Congratulations! You have decided to learn one impressive instrument. So, what is your status before you learn how to play banjo? You have heard the tune of it or you have suddenly developed liking towards it or you have been thinking of learning it but found it quite difficult. For any one of the above, this Banjo lessons are definitely for you. I suppose you have already purchased a correct Banjo for yourself while I teach you to learn this instrument.
As there are different types of Banjo, we will be here going through one single kind of Banjo which is a 5 string Banjo. While you learn this instrument, I would want you to focus on your basic skills and take steps one by one. Do not rush, otherwise you may end up mixing things and eventually won’t be able to learn the way you want it to be.
What is a Banjo?
A banjo is a stringed instrument with thin membrane that is stretched over a frame to form a resonator like a guitar. This one has a circular membrane that is made of plastic. Banjo is more associated to folk music and so there are many sellers who call them folk banjos. Along with folk music, you can also use it for rock music. Basically, it depends on you as per your pre-decided elements of music and the kind of music you want to develop, you choose the chords and the composition.
What are the Parts of a Banjo?
When you learn to plan an instrument, it is important to know its parts and uses of each part. By understanding the parts of the instrument, learning it becomes easier and faster. And if the instrument doesn’t play properly, then you would know which parts require repairs. So, lets understand parts of the banjo.
Pot Assembly or the Bridge: This is the lower part of the banjo, it is round in shape – has head, rim, nuts, hooks and tension hoop. In the front flat side, you will see the string’s anchor that is attached to the strings that move to the parts above. And the back’s round sided part of this instrument is the resonator.
Instrument Neck or the Fingerboard: As you move up from the round shaped part, you will see the long neck of the instrument. From this part the strings pass through from the lower part of the instrument to the above part of it. Below the strings (on the neck) you will see a fingerboard that has buttons (also known as frets) through which you will get different kinds of sound.
Peghead: The top part of the banjo has a peghead where all the strings from the lower part comes up and are attached to. These strings are secured in this part on the tuners that you can turn to tighten or loosen the string to get a specific tune in your musical composition.
First String Peg: The first-string peg is there to adjust to the pitch of the first string. Generally, this first-string peg is tuned to the ‘d chord’.
Second String Peg: Like the first-string peg, second-string peg is there for the adjustment of the second string to the banjo. This string is tuned to the ‘b chord’.
Third String Peg: The third-string peg is there to adjust the pitch of the third string. This is generally tuned for the ‘g chord’.
Fourth String Peg: The fourth string peg is there to adjust the pitch of the fourth string and it generally tunes with the ‘low d’.
Fifth String Peg: As said earlier, the fifth string peg is found on the side of the neck and is there to adjust the pitch of the fifth string. This one generally tuned to the ‘high g’.
This anatomy is fixed for a 5-string banjo. All of these parts play a very important role while you create your musical composition. You need to understand each part to understand each tune you will can play with this terrific instrument in your hand.
Type of Banjo Available
Banjo is an easy instrument and is fun to play, hence it has various varieties with simple and complex strings structures. It has a six-string version that is played exactly like guitar and gives out the tune like guitar so, is also called ‘Guitjo’ – as a combination of both Banjo and Guitar. You can play folk songs as well as the rock music with a banjo. Particularly, the banjo folk music is completely unique and you won’t be able to compose that kind of music with any other instruments. Let’s have a look at the different kinds of banjos.
The 5-string banjo is the most popularly purchased and played banjo all over the world. As the name suggests, this banjo has five strings that is normally tuned to the G chord. In this 5-string banjo, the fifth string is comparatively shorter than the other 4 strings. So, this fifth string is attached to a tuning peg that sticks of the side of the neck of the banjo.
A five-string banjo can be used for playing different tunings. These tunings are given from left-to-right – this is when you play the banjo from the front of the instrument that has its neck pointing up.
A four-string banjo do not have the extra short string like the 5-string banjo. This banjo has around 22 frets and was originally tuned to play tunes like C3, G3, D4 and B3. A four-string banjo can be played as a chordal accomplishment wherein you can play a single-string melody or in tremolo style where both chords and single string is used. For most of the times in television music industry, a 4-string banjo is used.
So, basically there are 3 types of banjos, namely 6-string banjo, 5-string banjo and 4-string banjo. These types are sorted in terms of strings. If we go by size, there is also a tenor banjo which is also a 4-string banjo but has smaller size and less number of frets. Other banjos that you will also find will be low banjo, hybrid and many more kinds. Some differentiate types in terms of resonator banjo and open-back banjos.
