Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Strumming on Banjo

Hi banjo family,
I’ve been playing in the intermediate section some and realized there was strumming involved with some of the notes. Well I realized I’m not very good at strumming. I also know that other types of banjo playing revolve around strumming such as the guitar. I was wondering if anyone could give advice on how to strum properly and get better at it? Or if there are videos that show this? Thanks!

Hey there,
I’m not a banjo player, but I am a beginner on the guitar. Like you, I was having trouble with my strumming and even with practice was seeing very little if any improvement. So I went straight to Banjo Ben. Sent him an email about my strumming problems. He immediately suggested that I send him a video of my strumming so he could see where he might be able to offer suggestions. Well, after receiving two videos from him after his review, I’m doing much better and am headed in the right direction with my strumming. I suggest you give him a try. He loves to help his clients.
Good luck.


Which vids are you seeing the strumming on?

Thanks for the reply. Mostly on your version of Jingle Bells and at the end of Oh Susanna.

Ah, OK. I was thinking “when does Ben strum the banjo?” Yeah, those little single strings are in a few spots in several lessons. In a few of his latest, he even does an upward strum using his index finger.

I guess if I had to give any advice, it’s to just take it easy. Those strums use pretty light pressure and a nice, smooth stroke (either up or down) and you probably want to lift your anchored finger(s) while doing the strum.

I’d even practice the strum part by itself over and over until it feels more natural.

I actually remember strumming feeling awkward, so I know where you’re coming from. You’ll get it, though!

1 Like

Hi @codywrestler1 This is a great question and I too kinda fumbled over this as a beginner. To the best of my knowledge In bluegrass music there’s not a lot of strumming going on. It’s usually used as an ear jerker, something to grab the listeners attention. Earl is renowned for sneaking in an odd strum here and there in some of his tunes. And Ben likes them too. So do I.

Usually a single down stroke with the thumb across all the open strings or an up stroke with the Index or Middle finger again across the open strings although I often fret the first string at the 5th fret to emphasise the G note.

To STRUM or in the case of an up stroke RAKE you need to play it with confidence. i.e. don’t hesitate or you loose the effect. I tend to play the strum quite heavy and the rake with my middle finger fairly lightly. On both I get a loud ring. It wasn’t always so, it took quite a lot of practice to get it sounding right but once you find it, it becomes second nature.

In Oh Susanna @BanjoBen frets all the strings very lightly ON/ ABOVE the 5th fret with his ring finger to create a harmonic. Harmonics are tricky to nail as a rule so here you have a combination of both these tricky tasks. Watch Ben’s right hand action closely in the box window and picture yourself playing that cleanly, that’s kinda what I did.

In Jingle Bells note how Ben changes the angle of his wrist to present the flat edge of the pick to the strings just before he plays the strum. It is a much lighter strum than he plays in Oh Susanna, so watch closely how he barely brushes the strings. Also note he is fretting an F Chord.

The final strum is like the one in Oh Susanna but this time he fretting the strings including the 5th string…

Pete Wernick has a DVD Get Rolling where he introduces new players to the banjo. In the video he strums through a bunch of tunes. Ironically there’s not much rolling going on in that tape. I have to say though it’s NOT a DVD I would recommend. IMHO @BanjoBen lessons are much clearer and more precise.

The key to playing a good strum is to study Ben’s right hand closely, Have confidence in your own ability to replicate what Ben does and put in the practice. I know you can do it Cody.

1 Like

Thank you guys for the detailed information!