How’s the 5-string banjo tuned?

What’s the 5-string banjo tuned to?

In this video, I go over how the 5-string banjo is tuned.  I discuss the tuning and relate it back to the guitar.  Many guitar players are interested in learning to play the banjo and wonder if there’s any carry over?   As far as how the banjo is tuned, there are a few similarities between it and the guitar.

The standard 5-string banjo tuning is:

g D G B D

See if you can spot the similarities between it and the guitar.  Standard tuning for the guitar is:

E  A  D  G  B  E

Martin Guitar Neck
Neck of a Martin D-18 guitar

Take a closer look at the first four strings of the banjo and the first four strings of the guitar.  Do you see it?

Yes, it turns out that the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings of a banjo are tuned identical to the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings of a guitar.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantage-You can quickly apply all the scales and shapes you know on the center strings of a guitar to the banjo.

The disadvantage-you can get your wires crossed when it comes to that first string.  This is because the 1st string of the banjo is tuned to D and the first string of the guitar is tuned to E.  Yes, a whole step lower.  This can throw you for a loop if you attempt to learn/play both instruments at the same time.  With my own studies, I remember going through this-I’d try to play a scale on the banjo and switch into GUITAR FINGERS! I’d be off by a whole step on the first string.

Of course, we can’t leave off the most unique part of the 5-string banjo, the FIFTH STRING!  That guy that hangs off the side of the neck that’s tuned to g.  You might wonder, what is the fifth string on a  banjo for?

This is the drone string of the banjo and will probably throw off anyone with a fingerstyle guitar background, it’s non-existent on guitar.  Another odd thing about the banjo is this is the highest pitch sound, yet it’s the one closest to you (Normally where the lowest sound is on a guitar).  The 5th string of the banjo primarily provides accompaniment and resonance.  It can carry the melody, but this is rare until more advanced playing.

Hopefully, you’ve found this video on banjo tuning helpful, please throw any questions in the comments, I’m here to help.

Do you play guitar? Are you wondering if banjo is easier than the guitar?  Please, check out this blog where I answer this question-Is banjo easier than guitar?


Are all banjos tuned the Same?

No, all banjos aren’t tuned the same. The 5-string banjo is normally tuned gDGBD; however, gCGBD is another variation called dropped C tuning. Plectrum banjos are tuned CGBD. Tenor banjos are usually tuned CGDA. However, in Irish music, the tenor banjo can be tuned GDAE. Similar to guitar, banjo does have alternate tunings such as D tuning and “modal” tuning.

Will a guitar tuner work on a banjo?

Yes, you can easily tune the 4th,3rd, and 2nd strings of a banjo with a guitar tuner. The 1st string of a banjo is tuned to D instead of E; however, a guitar tuner will still be able to pick up this note and tune it. Almost all of today’s tuners have a chromatic mode so the 5th string won’t present an issue either. If your guitar tuner lacks a chromatic mode, you can match the 5th string of the banjo to the 5th fret of the 1st string by ear.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.

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