How To Play 6 String Banjo

Figuring out how to play a six string banjo is a lot simpler if you already play a guitar. Also called the banjitar, the six string banjo is pretty much a guitar neck attached to a banjo pot.  It gives you the string and fret setup of a standard guitar with the sound of a banjo. You won’t get quite the sound of a bluegrass banjo without the fifth string drone, but they are a lot of fun to fool around with.

To play a six string banjo you will need:

  • Six string banjo.
  • Banjo strap (these bad boys are really heavy)
  • Finger picks and a thumb pick (steel strings on most of these types of instrument)
  • Guitar instruction book
  1. Tune the six string banjo the same way you would tune a guitar. The sixth string, the one on the top of the neck is a low E followed by A, D, G, B and E.  Use a guitar tuner rather than a banjo tuner to tune the instrument.
  2. Sit down and practice. The banjitar or six string banjo is heavy. To learn how to play the six string banjo, you will have to combine some techniques. It is held like a banjo with the pot in your lap, but the neck is held lower, less vertically, in your left hand more like a guitar. Put your thumb behind the neck and fret with the fingers curled under the neck and the fingertips over and directly down on top of the strings.
  3. Make a standard guitar chord. If you don’t already play the guitar, you’ll have to learn to play the six string banjo using a guitar instruction book.
  4. Put on finger picks on all fingers and a thumb pick on the thumb. Unlike with the banjo, you do not generally anchor with the ring and pinky finger. You can attempt a three-finger bluegrass style picking pattern, but the extra string on the banjitar really calls for the use of all your fingers.
  5. Pluck the strings in whatever pattern you are used to on the guitar and make chords accordingly. The banjitar is designed to be picked rather than strummed. The sound of a strummed six string banjo is a bit overwhelming, so you’ll need to hone your fingerpicking style.
  6. Put in some practice time with the six string banjo. Generally five string banjo players tend to pick up the nuances of the six string banjo more quickly than guitarists, but it takes practice. For one thing, banjo players tend to play guitar as well, while fewer guitarists play the banjo.  For another thing, the left hand tricks that banjo players use routinely to coax banjo sounds out of their instruments are not the same as those used by guitarists. The six string banjo, because it has the banjo pot, responds to bluegrass fretwork a little better than to guitar stylings.