how to play the banjo

How to Play Banjo

Looking for some tips about how to play the banjo for beginner ? Keep reading this article from top to bottom. We will try to guide you about your banjo lesson. One major misconception that rings in most people’s minds is that the banjo is hard to play. But, once you start learning how to play the banjo, you’ll be amazed to discover its simplicity and numerous learning curves that will help you to become better and better each day. Once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to easily play the different types of banjos available as they’re almost similar and, easier to play as compared to a guitar.

Which is the best banjo for beginners?

But, before we commence, let’s first discuss the different types of banjos and which one is the best for beginners. Now, three major types of banjos are commonly used in the music industry today; the 4-string banjo (tenor banjo), the 5-string banjo, and the 6-string banjo (banjo guitar).

The 4-string banjo is easy to play though it has a lower selection of tunes. The 6-string, on the other hand, has a wider selection of tunes but it’s very difficult to play making it the best for expert instrumentalists.

Finally, we have the 5-string banjo which is the most common and easiest to play. Beginners learning to play the banjo will enjoy its simplicity as it has a standard open G tuning. This means that to play a G chord, you only need to strum the strings without pushing anything down.

One unique characteristic of the 5-string banjo is that the 5th string is shorter than the rest and is usually attached to a tuning peg sticking at the side of the neck. Check out our review about best beginner banjo

Understanding parts of a banjo

At a glance, a banjo appears to be similar to its cousin musical instruments; the guitar and the violin. But, if you look at it more closely, this concept may be further from the truth as a banjo is a more complex instrument that uses some novel technology.

So, in this section, we will look at some major parts of the banjo to help you learn how to play the banjo more comprehensively. Now, the banjo has two major parts; the neck and the pot.

The neck has three components which are;

  • The pighead: also known as the headstock, the pighead is the part furthest away from the body of the banjo. This component houses the truss rod, tuning pegs, and the banjo nut.
  • The neck: this is the area of the banjo where you play on. Its length is usually variable depending on the type of banjo and it contains the truss rod, strings, frets, inlays, and the spikes.
  • Heel: this is the area of the banjo that attaches the neck to the body. It’s usually constructed from an engraved metal to give it some touch of extra luxury and is secured with metal bolts.

The pot has multiple components which are;

The banjo head, banjo rim, the resonator, banjo-bridge, co-ordinator rods, tension hoop, hooks and nuts, flange, armrest, tone ring, and banjo rim.

So, how do you learn to play the banjo?

Step one:

Before you start playing the banjo, the first thing you need to do is to adjust the tuner knobs. This will allow you to change the tension and length of the string which will alter the sound.

Step two:

Next, you need to learn how to adjust your posture before playing the banjo. Make sure your shoulders are up and back and that you’re holding the banjo at an angle of 45 degrees. This will prevent you from blocking the sound from open strings while still making it easier to play the banjo.

Step three:

Before you start playing the banjo, you need to learn how to position your hands and fingers. If you’re a right handed, your right hand should be positioned in the strings while your left hand holds the neck.

Step four:

Now its time to learn how to pick. When it comes to picking, there are various techniques you can employ. Playing a note using both hands simultaneously is called melodic playing while strumming different strings at the same time is called playing the chord.

Fingerpicking styles you’ll come across when learning how to play the banjo are the 2-finger style, 3-finger style, and the clawhammer style.

  • 2-finger style

In this type of style, the primary “decorations” are the 1st string and the 5th string which are played by the thumb and index fingers. Here, the thumb plays all the 5th string notes and the melody notes while the index finger plays all 1st string notes.

  • 3-finger style

For the case of the 3-finger style, you use the index finger to play the first note, the middle finger to play the second while the thumb plays the third note.

  • Clawhammer style

In this finger picking style, the index or middle finger is used to strike on one or several strings in a three-part-rhythm producing tunes that sound like claw-ham-mer.

Step five:

The next step is learning how to play banjo rolls. You see, as a beginner, one of the areas you tend to start out is learning how to play the chords. In roll-patterns, a player picks a series of 8 notes using the thumb, index, and middle fingers and plays them one after the other to create broken chords.

In bluegrass music, one of the major patterns used is the roll-pattern. So, with that said, here are the four major roll-patterns you’ll need to master in banjo learning.

  • Forward roll-pattern: just as the name suggests, this pattern is played moving forward and its one of the most exciting pattern in the bluegrass genre. The forward roll-pattern is played as follows; T-M-T-I-M-T-I-M (T=Thumb, M=Middle, I=Index). This pattern is played using the following strings; 2-1-5-2-1-5-2-1.
  • Reverse or backward roll: in this pattern, you start with the middle finger and move backwards towards the 5th string in the following sequence; M-I-T-M-I-T-M-I. This pattern is played using the following strings; 1-2-5-1-2-5-2-1.
  • Forward-reverse roll: first we had the forward roll then the backward roll. This time round, we’re going to learn the forward-reverse roll which is played with the following sequence; T-I-M-T-M-I-T-M. It uses the following string order; 3-2-1-5-1-2-3-1.
  • The “lick” roll: this pattern is also commonly used in the bluegrass banjo. When playing, you start with the forward roll sequence and later shift to the forward-reverse sequence in the following pattern; T-M-T-I-M-I-T-M. This sequence uses the following string order; 3-1-5-3-1-3-5-1.

Step six:

Now that you have some basic knowledge of some of the commonly used fingerpicking styles, strategies and roll-patterns, the last step is to practice your rhythm. You can do this by using a metronome which emits electronic clicks at consistent intervals to help you perfect your timing.


Overall, learning how to play the banjo requires a lot of patience, motivation, and commitment. If you’re wondering which type of banjo to use as a beginner, then I believe you now know that the 5-string banjo is the best to consider at the beginning stages of your learning.

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