Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Rhythm Help -> Help a brother with father-in-law

Ok guys, I am in some serious need of help here, any ideas or recommendations, training plans, etc would be huge!

Let me set the story. A number of years ago my Father in Law, Ed was really enjoying playing guitar with my brother in law Tom. All was well, I never got in on the action, but I wasn’t playing anything at the time. Well Tom died a couple of years ago and Ed decided he didn’t want to play Guitar anymore.

Well, this Thanksgiving I brought my mandolin when we visited, and I could tell he was intrigued. Finally after listening to me work on Shady Grove, Down in the Valley, etc (Melody only, my Chords just aren’t there yet) he said "Bring your mandolin at Christmas and we’ll play. My wife was very excited seeing as she felt like her Dad was finally coming around after Tom’s sudden death. However, well my Father in Law is VERY good. He’s been playing Chet Atkins style guitar for 30+ years. Me… well in February I’ll have my 1 year Mando-versary. :slight_smile:

Ed was cool about it though, and very excited to play with me, but the results this Christmas were far less than what I hoped for. His hands weren’t what they used to be, causing him to wear out far faster than he wanted, and as he put it “I love you Matt, but your Rhythm is all over the map.” I smiled and told him he was the first person I’d ever played with in my life.

So, here I am, Christmas is over and the misses and I are back on the road and all I could think about was trying to improve my rhythm and finally master chop chords before I see him again later in 2014.

I have watched the basic mandolin rhythm series here, and they are great. I’ve lowered my action and can stand much more chop chording than before. Still really struggling with how to make use of this metronome, how to change chop chords without a small act of congress, and really how best to maximize the practice time I put in to maximize my goals.

The main goal is simple, take 3 simple bluegrass songs, Shady Grove, Cindy, Down in the Valley, learn their chords and their melody/solo, and figure out how to do them in time.

Now that I have a goal anyone have a recommendation on the best plan of action to get there?

Thank you so much!


Matt, it’s great and a blessing that you were able to help get your Father-in-Law back to playing guitar again!

Now to your question. Metronomes are good tools to teach good timing. I’ve been playing for many years and still have trouble with them though, while others can pick right up on them. I also have trouble tapping my foot while trying to play. B.B. King once said in an interview that: “It’s impossible for me to sing and play the guitar at the same time”. And if you listen to his music he usually switches back and forth between singing and playing those great bluesy lines echoing what he just sang instead of doing a lot of rythym. What all this means is, you have to find what works for you. Try different things and practice, practice, practice.

You mentioned your immediate goal is to learn three songs: Shady Grove, Cindy and Down In The Valley. I would get recordings of those three songs and copy them onto one cd or mp3 and simply play along with them over and over and you’ll soon find it getting easier and feeling more natural to play along to. By doing this, you’re learning the song (melody) itself, you’re learning timing and you’re learning the chords which will also make you better and faster at changing chords. Try to find recordings that are attainable as far as speed (bpm’s) and get that down pat before speeding up to faster tempos.

Playing along to the actual songs is also more fun than just sitting and playing the chords to a metronome. But there is a time for that too such as trying to achieve good sounding chops. So a lot of both would be good.

Again, find what works best for you and I’m sure you’ll get more good advice from others here on the forum.

Hope some of this helps and makes sense.


Howdy Matt,

I am reading between the lines (act of congress and metronome comments), so this may not apply to you. With that said, one thing most all players have to force themselves to do when first learning to play with others is play in time. The song doesn’t wait for your fingers to get in the right shape. Most people who learn to play by themselves will play something like “mary had a little lamb… (pause to change finger positions)… little lamb.” When playing with others we are forced to play to a common tempo. It is better to miss a chord chop than to play it late!

One big key is take it **really, really ** slow to start… so slow that you have no problem keeping time with the track or metronome you are playing with (yes, you must play with some other reference to get better at this). If you are getting bored playing at a particular speed, then you are almost ready to speed up a little bit. If you can play it perfectly (not miss a chord and not miss the timing) a few times in a row, then creep up the speed a little bit. Repeat. Ben’s videos are great to play along with. Where the metronome is handy is if you are “too good” for a slower speed, but not yet ready for a faster speed that Ben plays. The metronome allows you to play at any speed.

