A comprehensive guide to playing the 5 string banjo in Folk music and Bluegrass styles. It contains all the hints and tips about buying new or secondhand, tuning, left hand techniques, right hand picking, chords, tablature, accessories of capos, cases, stands, strings, straps. Famous banjo players and their styles, songbooks and banjokes.
The 5 string banjo is mainly an instrument used in Bluegrass music. It can ofcourse be used in folk, and sometimes even in Pop music.
The best style of music to listen to in order to learn the 5 string banjo is ofcourse Bluegrass. Bluegrass music without the predominant driving rolls created by the 5 string banjo generally sounds empty and lacking drive and energy. It can ofcourse, still be played using instruments such as the Mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle and string bass but, but you will feel there is somehow something still missing. Bluegrass banjo has all of the sounds and techniques that make the style possible to play.
It can be played as a lead instrument or backup.
The banjo is played with steel finger picks and a plastic or steel thumbpick for volume and clarity. Don't be put off about using picks. At first, it is easier to feel the string with your fingertips. But, you won't get the volume required to be heard over the other instruments in a bluegrass band. Only use the metal thumb and fingerpicks when you feel you are ready for them. You need a plastic thumb pick and metal finger picks for your first [index] and middle fingers. It is a good idea to experiment with different types and guages [thicknesses] to see what you like best. Once you have found a set of picks that suit you, don't loan them out. It is NOT being anti-social but you have found picks that suit your fingers and no-one else. The tips are bent over the tips of your fingers and the metal band which holds the picks on your fingers and thumb are special to YOU! Other banjo pickers never loan their picks out to anybody else.If you do, someone will bend them out of shape and they will no longer fit you.
Will I ever learn to pick so fast with one hand? If you are right handed your right hand does seem to do all of the work, doesn't it? The left hand fingers [frets] the strings and is used to administrate such techniques as 'slides', 'pull-offs' 'hammers-on' and 'choking' [bending] the strings.
People that play like that are not just randomly striking the strings with the right hand willy-nilly but, following particular patterns.
These patterns include forward rolls, backward rolls, alternating thumb etc. The melody [tune] is actually contained within the rolls. I remember when I first started learning the 5 string banjo way back in the mid 1970's, I couldn't for the life of me distinguish the tune from it's accompanying rolls! It just seemed to be 'lost' in there somewhere! What helped me was playing with an acoustic guitarist who played simple chords such as G major, C major, D major and E minor.
It slowly all began to make sense, These are the four chords of the G major family.
In musical terminology the 'Root ' chord. In this case G, the sub-dominant chord of C major, the dominant chord of D major and finally a chord that often pops up in this sequence, but NOT always is E minor. Fortunately MOST songs in the Bluegrass repertoire consist of these three or four chords.
The 5 string banjo is actually tuned to an open G chord.
In other words, no fingers of the left hand are required to press down on the strings. [fretted].
What you have to aim for is to play in order and in rhythm. Speed will develop over time.
DON'T rush it, it will only sound cluttered, unclear notes and probably out of time. Of course, your enthusiasm and willingness to learn to play fast has to be controlled. In the long run, patience and practice can and will only benefit your playing.
Don't forget, even the banjo maestros started exactly the same way as you! Above all, make sure it is FUN! If you're not enjoying playing or feel it's something you are forcing yourself to do, it will affect your playing.