Love the sound of a classic banjo? Learning to play your favorite Celtic or folk music on a banjo can be fun and relatively easy with some practice. Learn how to play the banjo to enjoy its tunes whenever you want.
Method 1 of 2: Choose a Banjo
Step 1. Choose the number of strings
The banjo is a versatile instrument and has several types. Among the string options for banjos we have 4-string, 5-string, or 6-string. Choose the one that is right for you based on the style of music you are interested in playing and your level of mastery of the instrument.
- The 4-string tenor banjo is often associated with Dixieland, jazz, or Celtic music. Although you can certainly play more than just these styles with a 4-string banjo. These are a great pick for beginners, due to the simplicity of the instrument.
- The 5-string banjo is the most popular and most traditional for all styles of banjo. It is most often associated with bluegrass and folk styles, but can be used to play most styles of music. The 5-string banjo is known for its strange fifth string that binds near the midpoint of the neck, a characteristic it inherited from its African predecessors. This is the best option for beginners, as it is easy to play as it has an extended range of notes available.
- The 6-string banjo or banjo-guitar is the least popular of the three styles, but is widely used among famous banjo players. It offers the widest range of notes but is also the most difficult to play, making it a poor choice for novice students.
Step 2. Go for an open-back banjo or resonance banjo
Banjos have two main structures, an open back or a bonded resonator. The banjo with an open back is just as the name implies: the banjo cover has no back, so it is shaped like a bowl when turned upside down. A resonance banjo has a bonded back and a wooden ring that amplifies the sound.
- It's best to decide on the structure of the banjo you want after playing both at a local music store. Each one of them offers slightly different sounds due to its construction.
- Open-backed banjos are often used by beginners as they are usually the cheapest option and don't need as high a volume. However, if you want to play in a band, an open-backed banjo might not be the best option.
- Resonance banjos produce a louder, fuller sound, but are much more expensive. If you are ready and willing to commit to playing the banjo for a long time, then invest in a resonance banjo.
- It is said that the heavier the banjo, the better its quality. However, don't let that deter you from choosing a banjo that could be lighter.
Step 3. Find the best action and scale for you
The action of the banjo is the distance between the strings and the fingerboard, while the scale is the total length of the strings from the capo to the bridge.
- Choose a banjo with a low action for easier playing. If the action is too high, you will have to press down on the strings, which can take the notes out of pitch and put uncomfortable pressure on your fingers.
- The scale of a banjo can vary between 60 to 80 cm (23 "-32"), but the easiest for beginners is the 65 cm (26 ¼ ") banjo. This one is neither incredibly long nor uncomfortably small, but in between.
Step 4. Consider other styles
Although it is important to consider all of the above when you are considering buying a banjo, there are a few other options to consider. You might consider buying a plectrum banjo, which is played with a special fingernail, or possibly a banjo with a tone ring that enhances the sound. Meet with a local banjo aficionado or a worker at your favorite music store to find out which style suits your preferences.
Method 2 of 2: Play the Banjo
Step 1. Tune the banjo
Before you can start playing the banjo, you need to make sure it is in tune. That may sound overwhelming to a beginner, but it's easy to do on your own. Turning the pegs on the head of the banjo changes the length of the string, which alters the sound.
- Use an electric tuner. Banjos require a chromatic tuner, but these are easy to buy online or at a local music supply store.
- If you have a piano or keyboard, play the piano key that matches the string you are tuning and turn the tuner until both sounds match. This might be more difficult for beginners since you're basically playing by ear, but it can help you know what sound the banjo makes when it's in tune or out of tune.
- Your banjo should be in open G tuning. Use an online banjo tuner to hear the correct sound.
Step 2. Have good body posture
It is very important that you have the correct posture before playing the banjo. Sitting in the wrong position can greatly alter the sound of the music, increase the difficulty, and increase the chances of injury.
- Always keep your shoulders straight and back, without hunching over. This applies whether you are sitting or standing.
- Hold the banjo at a 45-degree angle, with the underside perpendicular to the ground.
- Be careful not to grip the neck too tightly because unlike a guitar, a banjo has a very sensitive neck. Holding it too tightly can cause notes to go out of tune.
Step 3. Put your hands in the right place
Your right hand should be on the strings near the bridge, while your left hand should be supporting the neck.
- Your right hand ring and little finger should be on the head of the banjo, just past the first string. If you have trouble keeping them in place while playing, try putting on a piece of double-stick tape to help keep your fingers in place.
- The neck of the banjo should be over your thumb. Keep your thumb straight and go around the fingerboard with your other fingers. To get the correct posture for your wrist, place all four fingers on the first four frets that reach the back end. Keep your wrist in this position while playing.
Step 4. Learn how to use the pick
When you play the strings, you slide your fingers down using your fingernail to play the strings. To pick a banjo you will always use your thumb, index and middle. Your ring finger and little finger remain on the head of the banjo.
- You can buy picks to slide onto your fingertips. They are like the picks on electric guitars with attached rings that you slide onto your fingertips for plucking and are responsible for producing a louder sound.
- Don't worry about pulling or pressing on the strings when picking, as this is unnecessary. The banjo will produce a good sound just by gently tapping each string down.
Step 5. Learn some basic rolls
Rolls are a term that describes a basic banjo picking pattern performed by playing eight notes. There are many basic rolls to choose from and they all work by having your right hand play a few strings in a repeating pattern.
- A forward roll is the most basic and is played by hitting the strings in this order: 5-3-1-5-3-1-5-3. The numbers refer to the strings: 5th string, 3rd string, and 1st string. You may have noticed that there are eight notes to play, so the roll covers exactly one musical measure.
- Once you have mastered a basic roll, try to learn more difficult rolls to practice picking and timing.
Step 6. Practice your rhythm
Even if you already know some rolls, keeping time while playing them for an extended period can be very difficult. Practice your timing using a metronome. A metronome is a device that emits electronic noise at a constant rate. Play one while you practice so you can rate yourself based on your metronome beat.
Step 7. Learn more advanced music
Once you feel like you know various rolls, you've learned your beats and rhythms, and you're ready to move on, look to learn some songs. It may take a few weeks of practice before you touch something recognizable, but don't let that put you off.
- Look up famous banjo songs online to learn how to play them. Many music books are also available and can teach you how to master some basic songs.
- You can search for banjo chords to make the music for many popular songs. A chord is like music for a banjo, telling you which string and fret number creates the notes you need. Search the name of your song with the word "chord" to get its music.
Step 8. Practice daily
The most important part of learning to play any instrument is putting in regular effort. To become a good banjo player, it is important that you spend at least thirty minutes a day practicing your skill. It could be frustrating or discouraging at first, but over time you will start to enjoy playing on a daily basis.
- For a better learning experience, hire a banjo teacher to guide you in your learning.
- There are movements of the left hand called slides, hammers, chokes and pull offs or push offs that you can learn as you improve your skills.