Banjo For Beginners

The ultimate guide to banjo for beginners.

The 5th String

The 5th string (drone string) has been in place since the earliest records of the banjo. For the full historical background, please see The History of the Banjo. This 5th string, combined with the banjo head, separates the banjo from most fretted string instruments. A couple other instruments such as the Hardanger Fiddle and the Sitar have resonance (sympathetic) strings which are similar, but not meant to be played directly. So the 5th string is a sort of oddity. This oddity provides the banjo player with the ability to play very fast. Combined with the Scruggs technique, a banjo player can play many more notes in the same amount of time than most other musicians.

Playing technique

The 5th string is almost exclusively picked by the thumb. It can be used when transferring roll patterns, switching chords, when ‘walking’ in between chords, and as a melody or a harmony note. Depending on the key of the song, it may be necessary to capo the 5th string. Try to use the 5th string sparingly. I view the 5th string as the salt to the meat and potatoes of the other four. Used too much, it will distract from the rest of the strings. Used too sparingly, and you’re playing a tenor banjo. You’ll find a happy medium. Just use your ears.

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