Learning how to play the banjo well can take anywhere from months to years, depending upon how fast you learn, but with a few basic skills, you can begin practicing those skills and teaching yourself to play simple songs in a short time. Things you will need to learn to play the banjo are:
- a banjo
- banjo tab music
- thumb and finger picks
- Learn to read banjo tablature. Tablature is a way of notating music popular with guitar players and banjo players. Banjo tablature (tab) is a graph of horizontal lines representing the strings on a banjo. Numbers on the lines tell you which frets to play to get the notes you need. You can purchase banjo sheet music in music stores and even online at no charge.
- Familiarize yourself with the banjo strings and how you can tune them. The tuning will vary depending upon whether you have a four – or five-string banjo. In addition, there are different tunings you can use. From low to high on a four-string banjo example open string tunings are: C-G-D-A and D-G-B-E. A five string tuning might be G (short string) C-G-B-D.
- Learn chords. The more banjo chords you know, the more songs you will be able to play. You can purchase a book of banjo chords from a music store or find them online at no charge. Though you can strum on a banjo like you can on guitar, picking is the dominant playing style of banjo. This doesn't mean you don't need chords. You will do a lot of your picking while you form chord shapes.
- Focus on picking the strings. Start slowly. Make a G or C chord and pick the strings with your thumb, index and middle fingers. Some banjo players use their thumb and four fingers. This is often up to personal preference. You can also play banjo with a single traditional pick. Play the lowest notes of each chord with your thumb in a downward motion, then pick other strings within the chord with your fingers in an upward motion. Start slow and work your way up to picking with this technique on different chords. Start with a G-D-C-D chord progression and use this chord pattern to get your picking up to speed.
- Read some banjo tablature songs. You can buy them in a music store or find them online at no charge. Start with something basic, such as "Oh Susanna" and sing along as you fingerpick your way through the chords. The more you practice, the better you will get.