Top 5 Beginner Banjo Chords
Did you buy one of those chord charts that has 100 chords on it?
Overwhelmed with how many banjo chords there are and don’t know where to start?
Today, I’ll show you the first banjo chords you should begin with if you are learning the 5-string banjo. You can SERIOUSLY waste your time by attempting to start with the wrong chords. The best way to set yourself up for success is to choose easy banjo chords and gradually work your way up to more difficult ones. Let’s get started with these five basic banjo chords:
Five Must Know Simple Banjo Chords
- G Major
- C Major
- E minor
- A minor
Before we start, it’s necessary to understand these “rules” for the beginner banjo chord exercises that follow:
- Stay in time, counting 1-2-3-4 while strumming-practicing until you can move between the chords in time. If you find yourself taking too long to get there, just keep doing it over and over.
- Aim for a clear tone. If your notes are buzzing or unclear, then keep working on them. You’ll improve the more you do it. Watch your fingers on the strings and frets.
- Only strum the top 3 strings of the banjo with your thumb, don’t involve the 5th or 4th strings (This is only a rule for now, it’ll change later on).
G Major Chord
Our first banjo chord is the G Major Chord. Why can’t ALL banjo chords be this simple, right? Looking at the banjo diagram, you’ll see it’s all open strings, so, easy peasy. The top three strings of the 5-string banjo are a G major chord (G-B-D for those of you wondering about the names of the individual notes). This is due to the banjo being tuned to open G tuning. I call this the Look Ma! No hands Chord, as your left-hand can go on vacation. The G chord on banjo makes guitar players envious.
C Major Chord
Our second beginner banjo chord is C Major. Now it’s time for your left-hand that’s been laying out in the sun to get to work.
Fingering: This time we place our RING finger on the 1st string/2nd fret. Our INDEX finger goes on the 1st fret/2nd string like this:
Banjo Exercise ONE:
Try strumming with your thumb, while going from G to C and then back to G. Strum each FOUR TIMES (Count if you need to in the beginning).
This is the chord progression:
Once you get that, then try it the other way. You will encounter this chord progression in thousands of songs.
Our third chord is the D7 chord. This is one of the most common chords in all of music.
Fingering: Start from the C major chord above, lift your RING finger, and move your MIDDLE finger onto the 2nd fret/3rd string. For now, we are only hitting the top 3 strings, so you don’t need to worry about the 4th string (it’s sometimes played open).
You might wonder, why don’t we begin with a plain D major chord instead of this weird D7 chord thing? What is a 7 chord anyways? For now, take my word for it when I say the 7th version of D is easier to play than the regular D Major Chord. It’s a more basic banjo chord than the D major.
Later on, we’ll cover the D major in another banjo lesson.
Banjo Exercise TWO:
Try practicing the following chord progressions:
**Don’t forget, STAY IN TIME and listen to the sounds you are making****
E Minor Banjo Chord
Now it’s time for our first Minor banjo chord. E minor is our guy! (Please note-any time you see a lowercase m in a chart, that is a short-hand for MINOR.) Don’t let the word minor chord scare you, he’s a pretty easy banjo chord as well..
Fingering: Here is my HINT-Make the C major Chord and then lift your INDEX finger. Voila! That’s your E minor chord. It’s amazing how everything is connected to the first chords you learn.
E minor is one of the most common chords in banjo songs, so practice this one a lot.
Banjo Exercise THREE:
A Minor Chord
Our Second Minor chord and final chord for this post is the A minor chord. You’ll typically find A minor in songs that are in the key of C major and G major (It happens in other keys, but you have to start somewhere). The exercises down below will prepare you.
Banjo Exercise FOUR:
Final words about Banjo chords
You can quickly get overwhelmed trying to learn every single chord on the banjo neck. Pick your battles and pick them well. As the old saying goes, don’t bite off more than you can chew (and digest!). In the beginning, it’s not about the quantity of banjo chords you know, it’s the quality of sound you are getting out of each, how well you stay in time. Aim to make each chord progression exercise effortless.
Anyways, I hope this was a good introduction on How to play banjo chords for 5-string banjo; if you have any questions feel free to reach out, I’m here for you on the banjo journey. Once you are ready, check out The Ultimate Banjo Chord Guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Too many to count. If you look at a banjo chord chart, you probably need to know 40% of them to play most songs. Don’t stress over learning every chord on the neck.
G,C,D, and A major are a good place to start. For minor keys, start with D minor, Eminor, and A minor.
No. Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and thousands of other banjo players in the 40’s-70’s did not have access to the equipment we have today and learned how to play just fine. Stick it out and quit making excuses.
If you want to play bluegrass you can get away with only memorizing the shapes. However, the more advanced you become, the more you’ll want to know the underlying theory behind every chord shape.