How to Play in E without a capo

Playing Banjo In the Key of E

One of the challenges beginner banjo players face is playing in unfamiliar keys.  Keys that might be great for the guitar player but less conventional for our instrument.  Have you ever attended a jam session, only to get lost as the group quickly moves from key to key?  These are skills that you can in fact learn and playing in these less familar keys CAN become as easy as playing in G. 

In this video, I go over how I approach playing in the key of E.  I do this without a capo; the only change I make is I move my 5th string up to B via the 5th string capo.  The three main chords in the key of E are E, A, and B.  You need material to play over each of these and the GOOD NEWS is it’s not difficult.  You don’t need a lot of material, just a few simple little patterns will get you through it.

I like playing without a capo in E because it allows me to use the lowest registers of the banjo.  This low sound is particularly suitable for blues/old country sounds.  I also like using the 4231 type roll because it’s a bit like Travis Picking on the guitar; I’ve found this once again complements blues, old country tunes well.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.