Do you love the slightly bluesy sound of the classic banjo? Learning to play folk or Celtic music with your banjo can be fun and relatively easy with practice. Learn how to play the banjo on your own to enjoy its notes whenever you want.
Method 1 of 2: Part 1: Choosing the Banjo
Step 1. Choose the number of strings
The banjo is a versatile instrument, available in several models. There are four, five or six strings. Choose the model that suits you best based on the genre of music you intend to play and your level of preparation.
- The four-string banjo is the oldest of the models and is often associated with Dixieland, jazz and Celtic music. But you can also play other genres of music with a four-string banjo. This type of banjo, given its simplicity, is particularly versatile for beginners.
- The five-string banjo is the most popular of the old-fashioned banjos. It is closely associated with the bluegrass and folk genres in terms of playing style, but can also be played in other musical contexts. The five-string banjo is known for the staggered fifth string fixed roughly in the middle of the fingerboard. This type of banjo is the ideal choice, even for beginners, given the wide availability of notes.
- The six-string banjo is the least popular, but is widely used among professionals of the genre. This model offers the widest range of notes but is also the most difficult to play, proving to be a poor choice for beginners.
Step 2. Choose between an open bottom banjo or a resonator banjo
Based on the structure, banjos are divided into two types: open bottom or with resonator. The open bottom banjo is exactly what its name implies: the back of the case has no cover and the instrument, turned upside down, looks like a bowl. The banjo with resonator features a back cover and a wooden ring that amplifies the sound.
- The best thing to do is to choose after trying both models in a musical instrument shop. Each of these types of banjo offers a different type of sound, due to the particular construction.
- The open bottom banjo is most often used by beginners, as it is usually cheaper and not too loud. If you are planning to play in a group, however, the open-bottom banjo may prove to be a poor choice.
- The banjo with resonator produces a louder and fuller sound, but is also more expensive. If you have decided to indulge in banjo for a long time in the future, then you can purchase a banjo with resonator.
- It is said that the heavier a banjo, the better the quality of the instrument. Do not be influenced by this too much and still consider buying a lighter banjo.
Step 3. Find the action and the ladder that suits you best
The action of the banjo is the distance between the strings and the fingerboard, while the scale is the length of the strings from the nut to the bridge.
- Choose a low action banjo to play it without too much difficulty. If the action is too high you will have to press the strings more, which could alter the pitch of the notes and exert unpleasant pressure on your fingers.
- The scale of a banjo can range from 584 to 812 mm, but the most suitable version for a beginner is the 665 mm banjo. A banjo of this type is neither excessively long nor too short as to be uncomfortable, but it represents the ideal middle ground.
Step 4. Also consider other parameters
Although the aforementioned elements are very important in buying a banjo, there are also other aspects to consider. You may want to purchase a banjo plectrum, which is played with a particular pick, or perhaps a banjo with a tone ring that amplifies the sound. Recommend it with an enthusiast in your area or with the employee of the instrument shop to get an opinion on the banjo that is most suitable for you.
Method 2 of 2: Part 2: Playing the Banjo
Step 1. Tune your banjo
Before you start playing you need to make sure your banjo is in tune. This might seem daunting for a complete beginner, but it is a very simple operation and can be done on your own.
- Use an electronic tuner. Banjos need a chromatic tuner. Do not worry! Such accessories are quite simple to order online and can also be purchased at any musical instrument store.
- If you have a piano or keyboard, press the key corresponding to the string you are tuning and turn the key until the two sounds match. This operation may be a bit more difficult for a beginner, since it involves playing by ear, but it can still be a useful opportunity to understand how the strings of the instrument sound, both when they are tuned and when they are not.
- The banjo must be tuned in open G. Use a banjo-specific online tuner to hear the correct sound.
Step 2. Get in position
It is of fundamental importance to adopt the right posture before starting to play. Sitting sprawled can significantly alter the sound of your music, make it more difficult to play and lead to physical problems in the long run.
- Always keep your shoulders up and slightly back, but always in a composed manner.
- Hold the banjo at a 45 ° angle, with the lower end perpendicular to the ground.
- Be careful not to squeeze the neck too hard, because the banjo, unlike the guitar, has a rather sensitive fingerboard. Pressing excessively on the strings can produce out of tune notes.
Step 3. Position your hands correctly
The right hand should remain on the strings near the bridge, while the left will hold the neck.
- The little finger and ring finger of the right hand should rest on the banjo case, just above the first string. If you're having trouble holding them this way while playing, try adding a small piece of double-sided tape to help you maintain the correct position.
- The handle of the banjo should rest on the thumb. Keep your thumb straight and place your other fingers on the keyboard. To hold your wrist properly, place your four fingers on the first four frets by touching the back edge of the banjo. Keep your wrist in this position as you play.
Step 4. Learn to pluck the strings
When plucking the strings, move your finger downwards using your fingernail to vibrate the string. As for the banjo, you will always use your thumb, index and middle finger to perform this operation. The little finger and ring finger always remain on the banjo case.
- You can purchase thimble picks to stick on your fingertips. They are similar to common guitar picks but have a ring that allows you to put them on your fingers, offering a louder sound.
- It is not worth pulling or squeezing the strings; it is completely superfluous. The banjo will produce a harmonious sound simply by lightly tapping the strings in a downward motion.
Step 5. Learn some simple banjo rounds
These are basic sequences consisting of eight notes to be played consecutively. There are several basic turns, which you can perform by plucking the strings with your right hand in the correct order.
- The most basic of the turns is the forward one and is performed by plucking the strings in the following order: 5-3-1-5-3-1-5-3. The numbers refer to the string to be played: fifth, third and first. As you can see, there are eight strings to play here, so that the turn occupies exactly one musical bar.
- Once you have mastered the basic round, try your hand at more complex rounds to practice both strumming and keeping time.
Step 6. Learn to keep pace
While you may feel that you can perform the turns properly, you may find it difficult to keep time by playing them for a long time. Train your sense of rhythm using a metronome. The metronome is an accessory that emits an electronic signal at a constant and predefined rhythm. Use one as you practice, to give yourself the right rhythm based on the metronome signal.
Step 7. Learn to play more complex music
Once you've learned a few turns and got the right sense of rhythm, start learning songs to progress. It may take weeks to play something catchy, but don't give up!
- Search the net for the most famous banjo plays and learn how to perform them. There are also many books available that can teach you to play some fundamental pieces.
- You can also search for banjo printouts to learn the most popular pieces. A musical printout is a kind of score, which indicates which string and which fret produce the necessary note. Search the Net for the song you are interested in by typing the word "tab" together with the name of the piece.
Step 8. Practice daily
Constant exercise is the most important factor in the study of a musical instrument. To become a good banjo player you should practice at least half an hour a day. It might be frustrating at first but over time you will get used to playing this fantastic instrument every day and you won't be able to do without it.
- For an optimal study of the instrument, look for a teacher who will guide your steps during learning.
- There are techniques called slide, hammer, choke, pull off or push off that you can learn to perform at a more advanced level of skill.