Jim Bottorff's Banjo Page
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Following are some tips that might help getting started with the banjo:

For the purpose of this Website there are three types of banjos:
(Click on the images to enlarge)
5-String Banjo
The 5-String banjo has five strings and a neck with 22 frets.  The 5th string is a short string on the side of the neck.
Lots of styles of playing are used including finger picking and strumming both with and without finger picks.
Many different tunings are used on the 5-string, the three most common are "G" (gDGBD) "C" (gCGBD) and "D" (a or f#DAF#D).
The various tunings allow for more open string chords and easier finger picking.  Capos are used as well for changing keys.
4-String Plectrum Banjo
The 4-String Plectrum banjo has four strings and a neck with 22 frets.  Same as a 5-String banjo without the 5th string.
Standard tuning is "C" (CGBD).  Other popular tunings include "G" (gDGBD) and "Guitar" (DGBE).
The most common styles of playing include using a flat guitar pick to play single strings and chords, often along the entire neck.
Playing in different keys is accomplished by learning chords for that key.  Using a capo to change keys is not common.
4-String Tenor Banjo
The 4-String Tenor banjo has four strings and a short neck with 19 or 17 frets. The 17 fret banjos are often called "Irish Tenor".
Standard tuning is "Tenor" (CGDA).  Other popular tunings include "Irish Tenor" (GDAE), "Plectrum" (CGBD) and "Guitar" (DGBE)
The most common styles of playing include using a flat guitar pick to play single strings and chords, often along the entire neck.
Playing in different keys is accomplished by learning chords for that key.  Using a capo to change keys is not common.

Getting Started:
Go to a local music store and browse through the books on banjo playing, 5-String, Plectrum, and Tenor.  Select a book for your particular banjo interest that shows tuning methods, basics of music, chord exercises, and a few songs.  The Mel-Bay company has a large number of beginning and advanced publications.  Harry Reser and Roy Smeck are names to look for in the older books that can be found on Ebay and other internet sites. Although they were well known as tenor banjo players, they wrote books for all types of banjos. Instruction books with CD recordings are good but not necessary.
If you like folk and bluegrass music, Pete Seeger's "How to play the 5-string Banjo" book has a lot of variety with examples of various styles of strumming and finger-picking.  Some banjo books focus on only one style of playing, such as frailing, 3-finger picking, single-string melody, or chord-melody.  These are good if you know what playing style you want to learn. If you are not sure what style you are interested in, stay with the books that show music basics and simple songs with chord diagrams.  Watch banjo instructors and performers on YouTube to get some knowledge of the different styles.
Local city and county libraries sometimes have books and recordings that are no longer available in the music stores or the internet.  You can also access the Internet from most libraries for reviews of the books you find. Used book stores may have some banjo instruction books as well. Internet sources for books, records, videos, and CD's are "ebay.com" and "amazon.com".  Amazon has reviews of most of the products.
Learn to tune the banjo by various methods such as, electronic tuner, piano, pitch pipe, tuning fork, other instruments, and relative-tuning.  The relative-tuning is explained in most beginning books and this should be one of the first things you learn on the banjo.  Always check the tuning before playing or practicing.  Being able to stay in tune is very important.
Learn the left hand chord positions for C, F, G7 and then G, C, D7, playing them in the order shown.  Use a flat guitar type pick, your fingers, or the back of your finger nails, to strum/pick the strings.  Don't be concerned with rhythm or anything else until you can make each chord sound clear and loud without buzzing or sounding muted.  Practice, practice, practice. As you hold the chord, strike each string separately to make sure you are getting clean, clear sounds.  Getting a clear sound from each string is very important.

Once you have learned to tune the banjo easily and make clear sounding chords, then  it's time to continue on with the various right hand techniques such as flat-picking, frailing, finger-picking, etc.  Rhythm, timing, and speed of changing chords will come with practice. Keep the right and left hand techniques separate at first, then combine them together as they get easier.  "Skip To My Lou", "Down In The Valley", "Camptown Races", and "Buffalo Gals" are typical of the types of songs to practice. Play chord accompaniment and then progress to melody techniques.
Listen and watch as many banjo players as possible.  Choose a style(s) of playing you like.  Find a local banjo teacher that can teach you music basics, rhythm, timing, and some songs.

Have your banjo checked-out and adjusted by someone with banjo knowledge.  Watch while they do it and have them explain the function of the different parts.  Learn about string gauges and how to change strings.  Learn how to properly adjust the bridge and tighten the head of your banjo. Almost every part on the banjo has a relationship to the way it sounds.
When you are ready to start playing along with some songs click here.

Practice every day, very important.
Happy Picking and Strumming,
Jim Bottorff

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