John Clark Music Tuition

Banjo

The banjo is a mainstay of folk, country and bluegrass music, but is also used in many other styles.

It has a long fingerboard with 4, 5 or sometimes 6 strings. The main body (or pot) of the instrument is a metal or wooden hoop with a tightly stretched membrane. On some instruments the back of the hoop is open, whilst on others the back is fitted with a resonator plate to enhance the sound and project it forward.

There is no standard tuning for a banjo; however, over the years a number of commonly used tunings have emerged:

  • The four string banjo is often tuned in fifths to G D A and E, like a violin or mandolin, but an octave lower.
  • Five string instruments are often tuned to a G chord: G D G B D. You'll see from the picture on the left that one string is somewhat shorter than the rest.
  • The most common tuning for a six string instrument is the same as the guitar standard tuning: E A D G B E.

There are also numerous banjo variations that you might come across, such as the Tenor Banjo, Cello Banjo, Banjolin, Banjolele and many more.

Teaching Approach

Teaching will normally be based one of the tunings listed above. It starts with learning how to tune the instrument and the correct way to hold it. Early teaching concentrates on learning chords and simple strumming patterns. As the student progresses, more complex tunes, chords and rhythms will be added, but the precise approach will vary from player to player, and the teaching order can be changed if appropriate.

Grades

Currently, there are no appropriate graded examinations available for the banjo.

What To Buy

Choosing a banjo can be quite tricky due to the wide number of variations, and choice of instrument can depend on what other stringed instruments you play already (if any) and what type of music you intend to play once you become competent.

Most people who intend to play folk or bluegrass styles choose a 5 string banjo with a scale length (the length of the longest string from the nut to the bridge) of around 650 mm (25 inches). Expect to pay £150 for a reasonable beginner's instrument, or £250 for an beginner's instrument with a resonator plate.

 

Instrument montage