Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

The Chop-tinuum?

Howdy guys (and gals).

Been working on nothing but Mando Strumming, specifically bluegrass chop for the last week or so, thought I’d update you guys on the progress.

From everything I can tell there’s a “continuum” of chopping (“Chop-tinuum”?), a “bell curve” if you will.

At one end of the curve is the BARK chop, lots of sound, lots of real chord sound (G or A or D etc), this is a chop that you can hear and frankly so can the rest of the room (and the yard possums). This chop is a tad hard on the hands, and takes some practice. This is the chop that Ben appears to show in his videos. It’s a good solid chop, but you have to know when to use it. From everything I’ve listened to, this is the chop you want in the fox hole with you when it’s just you and your mando, no one else playing. This is the “solo chop” in my mind.

At the other end is the muted chop, you have to really get those ears going to catch the subtle differences between the chords when playing this guy, as it’s hard to tell. This chop is almost completely muted all the time, there’s virtually no bark whatsoever. This chop is useless when playing solo, but when playing with others, or when playing along with a CD (something I am doing a LOT of anymore) this is the go to money chop. It’s there, but it’s subtle, it drives the music forward cleanly without overpowering anything else going on. This is the goto chop when it’s time to play with others. It has the side benefit of being easy on the hands making it the “all day long” chop you want for long sessions.

So… does this hold water? Am I on the right track?



It sounds like you are making great headway. The one thing we might differ on in technique is the lighter chop. You say it’s much easier on the hands than the full-throated chop. For me, they both wear about evenly on my hands. I fully fret before each, the difference in tone comes from how quickly after the pick stroke I release the fret pressure (as well as how hard I pick). I’m not sure how significant that may be, but I figured I’d pass it on.

Glad to hear to you are progressing so well!


I’ll setup my mic tonight in the studio and record a few different chops and send them to you. Let’s see what the differences are.



I wonder if what’s happening is that on the harder chops you spoke of, you’re fretting harder because you’re hitting the strings harder. This is a natural mindset that’s really hard to break. Your brain tells your left hand to press harder when you hit the strings harder and the opposite when you hit the strings with a lighter touch. If this is what’s happening, your fingers will get sore. Try focusing on lightening up on the left hand just enough to where it doesn’t buzz while hitting the strings with an aggressive attack and then go with a lighter attack. Go back and forth, but try to keep your left hand pressure consistent. It’s a tough thing to do and takes alot of patience. Like Mike said, it should wear about evenly.

Another thing: When you’re picking with a banjo, singers and a bass, you may find that stronger BARK chop is the one you’ll be using the most. Alot of bands rely on the Bass and the mandolin chops as their percussion to keep them in time, therefore they want to hear you.

Keep at it, it’s worth the effort, and I hope we’re helping more than confusing. :wink:

Sure, it’s all helpful, at this point I feel like a bunch of examples would really clear things up.

For instance, I’ve been working my way through Shady Grove and Cindy from this book/cd set ( … 0786684275) and it’s been great.

However, all the chops in those songs are largely muted, they are there, but they are almost completely muted. If you want, pm me your email and I’ll send you one of the mp3s so you can hear what I mean. It sounds great, I’m just working on matching that sound.

Is that the wrong method? Is there really a “wrong” method? I was taught that the chop shouldn’t be too loud, that most beginners (like me) tend to chop with too much sound, again, unlike classical music there really appears to be a lot more “go with it” in all this folk stuff :slight_smile:


Seems you might be mixing dynamics (volume/decibels) up with technique.

Volume comes from a combination of force + cleanliness of fingering + the instrument itself.

Listening is imperative to finding the correct volume/dynamics to fitting in with any group. There are many factors involved like; guitars and dobros usually are less loud when taking a lead, rhythm guitar players don’t always have good control over their volume, inexperienced Bass players tend to hold at one volume rather than play with the group, etc.

If you are unsure of how you are matching up with the group…ask! Most folks are more than willing to tell you how to fit in better if they can.

If you have competent Bass & rhythm players it is easy to hear them change dynamics as you change between vocals and/or different instruments. Bluegrass is a very dynamic music when played correctly…Strive to listen and conform to the volume changes. Make sure you can always hear whatever is in the lead above your rhythm playing…you are there to back up the lead after all. :smiley:

The “chop” one uses in most bluegrass is a double-stop or chord that is muted by lifting the fretted note fingers after the strings are strummed so as to dull/cut-off the sound and make a short note that roughly imitates the duration of a snare drum.

Not all great mando players have used all the strings ( full chords) in their rhythm playing. Some have used only 2 or 3 pairs of strings at times. Bobby Osborne played much of his rhythm on the 2 lower noted pairs only, though he would finger the entire chord.

Best of luck!