by Ross Nickerson
Learning the first few 5-string banjo chords is easy and it won’t take you long. Often banjo players struggle with learning chords simply because they get very involved with picking and do not take the time to practice the fretting hand. In comparison guitar students get right to learning chords because the picking is not as involved and that is what they learn first. As a banjo player if you were struggling with fretting chords remind yourself how much practice it took in getting your picking improved and spend more focused practice time on improving your fretting hand ability. Like I mentioned it won’t take long with some focused practice but it certainly won’t happen without it. When you consider that the guitar is much harder to make a chord on because it has 6 strings and the strings are thicker, then it that should tell you that you are certainly capable of it just put the reps in, there are plenty of guitar players in the world, it can’t be that hard.
Learning the chords up the neck on the banjo is also a fairly simple process when approached in the simplest way. There are three major chord shapes used in 5 string banjo playing. You can learn those shapes from a book or video but after that it’s best to learn and retain what you learn by moving the chord shapes rather than simply reading and reacting to a thick chord book. It’s best to learn it by simply memorizing the three four finger major chord shapes, then learning how to find the chords by moving the chord shapes using the chromatic scale.
Chromatic scale starting with G
G G# A Bb B C C# D Eb E F F# G
When you are ready, you can next learn the minor and seventh chords by simply manipulating the three major chord shapes into the Minor and Seventh chord shapes and using the chromatic scale. If you know where C major is Iin the four finger chord shape and can change that shape into the minor chord shape in the same place you will then be playing C minor and so forth. My Book The Banjo Encyclopedia “Bluegrass Banjo from A to Z” shows all the chord shapes and explains in detail how to accomplish this easily. My DVD Banjo Jamming and Play Along has a 25 minute video lesson on how to easily find the chord shapes in major minor and seventh positions. This will save you loads of time. Another DVD called that goes well with the Banjo Jamming and Play Along DVD demonstrates is Playing By Ear and Learning the Chords which demonstrates how to use the chords to play songs and how the melody is found in the chords.
Thanks, Ross Nickerson