.
Glad to see I’m not alone.

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As a Beginner I am following Ben’s Basics step by step. I looked for the Bag o’Licks and found them in the Intermediate section. As tempting as it is to jump ahead, I think I’m better off keeping my nose to the grindstone.

One thing I’ve noticed about Ben’s teaching structure is that just as I’m becoming proficient, a little question will pop into my head. In many cases, that very question is addressed in the next lesson.

So do what Archie says…study those bag of licks! But do it when Ben says you’re ready. :grin:

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Actually the Lick Lessons start in the beginner section they are just not called Bag o’ Licks

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Ahh, they must be those bit o’ licks, like the slides, hammer ons, pull offs and other things that make it sound banjo-y! :banjo:

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Funny story. I had gone through all of those bag o licks lessons. I’ve learned several build a break lessons. I just couldn’t make any of the licks “automatic” while playing a song I don’t already know.

I happened to mention that to Katy and she uttered one simple phrase that changed everything for me. She said “Licks are like words in a sentence. Just because you know how to use a word within a sentence doesn’t mean you know how to use it elsewhere.”

It reminded me of the days when I was trying to learn Spanish. I learned songs to introduce myself to new words and phrases, but I found myself not being able to use those new words easily… just like learning new songs on the banjo.

So I went back to the bag o lick lessons, picked one or two licks, and then worked on inserting them in songs I already know. Some came easily. Others took a while to feel the insertion points. Once I got it, though, I could feel my lick vocabulary growing.

Sometimes all it takes is an experienced perspective.


Great Post @Mark_Rocka I see Bag O’ Lick Lessons as structures for teaching me the mechanics of playing banjo. Building blocks that teach me how to connect or rearrange different elements. Building musical phrases. I never gave much thought to inserting them into my playing I guess the reason being I don’t do Improvisation But you have given me a lot to think about in your response Thank You.

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