How to Play Banjo Chords
Now that you know about the banjo, its types and its parts, let’s learn how is it played. In the following guide, you will get to know the most common banjo chords and their way of working. When you learn different chords, you can play them together in different patterns and create a song. You must remember the basic elements of music before you think of creating or composing any musical piece.
The G-tune or the g-chord is the commonly used tune. It is a standard tune that you can play in a 5-string banjo. When you picked or strummed the strings of banjo without fretting the notes, then you are playing the G tune. This is the simplest of all the chords that you will learn ahead as for the other chords, you need to look for both – the strings and the fret whereas for the g chord, you just have to take care of the strings.
A ‘C’ chord is played when you
- Put your finger on the second fret over the fourth string
- Here, the third string is open
- Put the finger on the first fret using the index finger and the hand over the 2nd string
- Use your ringer finger on the 2nd fret over the 1st string
It will be easier when you go step by step and not too fast in understanding the chord.
For the D chord, you just have to do the following things:
- Let the 4th string be open
- Put your finger on the second fret over the 3rd string
- Then, put your finger on the third fret over the 2nd string
- And finally, put your finger on the fourth fret over the 1st string
To play the D7 chord, you just have to do the following:
- Let the 4th string be open
- Use the middle finger on the second fret over the 3rd string
- Use the index finger on the first fret over 2nd string
- Also, leave the 1st string open
You might be getting confused as to which is which string. You just need to know that the string closest to the floor (neck) of the banjo is the 1st string and it gets away from the floor as the numbers increase. This means that the 2nd string is little far than the 1st one from the floor and 3rd is more far than 2nd string from the floor and so on. Also, remember that the 5th string is the shortest among all.
To play the A chord is simplest after the G tune. Here, you have to just put your finger on the second fret and play all the Four strings together. This will give you the tunes required.
To play the E chord, you just have to do the following:
- Put your finger on the second fret over the 4th string
- Then, play the 1st fret over the third string
- Let the second string be open
- And, then put your finger on the second fret over the 1st string
The following pattern is used for playing the F chord:
- Put your finger on the third fret over the 4th string
- Now, put your finger on the second fret over the third string
- Them, put your finger on the first fret over the second string
- And lastly, put your finger on the third fret over the 1st string
The E chord is a minor banjo chord. It is simple to remember as it has only two things to do:
- Put your finger on the second fret over the 1st and the 4th strings
- And let the 2nd and 3rd strings be open
This is also A minor banjo chord. You can play the Am tune in the following form:
- Put your finger on the second fret over the 4th and the 3rd strings
- Then, put your finger on the first fret over the 2nd string
- And then, put the finger on the second fret over the 1st string
A sharp/B flat Chord
The notes are the same for both A sharp and B flat chords. It is as simple as the g tunes notes. You just have to play the third fret over the first 4 strings and you get both the A sharp and the B flat versions played.
The G7 chord gives you a warm tone where you can get a folk as well as the funk experience. So, you can get the banjo folk music using this chord too. For this, you just have to let the second, third and fourth strings be open and play on the third fret over the 1st string.
Again, D is a minor banjo chord. To play the Dm chord, you just have to do the following:
- Put your finger on the third fret over the fourth string
- Then, put your finger on the second fret over the 3rd string
- And finally, put your fingers on the third fret over the 1st and the 2nd strings
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Fretting?
Fretting simply means pressing the strings down over the frets to make changes in the pitch of each note.
2. With which hand should I hold the banjo and pluck its strings?
It depends on you. If you are a left-handed person, then you can hold the banjo in right hand and play the strings with the left hand. If you are right-handed person, then you hold the banjo on the left hand and play it with the right.
3. Is there a Left-handed Banjo?
Yes, you will find left-handed banjo which are not much different from the normal right-handed banjos.
4. Why does my banjo not sound good?
This is probably because you are not properly following the entire chord tuning correctly or the problem must be because you aren’t holding the instrument properly.
5. Should I wear picks while I play the Banjo?
Basically, wearing picks gives you a greater volume, brighter sound and a bigger dynamics range. But it may hamper your flow of playing the instrument and so, it completely depends on you whether you are comfortable using the picks or not.
6. How much pressure shall I use while playing the chords?
The pressure is medium level. But as you start playing and as the sound comes out, you will get the practice and get to know which chords need what kind of pressure points.
7. What’s the easiest way to tune a Banjo?
For beginners, an electronic tuner is the easiest way to tune a banjo.
I would recommend do the first action of putting your fingers over the fret with your index finger, then the middle finger and then ring finger. But that isn’t the ideal combination as it might be different for different people. You can easily get all the chords right when you follow all the steps one by one. Do not rush, go slow and you will be able to play the banjo chords easily and instantly.