Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Ron Block Article

Here is a great interview with Ron Block. I have shared this with Ben as a possible topic to do a literal lesson on. (Ben? Wheres Ben at? You listening?) It covers some great topics that I struggle with as far as the mental and physiological things we go through learning the banjo/any instrument.

I think the mental is the hardest thing I battle when learning to play. Ron talks about that. The process of just enjoying the journey. I find that hard to do. It can be frustrating when playing especially when its not going well. Or in the case of my hand position post you find out you haven’t been doing something as you should and you realize you have to relearn to play in a way. Can be daunting. And as we discussed at church last night when you start something like an instrument later in life and it requires so much time to learn you feel crunched because life is shorter and you feel the strain to learn faster.

What are your experiences? Is the physiological part of playing harder than the task of playing itself?


I struggle with forcing myself to learn new stuff… especially if it’s boring. For example, I spent a whole day creating those chord charts and the XL chord macro spreadsheet and still haven’t used either of them. It’s just more fun to sit down and play something I already know.

Of course, I know that I’ll enjoy playing something new even more than the things I already know. It’s just getting over that hump of “Ugh… here goes 2 to 4 weeks of plugging away at this new thing.”

It’s an interesting part of the psyche. I know the reward is great, so why does the task seem so daunting?

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Yeah that is something you don’t look forward to. Diving into a song. I have many times tried to learn a song and just had to concede it wasn’t time to learn it. Some songs just come to me. Like Little Maggie. I have it far from perfect but the basics just popped into my head.

What Ron refers to as, “Enjoying the Journey” can be tough.

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“And as we discussed at church last night when you start something like an instrument later in life and it requires so much time to learn you feel crunched because life is shorter and you feel the strain to learn faster.”

Funny, I thought I was the only person who felt this way. I’m responding by setting aside time every day (5 out of 7 each week) and have a list of pieces I want to be come fluent in. I am also holding firmly to the old adage ‘if you want to play fast, practice slow’. I know that time in this life is limited, so I am enjoying the learning as much as the reaching of the goal. Next on my list is Ben’s new finger-picking piece and learning some old-timey frailing. -d.


I think that is what it is all about… enjoying the journey. The vast majority of us are not going to be world class players. Most folks in a learning group I used to work with would just naturally fall into a cycle of trying to learn harder/faster things. Every once in a while, you’d get someone that would take their simple strumming and 3 chords and MAKE MUSIC. The only standards we should really worry about when playing are something like 1) do we (the player) enjoy it? If you pass that hurdle then 2) would someone else enjoy hearing it? For us to enjoy the journey, we only have to say “yes” to the first one. For others to enjoy the journey with us requires 2 “yes” answers :smiley: . With all that said, the conversation of enjoying the journey was mixed with frustration at fundamentals. I can relate! There are holes in my playing that I NEED to fix to take it to the next level. There have been holes since the first day I picked up an instrument. Most of the time, I’d eventually get around to fixing it and wondering why I took so long. I have spent hours a day for many weeks at a time to try to change something fundamental and eventually give up. Sometimes I fix something only to find it magically unfixed itself with the passage of time. It’s just part of the game for a technical feat such as playing an instrument. For most folks changing fundamentals is not going to be enjoyable in and of itself. However, keep your eye on the results that come from improvement, and don’t forget to smell the roses and make some music along the way.


Good to know I’m not the only one .



I have travelled that road, you reach a saturation point when you feel you can’t move forward. The brain doesn’t seem to want to take in any more. My advice, take a break. The brain needs time to process what you have learned. Once rested the stuff you have learned will be retained ready for you to move forward.

Here’s something to try, Look for a tune you would really like to learn. Find the most difficult phrase and learn that first. Then when you have it down pat sit down and learn the tune. See if that motivates you to learn something new.