If these comments hit home, let us know and we can give more specific advice. If not, we’ll try again :slight_smile:

I’m glad you got to play with him. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

BTW, I had a somewhat related situation when I was quite a bit younger. I was a teen and played electric guitar. I had a great Uncle Ed who was a fantastic piano player and his sister (great) Aunt Johnny who played drums. They had played together since probably the 1920’s or at least 1930’s. We were going to visit, so they asked me to bring my guitar (and amp). The closest thing I had played to what they were playing was in high school “jazz” band where did do some big band stuff. I really wasn’t that versatile as a player. As you might guess, I was a fish out of water playing with them. We occasionally hooked up for some musical moments, but for the most part, I had a hard time getting on the same page. Decades later, family members still bring up when we played together with great fondness. To be honest, I didn’t really add much of anything to the music that they were already making, but it didn’t matter. People just remember that we played together and it’s a happy memory. My point in bringing this up is that even if the music didn’t turn out the way you wanted, I suspect you still made some memories that people will enjoy in the future. Next time you get together, you’ll get to make some new memories again.

This is great advice.

I would say I’m having no problem playing up to speed with most of Ben’s videos in the basic level. I am having problems switching the chop chords quickly. Even back when I played Guitar I was always more of a melody guy than a chord guy. I have decided 2014 is the year of Mandolin Chords and Rhythm. So I will finally put this behind me…

On a side note, thanks for telling me about your experience. I got an email from my father-in-law this morning, he bought a new guitar and indicated he had a really great time and wants to “get better for our next time”… oh man, I’m happy, but terrified! :slight_smile:


— Begin quote from "mandolin_matt"

I have decided 2014 is the year of Mandolin Chords and Rhythm. So I will finally put this behind me…

— End quote

For me, playing mando rhythm is an absolute blast.

— Begin quote from "mandolin_matt"

I got an email from my father-in-law this morning, he bought a new guitar and indicated he had a really great time and wants to “get better for our next time”

— End quote


Thanks Mike, slugging away at it more today. Can’t shake the feeling I’m either not practicing right, or making a mountain out of a molehill…

Need to find someone on skype or in person that can give me a few direct answers to the questions that have been driving me bananas. :slight_smile:


If you want you can post a video on YouTube and you could put a link here to get some feedback from the forum. If you don’t want the video public, you can mark it as private and no one can see it except who you give as link to.

An even better option would be to do a skype session with Ben. I can’t guarantee it, but I bet he’d do it.

Late to the party here but 2 things And I would echo the buy a recording and play along but if you have trouble with the slow Ben stuff that might be daunting, and that is nothing to ashamed of we have all been there.

If you have an iPhone or Apple product I would recommend ireal or real b, which allows you to put chords of a song in and adjust tempo and key to play along ( kind of a supped up metronome) it also has a forum where you can download premade songs and I know shandy grove is one. If you are a PC person “band In a box” is similar but it is a bigger program but much more expensive ($100 v. 8)

The other is keep plugging away, Rome wasn’t built in a day, if it was everyone would hire their contractor. IMO Mandolin has a steeper learning curve than Guitar but the good news that curve gets less steep quicker than guitar over time.

Happy New Year

One item you might remember is this , if you do not play with someone you will never play with any one. many years ago a friend and I were playing and he stopped and said Ken you are not giving me enough time to change and it dawned on me I was missing something yes timing and from that time on I worked on timing and one thing I had was a pss50 Korg a band in a box you might call it and I played with that so much that timing just happened . Timing is something you keep inside your head and counting does help but not past 4 or 3 .It will grow on you as you use something to beat out a steady beat. Your father-in-law just told you what was wrong with your playing and you have responded by learning . I bet the two of you will if not already knock the bone out of it , that means do a great job of making music . The sound of music fills the soul. Enjoy !

It can be very difficult to play with people that can not keep time. I had a buddy that went through a spell of timing issues when trying to sing. I must admit it was sometimes trying for me to play along with him.

But DO NOT let this stop you from playing with your father in law! It sounds like he is a veteran, and I am sure he is willing to help you along. Just stick with it, keep trying, and eventually it will stick. I have a feeling the main thing that is keeping you from keeping time is not from your inability to hear it, but rather the inability of your fingers to change chords fast enough. And once you miss that first change, it is hard to get back on track. Though, don’t worry, you will eventually get to the point where you can miss a chord and keep the timing. You just have to keep practicing your strumming a chord changes.

I can still remember constantly practicing switching chords when first learning guitar. I would just sit there strumming random chords, switching them every few beats. After a while it will become second nature. And it will come quicker than you thing … just keep practicing switching chords and I am sure you will soon be keeping perfect time for your father in law.

And do not be afraid to ask him to slow down! People that have been playing for a long time often forget how hard the little things used to be.