How To Play 5 String Banjo

Get in touch with your bluegrass roots by learning how to play 5 string banjo. The 5 string banjo is similar in structure to a guitar, except it has only five strings and the fifth string is positioned lower on the neck than the other four. The method of playing the banjo is different from playing the guitar as well. The clawhammer method is a common way to play 5 string banjo. In the clawhammer method, the player plucks each string of the banjo using his finger nail in a downward motion.

  1. Sit in a chair with the 5 string banjo on your lap. Rest your right hand over the body of the banjo and place your left hand on the neck, with your left thumb in the back.
  2. Tune the strings of the banjo to the proper notes. You can use a tuner for this if you need to. The 5 string banjo is tuned to an open G. The first (bottom) string should be a D, the second string a B, the third string a G and the fourth string a D that is one octave lower than the first string D. Tune the fifth string to a G one octave lower than the third string G.
  3. Rest the little finger of your right hand beneath the strings on the banjo's body. You will be using your thumb and two fingers to pick the strings. The fingers on your left hand will press down on the frets to change the notes of the banjo.
  4. Practice a few forward rolls by plucking the G string with your thumb. Then pluck the B string with your first finger and the D string with your second finger. Pluck in a 4/4 time and repeat for several bars or until you get the hang of plucking downwards.
  5. Learn basic chords. If you strum downward on all five strings with your right hand, you are making a G chord. Press the 4th fret on the D string, the 3rd fret on the B string, the 2nd fret on the G string and the 4th fret on the upper D string to produce a D chord. Press the 2nd fret on both D strings with your left hand and the first fret on the B string to produce a C chord. Repeat, strumming a chord progression until you feel comfortable.
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