Dueling Banjos, What Are You Made Of?

If you came here looking for the dueling banjos TAB, I’m sorry to disappoint. I don’t want to offend the music copyright patrol and I know you aren’t going to pay to get me out of jail 🙂

However, what I AM about to offer you is something that none of the TABS do. A breakdown of all the components used in “Dueling banjos.” You know how to play dueling banjos with a deeper understanding than simply memorizing a TAB.

The more you understand the components, the easier time you’ll have learning the song or keeping it in your long-term memory.

It won’t be only tactile memory, put your finger on this string, put your finger here and hope you remember that six months from now! Sometimes having a label for each component you’re playing can seriously help out.

What is Dueling Banjos Made of?

Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, a kid playing the banjo, and a canoe. Oh wait a minute….No, it’s made of the following:

  • Scales:  G, C, and D major scales
  • Quick G to C chord switching
  • Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a banjar
  • A fast section of banjo rolls through chords.

Scales of Dueling Banjos

When you listen to the song, this is the section that comes after the familiar “Yankee Doodle” melody:

First, we have your G major scale that looks like this. These notes are G A B C D E F#, ending up at G

banjo tab with the G major scale on it

Next, we have your C major (C D E F G A B). However, note that this doesn’t contain as many notes as the previous one. That is because it isn’t the full scale. What you will find out is Dueling Banjos only use the first five notes of the C scale for this passage.

Banjo TAB showing the first five notes of C major scale

Next, is the D major scale.  Likewise, it is only the first five notes of the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#)

banjo tab showing the first five notes of a D major scale

Now that we have all of scales, what does this have to do with Dueling banjos?  Take the first note of the G major scale and repeat it (hit it twice) and then run up the first five notes of that scale.  Sound familiar? All you have to do when you get to the fifth note is reverse directions and go back to the 2nd fret, 2nd string and then 2nd string open.  That is the familiar sound of dueling banjos.  This part of the melody is almost only the scale.

It does this and then you get a call and response from the guitar with the same pattern.  You repeat the whole thing and from there you move on to the C scale and do the exact same pattern.  Repeat the first note, go up five notes, reverse down two notes.

Then, you go back to the G major scale.  After that, you move on to the D major scale.  Notice that the D major scale is the same as the C major scale, everything is just moved up two frets!

So the sequence of scales looks something like this:


G to C Chord Switching

This is heard at the opening of the song (after the few bits of noodling and tuning) before it goes into Yankee Doodle.  Basically, it is switching between a G and C chord with some rhythm.  All you have to do is strum the initial G chord twice in a row faster.  In numeric terms, we call this a I – IV -I chord change.

banjo tab showing a G to C chord

Yankee Doodle

I’ll spare you the banjo TAB to “Yankee Doodle” and assume you know what I’m talking about. By the way, this melody is all within a G major scale. All the more reason to know your G major scale before starting to learn Dueling Banjos.

Dueling Banjos Chords: Fast Section

Here are the chords to the fast section:



Each chord lasts four beats in 4/4 time signature.  What they do in the movie is more complicated;   however, you could simple roll forward-reverse rolls through those chord changes and it would start to sound like Dueling Banjos.  With this section, view it as a bit of an improv section.  You DO NOT have to play it exactly as done in the movie.  As long as you stick to the chords above, it will sound like the song, provided the other pieces are there.  I change it up each time I play it.  There is no set melody to this section, go fast.

Dueling Banjos Summary

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  This is one of the most well known banjo tunes and it’s components aren’t complicated.  It’s a few scales, an old folk melody interjected, and then some common chord switches.  It’s the kind of thing someone might say, “I could have done that, had I thought of it.”

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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.