Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

What's your process for learning a new lesson?

From the “how to practice” topic:

This is a sticky post, so it will remain at the top of this category. If you’d like to add your process to it, please keep the reply limited to just your process so we can keep this thread as relevant as possible.

1 - Download Ben’s lesson sample MP3 and listen to the lesson until you feel you know it. The purpose of this step is to train your brain and your fingers to learn where the notes are on the neck just by hearing them. (Would you attempt to sing a song you’d only heard a few times?)

2 - Download the TEF file.

3 - Using the TEF file, highlight small sections of the song and memorize each section at a slow tempo (as slow as 20% of normal speed if you need to.) Keep repeating it until you can play it without looking at the tab.

4 - Highlight the next small section, repeat #3, then add those sections together.

5 - Reference Ben’s video if a section seems too difficult. The video will straighten out any fingering issues.

6 - Once all parts are memorized, use the TEF file to start speeding up the song. Once you can play the song through 3 times in a row without mistakes, up the speed 5 to 10%. Then work to play it perfectly 3 times in a row at the new speed. Continue to increase speed at least until you’re at the speed of Ben’s slowest MP3 jam track.

7 - Once you get it fast enough, download Ben’s jam tracks and play with them. They’re funner to play with than the TEF files. Also, if you use Audacity to play the MP3 files, you can speed up and slow down the jam tracks under the Effect menu using the Change Tempo function.

Remember to take plenty of small breaks during the learning process, especially if you feel yourself getting frustrated. You’ll be surprised how effective it can be to step away from the lesson even for a few minutes.


Great instruction Mark! That’s pretty much how I go through a lesson as well. I would add one small thing, when I get up to about 85% speed I have to increase the speed by 1 or 2% from 85 to 100 to keep from getting too sloppy. I adopted your 3 times in a row rule a while back and that does help. It gives me a benchmark to hit before moving on.


Pretty much how I do things.

  1. I skip the mp3 download, Instead I watch Ben’s video closely.
  2. I download the TEF File and work through each measure along the same lines as you.
  3. I set the tempo to about 60% and increase speed at 5% intervals
  4. I regularly reference Ben’s video to ensure I stay on track.
  5. Once I know the tune I practice it at least 60 times in a loop each day for a few weeks.
    6 I always add extra measures at the beginning to add a click start and I also add a Bass TAB to help me keep time.
  6. I practice at different speeds using the TEF file.

I need to work with the mp3 files more, I do find the “guitar only” mp3 a distraction but love to play along with the Banjo/Guitar mp3 when I am up to speed.

I really need to figure out how to make the most of Audacity. I just can’t seem to get the files to sound right when I slow them down.

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For me, the tef file only helps me get the break down to a certain extent. To really get it to where I could rip it off in an open jam, It takes the backing track to provide realistic practice. For instance, right now I am learning Deck the Halls for a jam. I could play it up to speed with the tef file, but everything kind of fell apart when I switched over to the backing track. End point is that if you can play the solo over the backing track, you can pretty much rip it off over anything.


How far are you slowing files down? In general, sound files do degrade when the tempo is electronically altered. I personally use Pro Tools First, a free version of the industry standard, Pro Tools. I love it and would recommend it to anyone. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it is such a powerful software, and all for free! It has the ability to slow down tracks and unless you are slowing them down like 40-50 bpm, there will be some quality loss

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This is what happens to me, as soon as I try to play along with the mp3 files everything falls apart.

I don’t recall it’s been a while since I tried. @Mark_Rocka is the expert with Audacity.

Thanks for the tips. my biggest struggle is going from reading tab to memorizing it after I get something memorized that’s when the real fun starts.

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That’s where memorizing in small sections comes in handy. It’s the old “How do you eat an elephant” strategy. I sat down to learn Bill Cheatham this morning. I had it mostly memorized using this technique in about an hour.

@Fisherbro @Archie I use Song Surgeon. I can slow the songs waaaay down and they sound good, to me at least. Now I bought the “Pro” version, so I can’t speak for the “Standard” version(there is a comparison chart on the website). They do have a “Trial or Demo” version, but its only good for 4hrs of use. Just something to look into. I find that the “Tef file” download works well also, my biggest issue with it is that the sound of the instrument is kind of hard to get used to. But that just me.


My process is similar in concept to @Mark_Rocka’s: 1 watch the demo video to get a feel for the tune. 2 download all of the audio files and tab sheet. 3 watch the instructional video, pausing at each lick (unless they’re easy or I know the phrase already, e.g. a g lick). After I learn each lick, I attach it to the rest of the song, and play it through to figure out the proper timing and feel. 4 play along with the slow video which also helps with timing/feel. 5 repeat the song -+ a billion times. 6 sleep. On the next day y I can always play it better. It is important to note that after each 1-3 licks/five minutes, I take a small break, and play something I know really well to help my brain absorb info

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I do this too. Maybe not quite that often, but several small breaks during the learning process has proven really helpful for me. It’s the opposite of how I was taught to study anything else.

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Hi @_Tye_Stick I bought Video Surgeon years ago and no sooner had I bought it I was being asked to pay for an update. Sorry that sure read pestered

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Thanks I’m certainly gonna try that

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@Archie, sorry to hear that, that is not right at all. But I cannot speak for Video Surgeon, all I know is that Song Surgeon works great for me. I also have the “Pro” version, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Hi @_Tye_Stick It’s the same guy that created Song Surgeon. Video Surgeon works fine enough. What upset me was his constant emails after I told him I had no plans to upgrade.

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@Archie Ya, I was looking up “Video Surgeon” and did see that it is owned by the same people, plus they have some other ones also. Well, being “pressured” into something doesn’t make you want to promote or upgrade their services. Sometimes salesmen get really pushy with things, that’s one of the reasons I don’t work in car sales anymore, I just can’t sell somebody something they don’t want or are not ready to buy. Not all salesmen are that way though. It’s too bad he ruined it for you.

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As I was driving today, I had a thought about step one, so I changed it up just a little. I also decided it’d be a good idea to add a mention of Gunnar’s addition of taking several breaks during the learning process.

It’s all a work in progress.


@Mark_Rocka, how often do you play/practice and what does that look like? Do you practice the same new lesson and song for the duration, or do you mix it up and try different songs during your session?
For example, I practice almost every day for about an hour. I usually warm up by playing some songs I know well. I then may work on timing of a song I already know a few times and then move onto a new song I am trying to learn for most of the hour. Sometimes, I play a song I was working on the day before in the morning a couple of times, just so it is repetition at different times of the day. I find that really helps for trying to memorize a song. Some songs I have almost memorized I will work on as well when I get frustrated from trying the new song over and over. I do not really have a set routine, but work on what I want as I go. I used to work on scales a little as well as chord triads. When I really want to get a new song down though, I don’t practice them much. I wonder if a more structured practice session would be better for my progression.

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