You might be asking yourself what style or what type of banjo is easiest to play. Since all the styles have their challenges it might be best for me to describe the different techniques for you more clearly so you can decide which style and type of banjo to dedicate your time too.
There are several styles or techniques you could consider. The most popular these days is the 5 string bluegrass banjo technique patterned after and popularized by the playing of Earl Scruggs. In this technique the banjo player uses three fingers with finger picks on to pick the banjo. Some popular songs associated with this style would be Foggy Mountain Breakdown, The Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies and Dueling Banjos from the Deliverance movie soundtrack. This is the style used in contemporary bluegrass bands such as Allison Krause and Union Station, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder and The Lonesome River Band. Some mainstream banjo players using the three finger style would be Bela Fleck and Steve Martin. Also the pop band Mumford and Sons use the three finger banjo style in their songs.
Old Time Banjo
Another popular 5 string style is referred to as Old Time Banjo and is played with a technique called either clawhammer or frailing. Frailing and clawhammer styles use the bare hand with no finger picks and some old time banjo players use a two finger picking technique as well. Frailing Banjo styles and two finger picking were the popular ways banjos were played before Earl Scruggs popularized three finger style in the 1940’s. Old Time Music is still very popular in the US and around the world. An Old Time band normally features one or two fiddles, mandolin, guitar, bass and a clawhammer/frailing banjo player. Some top names that used the Old Time Style of banjo were Uncle Dave Macon, The Kingston Trio and Grandpa Jones. There are many top contemporary Old Time and Clawhammer banjo players, Leroy Troy, Reed Martin, Ken Perlman and Riley Bogus, to name a few. Old time banjo styles were featured in the movie soundtrack, “On Cold Mountain
Four String Tenor and Plectrum Banjo Styles
Four string banjo playing is primarily used in Jazz and Dixieland styles of music. The tenor or plectrum banjo player uses a flat pick, the same type of pick guitar players use to strum or pick the guitar. The tenor banjo is 19 frets long and is tuned C D G A. The plectrum banjo is the same length as a five string banjo and is normally tuned C G B D. Something called Chicago tuning is popular on four string banjos these days. Chicago tuning is basically a shortcut for guitar players would want to add a Tenor or Plectrum banjo sound to their repertoire by tuning the banjo like the top four strings of a guitar.
The four string Dixieland and Jazz styles have largely given way to the popularity of bluegrass music and the 5-string 3 finger style but in the 1920’, 30’s and 40’s this was by far the more popular style. There are many great players in this style including legend Eddie Peabody along with contemporary wizard, Buddy Wachter. How to play the four string banjo.
Irish Tenor Banjo
The Irish tenor banjo is very popular these days. The Irish tenor banjo has 4 strings and is normally 17 frets long. Some Irish players will use a standard 19 fret tenor banjo. The Irish tenor is tuned like a mandolin or fiddle, G D A E and many Irish players are proficient in two or three of these instruments. Gerry O’Connor is a great Irish tenor player who also plays fiddle. Gerry has instructional material available.
Gerry O’Connor Instruction
Six String Banjos / Guitar Banjos or Banjitars
Six string banjos are out there too and they are played and tuned just like a guitar but add a new dimension for guitar players wanting to get some of that banjo sound. There is no specific six string banjo instruction out there as you play it the same way as you do a six string guitar.
Six String Banjos
Banojlin or Mandolin Banjo
You can also play a Banjo Mandolin, referred to as a Banojlin or MandoBanjo and Banjo Ukes. These are played just like mandolins or ukes but have a banjo body to change the sound. Banjo Mandolins
I hope this article is helpful,