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5-String Banjo for Guitar Players

by David Bandrowski

Open G chord diagram for banjo



One of the easiest things about playing the banjo is it’s open tuning.  By strumming the banjo with all of the strings open, you  play a G chord.  Hence, a C chord would be a bar across all of the strings at the 5th fret, a D chord would bar at the 7th, and so on.

To start out with, standard banjo tuning is tuned to an open G chord (chord diagram to the left).  The notes are a high G on the short 5th string, then D, G, B on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings (the same as guitar), and a D on the 1st string instead of an E.

The 2nd, 3rd, & 4th strings of a 5-string banjo (when tuned in standard tuning) are tuned the same as guitar.

The 1st string on a banjo is a D as opposed to an E on a guitar.  You can use your guitar shapes on the banjo, but just be sure to move the note on the 1st string up a whole step (2 frets).

Look at the chord shapes below and notice that the only difference is the 1st string is moved up a whole step (2 frets).

D banjo chord diagramD Guitar Chord DiagramA banjo chord diagramA Chord - guitar diagramG banjo chord diagramG Guitar Chord Diagram

F Banjo Chord DiagramF Guitar Chord DiagramC Banjo Chord DiagramC Guitar Chord Diagram

Blues turnaround on banjo and guitar





Now look at the example to the left.  This is a cliche blues turnaround on guitar.  By moving the note on the first string up 2 frets, you can easily play this on the banjo as well.

The top line is the guitar and the bottom is the banjo.




Blues turnaround on banjo and guitar




In the example to the right, we start to incorporate the 5th string of the banjo into our playing.  Here we have two G notes to start our phrase.  Instead of playing both of those notes on the same string as we would on guitar, we are going to alternate between the 1st string at the 5th fret and the open 5th string.  This makes it much easier and faster to play than on a guitar.  

On the banjo, we finger the next 3 notes differently (F, E, D).  
A.  We finger the F note up 2 frets.
B.  We play the E note on the 2nd string at the 5th fret
C.  We play the D note on the open 1st string.

This alternating between strings, so that we try our best to not play the same string twice in a row, allows us to play much smoother and faster when fingerpicking
(as we do on the 5-string banjo).

The top line is the guitar and the bottom is the banjo.