The exciting melodies and folky tone of the banjo make it loved by people around the world. If your goal is to learn how to play the banjo, that dream can be accomplished with regular practice and dedication.
How long it takes to learn the banjo will depend on your skill level going into it. If you’ve played other string instruments before, you’ll have an easier time picking up the fingerings and strumming patterns. However, you can still become a great banjo player even if you haven’t played any instrument before.
On average, it takes new banjo players around 1 to 6 months to understand the basics. In 1 to 2 years, beginner banjoists can comfortably play chords and simple songs up to tempo. In 3 to 6 years of consistent practice, most people can consider themselves advanced at the banjo, depending on how often and how long they practice. But with so many complex songs to learn, it will take a lifetime to master the instrument.
Most banjo players start on a five-string banjo. It’s the most popular kind, and most banjo tabs are written for five strings. Before you begin playing, be sure your banjo is in tune. The first four strings can be tuned using the tuning pegs at the head of the instrument, while the fifth tuning peg is found halfway down the neck.
Banjos are not tuned in ascending or descending order, unlike other string instruments. Instead, it’s typically tuned to a G Major chord. From the first string to the fifth (shortest) string, the tuning should be D, B, G, D, G. Use a tuner to ensure each string is neither sharp nor flat.
Now that your banjo is in tune, you can begin learning how to play notes and chords. The best banjo chords to start with are G, C, D7, and Em. This chord progression will allow banjo players to play a variety of songs right off the bat.
Fingerpicking is another key skill for banjo players. Being able to play note after note in quick succession is an essential part of most banjo songs, but it takes a lot of practice to do correctly. Many banjo players will wear picks on their right-hand thumb and first two fingers to make plucking the strings easier. Start by playing the song slowly, and work your way up to tempo as you get more comfortable and lock in the muscle memory.
One of the best ways to practice your chords and fingerpicking technique is by playing songs. “You Are My Sunshine” is a recognizable tune that many beginner banjo players can play. “Cripple Creek” is another that banjo players can learn early on. “Clinch Mountain Backstep” is mostly straightforward, with a more complex B section that’s great for beginners to practice. Once you have those basics down, try learning something a bit more complex like “Dueling Banjos”. Learning this song will help fine-tune your banjo skills while helping with speed. With enough practice, you may be able to play Earl Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” one day!
Because the banjo is such a fun instrument, many beginners have no trouble finding time to practice. Aim to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes every day practicing your banjo, and you’ll notice significant improvement over time. Not only will you be able to play more complex melodies, but you’ll also be able to play faster and with better accuracy. Stick with it, and you’ll have a fulfilling ho