You've probably heard the saying "Those who cannot do, teach." Don't mistake "Banjo" Ben Clark for someone who falls into this category.
Ben has played and toured professionally with acts Lila McCann, Josh Gracin, Craig Morgan, and finally... The one and only Taylor Swift. Not only did he play the banjo for these acts, he spent time strumming a 6 string, picking a mandolin, and seated behind pianos.
Now, we found Ben a few years back on an older version of his site BanjoBenClark and have kept an eye on him since.
The site has been active since 2011 and the shear amount of content for the banjo, guitar and mandolin is impressive. The quality is what makes it stand out.
Each of Ben's videos have a close up, high resolution camera pointed at each of his hands. It is so easy to watch through once to make sure we have the picking/strumming pattern correct and then learn and follow along with the chords on the second go!
We are excited to bring this interview to you, because just like his website and the video's it contains the answers are extremely well thought out and high quality!
StringVibe: If someone is undecided as to which instrument they want to learn between the Banjo, Guitar, and Mandolin, what do you tell them? Is one easier to learn than the others?
Ben: I would say that mandolin is probably the easiest to play something recognizable on. Banjo is going to perhaps be the biggest challenge to begin with if they've never played an instrument since so many new motor skills must be learned. However, if someone has a passion to learn a specific instrument, then I recommend pursuing it.
What is the biggest mistake you see beginners making when learning to play Banjo? What should they do instead?
The biggest mistake I see is choosing not to wear or incorrectly wearing picks. People get discouraged by picks–they are uncomfortable at first and seem awkward. However, if you ever plan on playing with others, you need to wear picks. When you do wear them, it's important to consult with a teacher to make sure you have them on correctly.
What bad habits or mistakes do you see most often with professional, or very experienced Banjo players?
I don't equate professional and experienced. Most all professionals are experienced, but not the inverse. If they're professional, there aren't usually many bad habits or mistakes. Sometimes experienced players can have bad habits and it usually boils down to bad form that wasn't corrected early on. Perhaps they don't anchor a finger on the head or their timing is unsteady, but most all of these mistakes can be attributed to playing alone for years and not getting around other pickers through the years.
What are the key principles of fingerpicking?
Two words–timing and melody. Those are the key principles for most any playing, in fact. Timing is everything, and by that I not only mean not rushing or dragging, but listening to which part of the beat the other band members are playing on and getting in that groove. As far as melody goes, the melody needs to stand out amongst all the notes as we want to remain musical as we play music.
What have you tried to accomplish with your paid material that you feel other programs lack or don't quite do a good job with?
There are two things that inspired me to begin teaching and I still keep them in the forefront of my production. One, I want to not be boring. Two, I want to slow it down and communicate to a wide skill range of pickers. Most all the materials I'd been exposed to as I tried to learn either put me to sleep or was way over my head. I wanted to be different!
Thanks Banjo Ben!
From where we are sitting Banjo Ben has succeeded. His material is very entertaining and regardless of what level you are on the mandolin, guitar, or banjo, he will have tabs and videos that will challenge but not frustrate you.
If you are going to pick up a subscription service to learn from, don't pay for one until you've tried out Ben's free trail!
Find him and all his material at BanjoBenClark.