How to Play Better Banjo Chords

banjo chords

Chords are groups of notes played together that sound pleasing when strung together; for instance, banjo strings produce a G chord which works well in many songs.

Too many chords up and down the neck can be daunting and overwhelming. To ensure maximum songs to play from this learning process, it is key that we structure their learning in such a way as to avoid memorization but maximize songs you can actually play.


Contrary to guitars, banjos do not feature open strings; rather, they feature one single string that sounds G chord when strung with your fingers. This tiny drone string is integral to creating the distinctive sound that we associate with banjos and bluegrass music in general; yet many newcomers find the instrument challenging due to chord-oriented music being dominant compared to banjo-led music (Chords work well as rhythm instruments but less well as leads like Scruggs style solos!). If you want a solo that sounds just right when played properly!

For creating chords on a banjo, it is necessary to know where all of its frets are situated on its neck. This information can be found within a tablature which looks similar to conventional written music but contains symbols unique to banjo-playing instruments; these indicate which strings you play on and their associated frets as well as which left-hand finger is placed on each string and its name of chords.

Banjo chord diagrams are an invaluable way to gain familiarity with both major and minor chord shapes on a banjo neck, but can sometimes be confusing at first. To master them quickly and efficiently, start at the beginning and move your way upward until you reach the top. After that you can switch back and forth between Major and Minor chord shapes as needed.

Major and Minor chords provide an ideal basis to learn other keys on the neck, such as C Minor chords. Once you’ve mastered them and moved them down the neck to C Minor chords, move up one fret for C Seventh chords!


As a beginner to banjo, the number of frets can be daunting. But remembering that each fret represents a musical note on the fretboard is crucial when learning chords; many songs use them. Therefore, first master the notes on your fretboard and how they form chords before learning their names (this step can come later).

To maximize a banjo fretboard, it is vital to learn both chromatic scale and how octaves function. This allows you to flexibly traverse any chord in any tuning by moving up or down the neck. After mastering these elements, memorizing major fretboard shapes of five-string banjo can then be put together into chords for effortless chording.

When playing chords, it is essential that your fingers land correctly on the frets in order to produce clear sounds. Although it will require some memorization at first, with enough practice you will soon master this art form. To assist you, a fretboard diagram or look up fingerings from guitar fretboards could prove useful; these could then help identify which overlap with banjo tunings.

As another key consideration when moving up or down the banjo neck, remember that movement requires moving half steps both ways rather than full steps. Therefore, practicing on an instrument such as piano is a good way to prepare before trying your skills out on your banjo.


People often associate banjos with 3-finger players like Earl Scruggs or other bluegrass legends, but clawhammer style banjo players can achieve more melodic and soothing sounds by employing clawhammer techniques. While clawhammer style music may be associated with old-time genres like folk or blues, clawhammer style banjo playing has found widespread use across popular genres as well.

One characteristic that makes clawhammer banjo sounds distinct is their use of “hammers”, an intricate technique which involves picking strings while they’re vibrating, then fretting quickly with thumb while they remain vibrating, producing an audible and distinctive “thumping” sound that is great for adding melody or creating dynamic solos.

Tablature is an elegant form of written music designed specifically for banjo playing. In tablature, vertical lines represent each of the five frets on a banjo’s fingerboard while dark circles represent fretted positions for left-hand fingers. Numbers indicate left-hand fingering for each string while letters at the top indicate which tuning you are using; for instance “D” tuning means tuning its 5th string to C while “A” uses 4th string G position tunings.

As soon as you become more proficient with major chord shapes, then add minor ones gradually. It is important to remember that minor chords are simply major chords lowered one tone; thus if you know the major chord shapes in G (G-shape, D-shape and A-shape) then moving those shapes up one fret can turn them into B minor chords automatically.


Pull-offs can help you to achieve more banjo chords per string and can create some fascinating variations on the notes you play. Similar to using hammer-ons, but without focusing energy into one short length of string. This technique spreads the vibratory energy across a longer section.

Pull-offs require fretting a higher fretted note with your fretting hand and plucking its lower note (fretted or open) with your picking hand. For optimal results, lightly pick off of fretted notes by lightly flicking fretting finger off strings in a way that lets lower note continue resonating freely. To create an appealing sounding pull-off, strum strings before flicking off fretting finger in such a manner that allows lower note to continue sounding freely.

At first this may appear difficult, but with practice you will soon find it simple and sound great! Be careful that when fretting finger releases string it does not slap or otherwise interrupt vibration – doing this would destroy its vibratory quality and nullify any effect of hammer-on.

An essential step to creating a sound pull-off is making sure to add vibrations with your releasing finger as it leaves the string, something beginners may overlook.

Keep your bend short. Overbends may lead to out-of-tune sounding strings if left bent for too long, so practicing these bends slowly at first until you gain an understanding of how much pressure is necessary to achieve desired results is also recommended.


Chokes (or bends) are one of the most frequently employed techniques to add some spark to a banjo chord. Chokes involve bending one string without releasing your left-hand fingering; this differs from hammer-ons and pull-offs which alter fretting positions of strings.

To create chokes, fret the second string on the 10th fret using either your index or middle finger in your fretting hand – both can be used if necessary for more control – until it reaches the 10th fret, then pick it with your thumb of your picking hand and push up toward the third string using the thumb pick; you will notice this causes it to change pitch as soon as it approaches it; do it slowly enough, however, and it will produce beautiful sounds similar to a slide or hammer-on effect.

Banjo chord charts provide the ideal environment for honing chokes. Black dots on vertical string lines indicate where to place your fingers; letters at the bottom indicate which finger should fret the string (P is for thumb, I for index finger, M for middle finger and R for ring finger).

Once you’ve mastered basic chords, try playing songs with multiple chords that frequently switch. This will help develop both speed and coordination while building speed faster. Listening to banjo players like Wade Ward (Chilly Winds). If possible, listen with a program that slows the music – this way you’ll hear what they sound like and can better judge how quickly to play each tune.